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Learn Major Scales on the Guitar

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Major scale is without a doubt the most important scale to learn, since it forms the basis of a large number of the scales and chords we use every day. This lesson will teach you how to play it.

Basics required for this lesson : None
Practice this lesson : None

This lesson, much like the one on the pentatonic minor scale, will teach us the seven major scale positions using the G major scale. To tackle it all in one lesson, we’ll break it down into three sections:

  • First we’ll go over a few basic tips to help you learn major scale the right way. Make to go over each one -- you may run into problems later on if you skip this part.
  • In the second section, we cover the left-hand finger positions, because there are several important points here that will help you put everything together.
  • And to finish, we’ll go over each of the seven positions one by one and cover the concepts and tips you need to learn each one.

A Few Basic Tips

So to start, let’s go over a few basic tips before actually getting into the major scales. The tips we go over here are the same as in the pentatonic minor scale lesson, so feel free to skip ahead to the second section if you remember them for that lesson.

Like always, when it comes to technicallearning, the first tip is to start slowly.  Go slow so you don’t make mistakes, and then very gradually pick up the pace.

You can see that major scale has no less than seven positions. The name of the game is NOT to learn them all at once. Start by learning the first position correctly, work on it for a little while, and then you can start learning the second position, all while still working on the first. Keep going like this and adding the positions one by one as you progress, without skipping through the steps.

If you aren’t very familiar with scale diagrams, it’s a good idea to take a look at our lesson on how to read scale diagrams. In the third section, we’ll put all these concepts into practice, but it’s still helpful to master the ideas before beginning.

When it comes to the right hand, I suggest you play with a pick and, particularly, strictly using alternate picking. You can still play all this economy picking or with your fingers, but most of the time we use these scales with a pick. In addition, scales are great exercises to practice picking skills, so you’re knocking out two birds with one stone!

For the left hand, there are tons of things you need to know when it comes to position and fingering. Remember all the tips we went over in the lesson on left hand positions, in particular when it comes to placing your thumb behind the neck. We’ll talk more about finger positions in the second section.

And the last tip before getting started: using a metronome. Sure, there are some of us who don’t like using metronomes, but those of us that do find them an excellent tool for making progress. So don’t skip out on them.

Left-hand Finger Positions

Now let’s focus on left-hand fingering in more detail. If you take a look at the major scale charts, you will notice that we play three three notes per string. So now you’ll be using three left-hand fingers on each string.

But if you look at these diagrams a little more closely, you’ll notice that there are only three different positions on each string. There is:

  • A whole step between each note
  • A whole step between the first two notes and a half step between the last two
  • A half step between the first two notes and a whole step between the last two

These are the only three options we have on the neck and strings when doing the seven positions. So this only leaves us with three different finger positions to learn with the left hand, and all we need to do is place them on the right spots on the neck. Now let’s take a look at these finger positions one by one.

oeWhole Step-Half Step” Finger Position

For this note progression, we play the first with our index finger, the second with our ring finger and the third with our pinkie. This way you stay in a oeone finger per step” position without playing major.

oeHalf Step-Whole Step” Finger Position

In this case, we keep the oeone finger per half step” position, but this time, we play the first note with our index finger, the second with our middle finger and the last one with our pinkie. We don’t use our ring finger for this one.

oeWhole Step-Whole Step” Finger Position

This finger position is a little more difficult, since we can’t do the oeone finger per half step” position. And we also have two possible positions:

  • index middle pinkie
  • index ring pinkie

In the first position, we have a whole-step gap between the index and middle finger, and the other fingers are in a oeone finger per half step” position. In the second position, the whole-step gap is between the ring finger and the pinkie.

Which position to use is solely a matter of preference. Some prefer the first, while others prefer the second. Test them out and see which one works best for you.

But once you’ve found the finger position you play best with, don’t change it. Keep fingering the same way with every position and on every string.

Using These Finger Positions

That’s all there is to say about the left hand. You don’t need to remember anything else. All you need to do now is place your index finger on the right fret and right string and then use one of these three fingers positions to stick to the diagram.

One last thing, however: when you play scales from lower to higher notes, you can start with your index finger, then the middle or ring finger, and then finish with the pinkie. Don’t lift your fingers! Once you place the index finger, you can rest it while you play the next finger, and you can leave this one resting while you play with your pinkie. Only lift your fingers once you go on to the next string.

Les sept positions

This last section will be longer than the others, since here we’ll be breaking down the seven positions of major scale. Remember that the goal isn’t to learn them all at once! Work on the first position, then come back later and work on the second position.

If you watch the video, you’ll notice that I use an acoustic guitar for all my examples. This is because it’s exactly the same for electric and classical guitars.

The First Position

Let’s start by looking at the first position.

Gamme de sol majeur - Position 1

Let’s see how to play it all.

On the two lowest (bass) strings, you’ll see that we’re using the oewhole step-whole step” finger position. So index+middle+pinkie, or index+ring+pinkie, whichever you prefer. In both cases, the index finger starts on fret 3. So we place our index finger on fret 3 of the low E string, do our left hand diagram, then we place our index finger on fret 3 of the A string and do the same diagram again.

Then we go to the D string. From there, we need to place our index finger on fret 4 to start, and we need to apply the oehalf step-whole step” diagram, so using the index+middle+pinkie finger position.

And the same for the G string. Index finger on fret 4, oehalf step-whole step” diagram.

Next up is the B string, which starts on fret 5, and this time, we use the oewhole step-half step” diagram, since now we need to use the index+ring finger+pinkie finger position.

We finish on the high E string with the same finger position as the B string.

After this, we need to play the same diagram again, but now from highs to lows. So we do the same thing but backwards.

We start with the high E string on fret 8 with our pinkie, finger backwards on the high E string, do the same thing for the B string and shift our pinkie to fret 7 of the G string so we can do the oehalf step-whole step” finger position, and then we do the same for the D string, keeping our pinkie finger on fret 7 for the A and low E string, but using the oewhole step-whole step” finger position.

As we covered in our playing scale charts, the name of the game is to play this chart from lows to highs and high to lows without interruption.

Once again, don’t hesitate to go very slowly at the beginning so you don’t make mistakes.

The Second Position

For this position, your finger position will obviously need to change:

Gamme de sol majeur - Position 2

We start with our index finger on fret 5 of the low E string and then apply the oewhole step-half step” finger position , so index finger+ring finger+pinkie.

We keep the same finger position on the next three strings: index finger on fret 5, using the "whole step-whole step" finger position, so either index+middle+pinkie or index+ring+pinkie.

Then on the B string we shift our index finger to fret 7 and apply the "half step-whole step" finger position, with index +middle +pinkie.

We finish on the high E string with the same finger position as the B string, index finger on fret 7 and the "half step-whole step" finger position.

So the only thing left to do is the same thing in the other direction and we’ve finished playing the second position.

Third Position

The third position starts on fret 7:

Gamme de sol majeur - Position 3

And we start on the low E string with the "half step-whole step" finger position.

Then we go to the A string, still on fret 7, but with the "whole step-half step" finger position, so the index+ring+pinkie. And we do the same thing on the D string.

For the G string, we still start on fret 7, but this time, we apply the "whole step-whole step" finger position.

For the B and high E strings, we still have the "whole step-whole step" finger position but this time we start them on fret 8.

Just like with the previous positions, we now need to play this position the other way, starting from fret 12 on the high E string.

Fourth Position

Here is the diagram for the fourth position:

Gamme de sol majeur - Position 4

Even though this one is a bit more complex than the others, the same principle remains.

We start on the low E string on fret 8 with the "whole step-whole step" position.

And we start on the A string on fret 9 with the "half step-whole step" position. Same thing on the D string.

We stay on fret 9 for the G string, but with the oewhole step-half step” position this time.
For the B string, we shift to fret 10, but this time we use the oewhole step-whole step” position.

And we start on the high E string with the oewhole step-whole step” position.

Fifth Position

Here is the diagram for the fifth position.

Gamme de sol majeur - Position 5

Start with the three low strings on fret 10, with the "whole step-whole step" finger position.

Then we move to fret 11 on the A string with the "half step-whole step" finger position.

Then we shift to fret 12 of the B string again, using the "half step-whole step" finger position.

And we finish on the high E string where we apply the "whole step-half step" finger position, while still starting from fret 12.

Sixth Position

If we take a look at the sixth position, we can see that it uses a lot of high notes.

Gamme de sol majeur - Position 6

This makes things a little more difficult on an acoustic guitar, since you guitar neck’s heel will get in the way. But don’t worry too much -- most of the time you will still be able to play. It just takes some practice.

So we start on fret 12 on the low E string, with the "whole step-half step" finger position, since we’re doing the same thing as with the A string.

Then we stay on fret 12 on the D and G strings, but this time we apply the "whole step-whole step" finger position.

Next we shift to fret 13 on the B string, still in the "whole step-whole step" finger position.

Finally, we end on the high E string on fret 14 using the "half step-whole step" position.

Seventh Position

Looking at the diagram for the last position, we notice one problem.

Gamme de sol majeur - Position 7

It goes too high for an acoustic guitar. This is no problem with an electric guitar. You can play it as is. But if you want to learn on an acoustic guitar, you need to remember one very simple trick: shift the entire position by 12 frets toward the low notes. Which gives us:

Gamme de sol majeur - Position 7

The position, finger position and notes stay the exact same. What changes is that now we can play it one octave lower. And even if you’re playing an electric guitar, it’s a good idea to learn this way since this will makes you play with larger finger gaps than in the high position.

So now we start on the high E string on fret 2, or fret 14, and in both cases we use the oehalf step-whole step” position. Same thing on the A string.

For the D and G strings, we still start on fret 2/14, but this time we use the "whole step-half step" position.

Next we shift to fret 3/15 on the B and high E strings, still in the "whole step-whole step" finger position.

And that’s it!

So after learning all this, now you know the G major scale. And remember: the goal here isn't to learn all the positions at once. Make sure you start slowly and hit all the notes correctly.

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