Guitar Major Scales

Guitar Major Scales

Guitar Major Scales

How to Learn Guitar Major Scale Patterns
Guitarists of all levels play melodies, riffs, lead guitar solos and bass lines using major scales. The notes of the major scale cover the whole fretboard. To learn this scale template, players break it up into smaller pieces. In this article I’m going to explain to you how this process works and address common issues concerning patterns, fingerings, picking and transposing.



Major Scale Patterns
When learning the major scale, players break up the notes into positions or patterns. Usually this is done with five pieces but there are other ways to do it. It really doesn’t matter how you break up the whole major scale template as long as you can put the pieces together and complete the whole guitar fretboard. Also, different major scale patterns are not different scales. They’re the same notes in different positions.

In the guitar fretboard diagrams below, you can see how to play guitar major scale patterns. The first diagram shows you all the notes of G major across the whole neck. The remaining diagrams show you the five patterns that guitarists commonly use. The numbers represent the scale intervals 1-7 with 1 being the tonic, G. Click on the image to enlarge.

Memorize Scale Patterns
As you learn major scale patterns be sure to focus on only one at a time. Visualize the pattern on the fret board and play up and down it until you have it completely memorized and your fingers know where to go without thinking. You don’t need to start or end on the root, but rather touch on every possible note available in the position you’re covering.

Major Scale Fingering
There are no correct or perfect ways to finger major scale patterns, but there are some bad habits to avoid. Don’t do something silly like play through a whole pattern with only one or two fingers. This will make you look and sound like a hack. God gave you several fingers for a reason. Use them! Try to get three or four fingers involved. You should be able to cover a position by keeping your hand still and then reaching with your fingers. It’s good to settle on something and then be consistent as you practice, but you’ll no doubt use other fingerings when you start actually playing music especially when techniques such as slides, hammer-ons, pull-offs and bends are involved. So, as you finger these patterns you can use one finger per fret, just your first three fingers or any other combination that works well for you.

Alternate Picking
While you’re at it, alternate your pick. You’ll spend a lot of time rehearsing major scale patterns. Don’t reinforce a negative habit by plunking through everything with downstrokes. Kill two birds with one stone by developing alternate picking technique while you learn scale patterns. Choke up on the pick, keep your hand planted on the guitar and alternate continuously without skipping or repeating any strokes. Be sure to rest your hand just above the string you’re picking. As you move across the strings, your hand should slide over and rest upon the strings you’re not playing to keep them quiet.

Reference Chord
Every time you learn something new on the fret board you should try to peg it to something familiar. This is the key to developing a good working knowledge of music theory especially when applying guitar theory to the fret board. You can apply this pegging idea by associating major scale patterns to reference chords. For example, pattern one (as it’s usually taught) can be played right around an “E form” barre chord. Pattern four fits together with an “A form” barre chord. If you know how to navigate the fretboard with chords, and you associate them to major scale patterns, then you’ll be able to instantly jump into the major scale in any position. To learn more about chord forms look up the guitar CAGED chord system.

Connecting Major Scale Patterns
After you complete a pattern, move to the next position and repeat the whole learning process with the new pattern. After you memorize a new position go back and review the others before it. Continue with this process until you’ve covered the whole fretboard. Then, practice connecting the patterns in both directions across the neck. In other words, connect pattern one to pattern two, two to three, three to four, four to five, then reverse yourself by connecting pattern five back into pattern four, four into three, three into two, and two into one. You may have room to move backward from the pattern one you started at. Try it.

As you move from one pattern to the next, notice how a portion of each is reused in the new position. Visualizing how these pieces connect is the key to navigating the fretboard.

Transposing Major Scales
Once you’ve completed the whole major scale template in one key you can transpose by simply shifting it to a new starting position. Don’t let the fret numbers throw you off. Instead, focus on the shape of the pattern and the feel of the fingering. Connect all the patterns in this new key until you run out of fretboard or can’t play any higher. Don’t forget to cover the area before pattern one begins. Complete this process through all twelve keys. When you’re done, you’ll surely have the patterns down pat!

