“I have worked thorough the guitar pentatonic scale patterns and have them down pretty well. I seem to find the guitar major scale patterns more difficult to remember. Do I need to learn them by shape or can I just build a scale as I go by knowing the scale degrees and steps? Also, do I need to have the major scales down “pat” before I can move on to other music theory topics?”
The key to understanding how music works on the guitar fretboard is visualizing shapes and patterns and how they connect. Since everything in music stems from the major scale, knowing guitar major scale patterns is foundational to guitar theory.
I recommend you follow the instruction laid out in Fretboard Theory Chapter 5: The Major Scale. Memorize on the guitar neck the set of 5 patterns and set of 7 patterns (three-notes-per-string) that I teach, and then practice connecting them forward and backward in order to complete the whole scale template. Once you can accomplish this in the original key I illustrate the patterns in, transpose the scale to new keys by shifting the template to new fretboard positions. Use accompaniment to practice with as I demonstrate in the video instruction. This way, you can hear the melodic characteristics of the major scale as you review the patterns (this will make practicing a lot more enjoyable).
After you can complete the scale template forward and backward in various keys, the next step is to learn lots of major scale songs. Melodies, riffs, lead guitar solos, and even bass lines will all demonstrate how to apply the patterns in musical context. And listeners will appreciate hearing something familiar too!