The Major Scale

One lick to rule them all

Chromatic scales. For each string on the guitar play the open string followed by the notes on the first four frets consecutively low to high. If you are keen say the notes as you play them. This exercise is for building co-ordination, strength and making a decent sound. Spend a minute every day playing 1 2 3 4 on each string. Soon you will be able to play all the notes in the scale.

Open strings on the guitar from low to high are E, A, D, G, B, E. Eddie Ate Dynamite Good Bye Eddie.

Use index, middle, ring, pinky on four frets. Always play the same fret with the same finger. On the low E string this is F, F#, G, G#. Followed by A, A#, B, C, and C#, D, D#, E.

For every natural note the next higher note is two frets higher except for B and E which have the next note on the next fret.

Fingering the Diatonic Scale

Diatonic scales. Put your middle finger(2) on the fifth fret of the low E string. By now you know this is A, the next note after G#. Play 2 , 4 this is Do, Re and you are out of fingers. Play 1 on the next higher string, trust me, this is Mi , now Fa is the next note so play it with 2, play So with 4. we are out of fingers so on to the next string play 1 this is La, 3 is Ti, and 4 is Do, the octave.

Practice Do – Re – Mi in the Key of A.
E stringA stringD String
Do – Re Mi – Fa – So La -Ti – Do Solfege name
5 – 74 – 5 – 74 – 6 – 7Fret Number
2 – 41 – 2 – 4 1 – 3 – 4 Finger Number
1 – 2 3 – 4 – 56 – 7 – 8Scale Degree
A – BC # – D – E F# – G# – A Music Note
Fingering the Diatonic Scale

This is the fingering of the diatonic scale on three strings. Do is the first 2 and this is the root of the scale. Notice how Mi Fa and the final Ti Do are consecutive fingers. This lick will produce a major scale almost everywhere. So learn it as Do Re Mi and as One thru eight. Notice that by focusing on fingers and not on notes or fret numbers you avoid having to know about sharps and flats.

Once you learn this lick in your fingers you need to re learn it as as the Scale Degree in the table above. The fingering will not change but by thinking of the notes as degrees of a scale you will always know the notes in the scale you are playing. “… it goes like this , the fourth, the fifth”. You need not know the actual note name but knowing the scale degree is very useful. Musicians will know these degrees have the following technical names. Tonic, Supertonic, Mediant, Subdominant, Dominant, Submediant, Leading Note, Tonic. The terms root and tonic are often used interchangeably. IMO only the Tonic, SubDominant and Dominant are worth memorizing.

The remainder of this document refers to scale degree whenever a sequence of numbers is given for a lick. Furthermore this rule allows you to use your guitar as a slide rule( a primitive calculator) to derive the notes in any scale. Just play the scale starting at any root and observe what notes of the chromatic scale your fingers land on.

Try it here and there around the neck. It always sounds a major scale unless you move to the B string in which case you move the shape up two frets but otherwise keep the same fingering. This s because the B string is tuned a third above the G string. The other strings are all a fourth apart in standard tuning.

Having this fingering in muscle memory means that if you learn a lick or a phrase as a set of scale degrees, say 1 3 5 3, Do Mi So Mi, which is a good base line for any chord in 4 4 time, you can play that sequence in every key all over the neck and the intervals are the same only different in pitch. For those who already know relative solfage because they sing in a choir this approach will be familiar but keep in mind Do is always the 1, the root the tonic of the scale.

Here is a video demonstration of Diatonic Scales. Here is Music Theory for Guitar.

On to keys chords songs or arranging a tune for guitar.

Pentatonic Scales

People often ask what about the pentatonic scales. These are just the major scale without the fourth and seventh notes. Students interested in blues, or in playing lead guitar for a rock band, or improvising over jazz chords are often taught the five positions of the pentatonic scale as the key to learning the guitar. Why not the major scale? Well, the fourth and seventh notes are often dissonant. A beginner can shred a flood of pentatonics and it will almost sound OK. Maybe not great but hey, there are others in the band, you’ll be OK. Many fine guitar players learned to play this way. For myself I prefer to think in major scales or modes.

Blues Scales

These usually refer to the minor pentatonic scale with the addition of a flat fifth and possibly a flat seventh. The sequence 1 3 5 6 7b 6 5 3 will give you a boogie woogie bass line in any key. The 7b, flat seventh, is the blue note that turns a Major seventh chord into a Dominant seventh. A flat third turns any major chord into its corresponding minor. Ie C to Cm or G to Gm. This is not the same thing as the relative minor which is a scale based on the Aeolian mode. If that sounds confusing maybe it’s because I don’t use blues scales as such. I make do with the major scale.

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