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Guitar Lessons • Major Scale Patterns For Guitar • Fretboard Diagrams, Standard Notation, Theory, Modes, Videos

Updated on September 16, 2018
Lorne Hemmerling profile image

As a guitar instructor at Long & McQuade, I have taught countless students (beginners to advanced) how to play or improve their chops.

Review from Karen: Starts at the beginning and breaks the blues down in a well articulated way. It exponentially grows from there. Doesn't keep it safe but goes for that blues-jazzy feel throughout. Not your average blues book.
Review from Karen: Starts at the beginning and breaks the blues down in a well articulated way. It exponentially grows from there. Doesn't keep it safe but goes for that blues-jazzy feel throughout. Not your average blues book.

Introduction

The Major scale is one the most commonly used scales. Many melodies are based around the Major scale, and the modes derived from the scale. The intervallic structure (order of the notes) is always the same: whole step (two frets), whole step, half step (one fret), whole step, whole step, whole step, half step. In the key of C Major this translates to C • whole step • D • whole step • E • half step • F • whole step • G • whole step • A • whole step • B • half step • C . This is the ever popular Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do

All of the patterns presented here start on notes other than the root. That is, they all begin on notes that are not C, but they are still in the key of C Major. This is how the modes of the Major scale are generated. When the root is shifted, the intervallic structure changes, lending a different sound to the scale.

For example, Pattern 1 starts on E. The structure is now E • half step • F • whole step • G • whole step • A • whole step • B • half step • C • whole step • D • whole step • E. Since the scale starts on E, the third note of the C Major scale, it is called 'E Phrygian' even though it is still C Major. Therefore you can think in those terms: E Phrygian is E to E in C Major. If you play the sequence of notes this way, they will sound nothing like Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do.



C Major Structure

C - D
D - E
E - F
F - G
G - A
A - B
B - C
Whole
Whole
Half
Whole
Whole
Whole
Half

E Phrygian Structure

E - F
F - G
G - A
A - B
B - C
C - D
D - E
Half
Whole
Whole
Whole
Half
Whole
Whole

In this lesson, I will present highly usable fingering patterns for the C Major scale. Shifting them to different frets (maintaining the same shape), changes the key. This is very important, especially when improvising. Practice these scales in many positions and always be aware of the key you are playing in.

You do not have to think in terms of modes, these are all just positions of the C Major scale. When improvising over chords diatonic to C Major, all of these patterns and notes will work, although some notes will gel with chords better than others.

Wrong thumb position. Thumb aligned toward the headstock.
Wrong thumb position. Thumb aligned toward the headstock.
Wrong thumb position. Thumb bent at the knuckle.
Wrong thumb position. Thumb bent at the knuckle.
Correct thumb position.
Correct thumb position.
Correct forearm, wrist and hand position.
Correct forearm, wrist and hand position.

Pattern One

This is an extremely useful position for the Major scale. All of the notes are contained in four frets. There is no need to move outside of the pattern when you apply the 'four fingers, four frets' guide. Hold your fret hand steady, keep your thumb anchored in the middle of your hand, and stretch your fingers to cover the four frets.

I have seen students struggle with this concept. Proper hand position is essential. If your hand or wrist is cramped up, the four fret stretch will be difficult if not impossible. Keep your elbow into your body, extend your forearm out with your hand at essentially right angle to your wrist. Stay up on the tips of your fingers, maintaining the proper thumb position (flat against the back of the fretboard and straight up).

Do not bend your thumb at the knuckle and push into the fretboard with the tip. This will eventually lead to pain in your thumb. Do not align your thumb so that it points toward the headstock. This will cramp your hand by bringing the palm up to the bottom of the fretboard. Above all, do not struggle with the position of your frat hand. It should be comfortable and relaxed, not tensed up.

Actually the same goes for your strumming hand. Always maintain a grip on the pick, but make sure it is a loose grip. Don't bear down on the strings. Don't flick the pick, just a gentle sweep will do the job.

This is the scale depicted in standard notation and tablature.

Pattern Two

Since this pattern starts on A (the sixth note of the C Major scale), this position is often referred to as A Aeolian (the sixth mode of C Major). The Aeolian mode is also called the 'natural minor' scale. There are three main configurations of the minor scale, 'natural minor', 'harmonic minor' and 'melodic minor'. The natural minor is the only scale of the three that is the same notes as the related Major scale. Once again, the magic happens when you play the scale from a note other than the root (in this case: C). Play from the starting note to A (fourth string, seventh fret) an octave higher. This sounds nothing like the Major scale, but it is!

This pattern moves out of the four fret range and requires the fret hand to shift slightly. Move your entire hand (make sure your thumb makes the trip too), quickly, then shift it back into position for the first and second string notes.

A Aeolian Structure

A - B
B - C
C - D
D - E
E - F
F - G
G - A
Whole
Half
Whole
Whole
Half
Whole
Whole

Pattern Three

Playing this pattern from the starting note, B, to the same note an octave higher (B on the seventh fret, fourth string), yields a very bleak, incomplete sound. This is the Locrian mode. Since B is the seventh note of the C Major scale, this is the seventh mode of the scale. The Locrian mode is rarely used as a basis for a melody. It fits well with B diminished, the seventh chord of the C Major scale.

Playing this scale from the eighth fret, C, yields the Major scale (Ionian Mode), the parent scale and key. This is a much more pleasing sound and is widely regarded as a main playing position for the Major scale. This pattern is contained in four frets and should be executed without a hand shift.

B Locrian Structure

B - C
C - D
D - E
E - F
F - G
G - A
A - B
Half
Whole
Whole
Half
Whole
Whole
Whole

Pattern Four

This pattern starts on D, the second note of the C Major scale. Playing from this note to D an octave higher (ninth fret, fourth string), forms the Dorian mode. This scale sounds sad but not quite as sad as the Aeolian mode. This pattern shifts out of the four fret position for two strings (the third and fourth). Many melodies in all genres of music are based in the Dorian mode.

D Dorian Structure

D - E
E -F
F - G
G - A
A - B
B - C
C - D
Whole
Half
Whole
Whole
Whole
Half
Whole

Original Melody with Pattern Four

Pattern Five

This is the same as Pattern One an octave higher. This is my favourite position for improvisation purposes. Very symmetrical, contained in four frets, you can get a lot of mileage out of this one pattern. With all of these patterns try use the same fingering whenever possible. When practicing the scales start with quarter notes, maintain the same tempo and move into eighth notes, eighth note triplets and finally sixteenths. if you are brave and the tempo is slow enough try thirty second notes. Remember though, if you can't play it slow, you can't play it fast!

Improvising with Pattern Five

Composition with Pattern Five

C Major Scale Fretboard

Finally, these are all the C Major notes on the fretboard. C Major is the only key signature without sharps or flats. All of these notes are natural.

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