Major Scale

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Major Scales

There are two ways to construct a major scale:

  • Link two consecutive tetrachords separated by 2 half-steps
  • Follow the half-step formula for major scales

To construct a major scale from tetrachords first choose a note to start from (the root note). The root note is also the name of the scale. For example, if the root note of the scale is an A note then the scale is an A major scale. Next, construct a tetrachord from the root note. Now count up two half-steps from the last note of that tetrachord and construct another tetrachord from that note.

C major scale constructed using tetrachords
A tetrachord constructed starting from C is C-D-E-F. This is the first half of the C major scale. Now count up two half-steps from the F note at the end of the C tetrachord. Two half-steps above F is the G note. A tetrachord constructed from G is G-A-B-C. Notice the last note of the G tetrachord is the first note of the C tetrachord. Since this is the octave the scale is complete. The notes are C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. See the diagram below.

C major tetrachords

The second way to construct a major scale is to use the half-step formula for major scales - root, 2 half-steps, 2 half-steps, 1 half-step, 2 half-steps, 2 half-steps, 2 half-steps, 1 half-step.

Major scale half-step formula: 2 - 2 - 1 - 2 - 2 - 2 - 1

G major scale constructed using the major scale half-step formula
Starting from G count up two half-steps to A. Then count up two half-steps from A to B. Next, count up one half-step from B to C. Now count up two half-steps from C to D. Now count up 2 half-steps from D to E. Now count up two half-steps from E to F#. Finally count up one half-step from F# which gives another G, the octave. The notes of a G major scale are G-A-B-C-D-E-F#.

Essentially, both methods of constructing major scales are the same. But, by viewing major scales as tetrachords instead of just a series or half-steps we can see how different scales relate to one another. This relationship between scales is discussed in the lesson circle of fifths.

Key Signatures

Each major scale has its own unique number of sharps or flats (but not both) known has the scale's key signature. The key signature lets us know exactly which notes are in key (which notes are in the scale) and which notes are out of key (not part of the scale). For example, the key signatures of the two scales constructed above are:

  • C major - no sharps, no flats
  • G major - one sharp (F#)
There are fifteen different key signatures but only twelve notes. Obviously there are some identical scales due to enharmonics. The enharmonic scales are: C#/Db, F#/Gb, and Cb/B. Below is the key signatures for all the major scales written in standard notation.

Key signatures

Intervals and Major Scales

Numbering each note of the major scale reveals the interval relationship among the root note and the other notes of the scale. For example, the notes in the C major scale are C-D-E-F-G-A-B. Number each note starting with the root as number one: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7. Since this is a major scale all of the intervals will be either major or perfect. The interval from the root to the second note is a major second. The interval from the root to the third note is a major third. The interval from the root to the fourth note is a perfect fourth, and so on. See the image below.

Major Scale Intervals
Major scale intervals

Major Scales on the Fret board

Below are scale charts for the major scale. The horizontal lines represent the guitar strings with the first string (high E) at the top. The vertical lines represent frets. The numbers are recommended fingers to use. The squares mark the root note of the scale.

These scale patterns are movable, that is, they can be played in anywhere on the neck. The root of the scale is denoted by a box.

The point of displaying scales as charts is to allow you to see the scale as a diagram that can the be visualized on the fretboard.

Major Scales on the Guitar

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