Guitar Tutorial – Major Scales

acoustic_guitaristWhat you need: A guitar and 30 minutes of your time.

Keep away from children (or anyone else) demanding your attention. Take your phone off the hook, turn off your mobile. Don’t let your spouse vacuum around your feet. Wire a shotgun to the doorbell.

Scope: This will teach the fundaments of melody & harmony using a guitar. At the end of this tutorial, you will understand how to go about playing a major scale in any key. You will know how to form chords by extracting notes from a scale. You will understand enough to be able to create your own chord shapes anywhere on the fret-board and in any key. Not bad for an hours work!

Experience Level: An absolute beginner could use this tutorial, but it's really for those who have some experience & playing ability. If you can play a major scale reasonably fluently, you are well qualified.

Method: The fingers learn slowly, and so need hours of repetitive practice. The intention of this & subsequent tutorials is to gain maximum applied understanding from minimal study & practice. Note! The fretboard charts may appear 'upside down' to many. The view is as of your own guitar, not the mirrored view of someone playing in front of you. Stick with it.

 

PART #1 SCALES

Scales are foundation stones of both technique and understanding.

Table #1 shows all the notes within an octave. The top row (chromatic) consists of 13 notes from C to C inclusive. There are actually only 12 notes because the 13th is another C of course.

The blue highlighting shows where the 7 notes of the C major scale occur within the chromatic one. If we play these hightlighted notes, we play the scale of C major.

Pattern of Intervals: The 7 notes of the scale are usually refered to as the 2nd, 3rd, 4th etc. It's easier to understand this way. There are two further points worth noting.

1/ All the notes of this scale exclude sharps (#). This only applies to the major scale of C. Think of them as the white keys on a piano.

2/ Of more importance is the pattern of intervals. Each column represents a semitone. There is no semitone 'gap' between the 3rd and 4th interval. The same is true of the 7th and the octave (C).

table2

Table 1

This pattern of intervals defines a major scale:-

tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone, semitone

In the C major example in Table #1, you can see that the 7 notes of the scale are C, D, E, F, G, A, B. The 3rd = E, the 5th = G etc.

Using the above pattern of intervals as a template, you can play a major scale in any key. Your starting point will determine the key. The starting point is the 1 (or root note). You dont have to learn what the notes are called, just remember the pattern.

Below are three fretboard charts. They are for those that may want examples. The top two show the applied scale of C major at different octaves. The frets are numbered & the finger positions shown. Finger position numbers 1 and 8 are both C, the 2 is the 2nd, the 3 is the 3rd etc. The bottom chart is for note reference only. It shows all the notes on conventional guitar in concert tuning up to the 12th fret. Play the sequence through begining at 1 and finishing at 8 (the octave).

Obviously, if you then want to practice a D major scale, just begin 2 frets (1 tone) further up. ie: begin at the 10th fret instead of the 8th.

 

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Scales

 

PART #2: CHORDS

Certain notes within a scale are used to construct chords. A basic chord comprises of three notes, the root ( 1 ), the 3rd and the 5th. Look at the green highlighted notes in Table #2 below. It identifies E as the 3rd and G as the 5th. Play those notes in unison with the C root to produce a C major chord.

Once again, this formula of Root, 3rd and 5th is universal and constant for chord creation. Use the pattern of intervals to find the scale of a selected key, identify the 3rd and the 5th within it and you have the chord. You now know how to construct any major chord. You probably know some basic chords. Test the formula out now.

The formula can be used to create some unfamiliar chord shapes around the fretboard. You only need use three strings but can use all six with a bit of planning. Creating 'custom' chord shapes for a particular tune is useful sometimes. It can make for easier changes and be tweaked to sound the way you want it to.

 

table1
Table 2

 

Example

example1
Example

 

exercise #1

exercise1
Exercise 1

Play the scales of E and D on your guitar. Use the phrasing examples on the fret-board charts if you wish. Use the note locator on the bottom reference chart to find your starting position if you need to.

 

exercise #2

Identify the 3rd, 5th and root notes in the scale of D major. Create your own chord shape anywhere you wish on the fretboard. Check it against the note reference chart.

 

Footnote

Hopefully this tutorial has got some important principles across quickly and painlessly. Sadly, there are fewer ways to speed up playing practice. I will leave up to you how much work you put in to consolidate. Personally I find that after 35 years of playing guitar, I have become evermore reliant on scales.

Whatever you manage to do, the practice will also better prepare you for the tutorials to follow, which are built upon this one, and each other.

Tutorial #2 will deal with minor scales, minor chords and how to cheat by using your major scale phrasing to create minor scales.

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About Rudi Samborski

Logo-dark-bg-square-170A self taught guitar player, Rudi began playing in 1970, and began teaching in 1973. He plays all main technical styles except flamenco. Essentially a `live' gigging musician, both solo and within bands. Written only about 30 songs, many of which are forgotten, but a committed composer nevertheless. Currently in a soul/ska/rock 7 piece band called Blown Out.

Making lyrics feel natural, sit on music in such a way that you don't feel the effort of the author, so that they shine and bubble and rise and fall, is very, very hard to do. Whereas you can sit at the piano and just play and feel you're making art.”
Stephen Sondheim