Learn Music Theory For Guitar

You learn all about music theory for guitar, including scales, chords, progressions, modes and more, in myFretboard Theory guitar theory program.


Comments ( 13 )

  • Thanks Desi, your teaching on the significance of Major Scale Patterns has literally changed my playing forever … in a GREAT WAY!

  • Frank Mamone

    Hi Desi,

    Why do these patterns skip starting on the 4th degree, which in this case would be C? or Lydian mode?


    Frank Mamone

  • When learning the major scale, players break up the notes into positions or patterns. Usually this is done with five pieces but there are other ways to do it. It really doesn’t matter how you break up the whole major scale template as long as you can put the pieces together and complete the whole guitar fretboard. Also, different major scale patterns are not different scales. They’re the same notes in different positions.

    If you want to reach down to the 8th fret of the 6th string and play the fourth scale degree, C, before continuing with pattern 4, then go ahead. I often do the same thing myself. But this does not make a “Lydian” pattern. There are no such things as modal patterns. Lydian is created my playing the notes of G major–in any order and in any position–in a manner that centers on its fourth pitch, C. For example, a piece of music centering on a C chord or a progression revolving around C using chords also from the key of G (like “Man On the Moon” by R.E.M which starts out this way).

    If you record yourself playing rhythm on just a C chord, then play it back and play along using G major scale notes, then you’ll produce the C Lydian sound. It will not matter what note you start on, what position or which pattern you use. The notes of G major (or C Lydian in this application) are the same no matter where you play them (G-A-B-C-D-E-F#).

    To learn more about guitar modes and modal scales see Fretboard Theory Chapter 8 or my DVD Guitar Modes – The Modal Scales of Popular Music.

  • Frank

    Thank Desi.

    Yes thinking back on your excellent Modes DVD, you stress this quite clearly.

    I was just wondering why they skipped starting on the fourth degree, but it just a different way of splitting up the fretboard I guess.

    Personally, I would also use the fourth degree as one of the patterns.

    So, as far as terminology, if you say C Lydian, this means that we are in the key of G and producing the Lydian mode by playing the notes of the G and focusing on the C note.

    So, if I say F Lydian, I would be in the key of C and playing the notes of the C major scale and focusing on F note to produce the Lydian mode?

    Thanks again!

  • That’s right, Frank. “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac is a good example of Lydian mode. The main chord progression is F-G. That’s IV-V from C major. Use C major scale patterns over it. Sounds great. Try it!

  • Hi Desi,

    I’ve been reading this in conjunction with your video for ‘Man who sold the world’ and I have a question that relates to the above comments.

    The first run is F – F in F major.

    The second run is C – C, but again using the notes of F Major.

    Am I right in saying that this is C Mixolydian mode?

    Thanks for another great lesson


  • You can possibly consider the C run Mixolydian mode, however I don’t. The reason why is because the resolution occurs when the music reruns to F, not C. In true Mixolydian mode, the tonal center of the music, where the music is most stable, would be C. But in this example the C part is building dominant tension that pulls to and resolves on F.

    I hope this makes sense. I teach dominant function in Fretboard Theory Volume II which will be available shortly.

  • Frank Mamone

    Good example Desi…thanks!

  • Anthony

    I purchased this book along with the MP3 formatted video lessons. So far I am through the first one (Pentatonic) and partially through the 2nd (CAGED) videos. Excellent instruction. Very easy to understand and use while practicing on my guitar. I would recommend to any beginner or even advanced user.

  • Lloyd Smith

    I have been playing the major scales positions for many hours now and pretty much ave it licked .

    However in moving to E major I ‘get lost’ and have to really work hard to get my fingerlings correct.

    Are there any tips you have to shorten this memorisation process ..

  • Lloyd Smith

    Sorry my comment should have said G Major and moving to E ( or any other key ) is challenging all over again


  • You’ll just need to do it more.

  • Robert

    I would like to see additional advanced minor pentatonic connections using all five patterns. (sliding, hammer-on’s etc.)