How to Play the Major Scale On Guitar

Published Categorized as Guitar lessons, Scales

Learning scales may sound boring ? and it can be a bit tedious at times ? but it’s also really beneficial to your playing.

This post will show you how to play the major scale on guitar.

Major Scale On Guitar

In future posts I will cover the various minor scales and other scales such as the pentatonic scale.

The Benefits of Learning Scales

Scales benefit you in many different ways including but not limited to:

  • Learning scales gives you a lot more knowledge of the notes you are playing and how those notes make up chords etc
  • Simply practicing clean fretting is always beneficial to your play
  • Learning different patterns helps your brain to learn new patterns quicker for when you are learning songs, licks, solos, etc
  • If you do your scales using finger-picking it is a great way to practice your finger picking. You can practice your scales flat-picking with a pick, flat picking with your finger or finger picking. Do all three and it will help you to become a more well rounded guitartist
  • Scales are vital for improvisation
  • Scales will help to make you a better song writer and help you to understand your compositions better and how you can improve them

These are just the things that sprung off the top of my head. I’m sure there are numerous other benefits.

Scales aren’t for everyone. If you are a casual player that is happy to just learn a few songs to play around the camp fire, then you don?t necessarily need to learn your scales.

But if you are serious about becoming a decent guitarist, then scales will?be very beneficial.

How to play the Major Scale

The major scale is made up of 7 notes. The name of the scale is always named after the ?root note? or the first note of the scale. So if you want to play a C major scale then the root note is C.

Scales always follow a pattern. In the case of the major scale it use the following pattern:

  • Whole step
  • Whole step
  • Half step
  • Whole step
  • Whole step
  • Whole step
  • Half step.

Where whole step refers to an interval of a whole ?tone? and half refers to an interval of a ?semi-tone?. This is pretty easy on the guitar to figure out. To play a whole tone above a note you go up two frets. To play a semi-tone above a note you play the fret next door.

C Major Scale

The C major scale is the easiest place to start as there are no flats or sharps to deal with.

The C major scale is made up of C, D, E, F, G, A & B.

Notice how:

  • From C to D is a whole tone;
  • from D to E is a whole tone;
  • From E to F is a semi-tone;
  • From F to G (whole)
  • From G to A (whole)
  • From A to B (whole)
  • From B to C (semi-tone)

O.k. let’s first learn the scale in the open position. Always starting with the root note.

  • C = 3rd fret A string
  • D = open D string
  • E = 2nd fret D string
  • F = 3rd fret D string
  • G = open G string
  • A = 2nd fret G string
  • B = open B string
  • C = 1st fret B string

it’s always nice to finish your scale on the root note (a.k.a. the tonic).

O.k. let’s take a look at that in tab form. If you aren’t sure how to read tabs check out my post explaining it at the link below.

C Major Scale in Tab

The following is the C major scale in the open position starting and finishing on the root note (aka the “tonic”).


However, we want your scale practice to include all the notes in the open position, therefore the following exercise is a better way to practice the C Major Scale.


Note: This tab won’t look right if you are on a screen that isn?t wide enough to fit the whole length in. If you can try to wait to read this post for when you are on a tablet, laptop or desktop. It won’t work properly on most phones as the screen won’t be wide enough. You should see 6 lines (which represent the 6 strings).

How Chords Fit In

There is a chord that can be used for each note of the scale.

So for example in the C major scale you have 7 chords – C, D, E, F, G, A & B. However, to fit in the scale those chords have to have the notes of the scale.

For every major scale:

  • the 1st, 4th and 5th?notes will be major chords;
  • the 2nd, 3rd and 6th notes will be minor chords; and
  • the 7th note will be a diminished chord

So for example with the C major scale you would have:

  • C major
  • D minor
  • E minor
  • F major
  • G major
  • A minor
  • B diminished

Or notated as you would normally see the chord names:

  • C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am, Bdim

If you?ve never looked at diminished chords just ignore that for now. If you play the rest of the chords together you will notice two things.

  1. They all sound like they go together
  2. They all use only the notes in the C Major scale

If you aren’t sure how to play your major and minor chords yet then I suggest that you do that before using this lesson. Check out the post below to learn about chords if you aren’t familiar.

Over to You

I encourage you to practice your major scales. These will seriously help your playing.

Today we looked at C major. To play the other major scales just start with the root note and follow that pattern we talked about – whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half.

This might take a little bit of time and thought to figure this out for yourself, if you aren’t familiar with major scales, but it is a good learning process to figure this out for yourself.

We only looked at the major scale in the open position today. In a future lesson we will take a look the major scale in different positions up the fret board.

Thanks for reading and I hope this post has helped you to learn how to play and practice your major scales on guitar.

What Next?

If you are interested in online guitar lessons to learn guitar (including scales) and want to learn with video lessons, there are plenty of options these days – some better quality than others, naturally!

Check out the link below or the menu at the top of this page for a number of online guitar lesson systems that I’ve thoroughly reviewed so you can tell the good from the not-so-good.

By Nate Pallesen

Nate is just your average (above average) guitar player. He's no Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page - wait this site is about acoustic guitars (sorry) He's no Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, or Michael Hedges, wait? who!? He's no Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton or Ben Harper - more familiar? Anyway you get the point :-)

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *