The Major Scale

This is my first music theory lesson. I figured I would start with the major scale because a lot of music theory is based on the major scale. Therefore, to learn music theory an understanding of the major scale is essential. If you are completely new to music theory you will want to start by learning some basic notation (note names, rhythms, time signatures, etc) before learning major scale theory. That said, this lesson is fairly basic and you shouldn’t need much of a music theory background to understand it.

To build a major scale first you have to understand Whole Steps (tones) and Half Steps (semitones):

  1. Understanding Whole Steps and Half Steps using the Chromatic Scale:
  • The chromatic scale simply involves playing each of the 12 notes in ascending or descending order. Below are the notes or the chromatic scale beginning on C:

C – C#/Db – D – D#/Db – E – F – F#/Gb – G – G#/Ab – A – A#/Bb – B – C  

  • Moving up or down from any note on the chromatic scale to the note directly above or below it represents a half step (semitone).  For example, moving from F to E would be moving down a half step.
  • A whole steps is the distance of 2 half steps. Therefore, if you start on any note on the chromatic scale and move up or down 2 notes, then you have moved a whole step. For example, moving from  F to G would be moving up a whole step.

2. Whole Steps and Half Steps on your guitar fretboard:

  • On your guitar fretboard moving up or down 2 frets represents a whole step (ex. moving from a C up to a D is a whole step)
  • On your guitar fretboard moving up or down 1 fret represents a half step (ex. moving from a B up to a C is a half step)

Building Major Scales

The notes of any scale are determined by specific sequences of whole steps and half steps (or other intervals). These sequences represent the intervals between each note of the scale.

Here is the sequence of whole steps (W) and half steps (H) for the notes of a major scale:

W – W – H – W – W – W – H

This sequence of tones and semitones will allow you to build any major scale. This sequence is what all of the major scales, in all of the different keys, have in common, and is what makes each major scale sound like a major scale. Note that the sequence represents the intervals between the notes of the major scale. Therefore, the major scale will contain 8 notes (including the octave) but only contains 7 intervals. I have written out a couple of examples below to help you understand how to use this sequence. If you are using your guitar to go through the examples make sure you know the notes on the fretboard

Ex. 1 Building a C Major Scale

  1. Start on your root note – C
  2. Move up a whole step (2 frets) – D
  3. Move up a whole step (2 frets) – E
  4. Move up a half step (1 fret) – F
  5. Move up a whole step (2 frets) – G
  6. Move up a whole step (2 frets) – A
  7. Move up a whole step (2 frets) – B
  8. Move up a half step (1 fret) – C

Ex. 2 Building a D Major Scale (notice that the process is the exact same, just using different notes)

  1. Start on your root note – D
  2. Move up a whole step (2 frets) – E
  3. Move up a whole step (2 frets) – F#
  4. Move up a half step (1 fret) – G
  5. Move up a whole step (2 frets) – A
  6. Move up a whole step (2 frets) – B
  7. Move up a whole step (2 frets) – C#
  8. Move up a half step (1 fret) – D




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