Lesson 3: The Major Scale - Part 2
- Position Playing vs. Playing Up and Down On One String
- The C Major Scale on the B String
- How to Figure Out the Notes on the Guitar
- The Natural Notes on the Guitar (A Good Place to Start)
- A Playing Exercise - An Intro to the Major (Ionian) Mode
Position Playing vs. Playing Up and Down On One String
From the previous lesson we learned the major scale formula --
W W H W W W H. That is,
the major scale consists of 8 notes with
half steps between the 3rd and 4th notes and between the 7th and 8th notes of the scale.
The other adjacent notes have whole steps between them.
I also mentioned that there are 2 general ways (or styles) of playing on the guitar:
Both of these styles have their advantages and disadvantages as you will discover
(or already have discovered.) Most guitarists tend to neglect playing horizontally, and
I believe this really works against them. I can't emphasize enough
how important it is to play up and down on one string at a time. If you want your playing
to sound melodic and want to improve your overall musicality then this is the sure-fire way
to accomplish that goal.
In this lesson I will show you how to play a major scale on one string.
Most teachers begin by showing a student a major scale in open position, but I think this
is the wrong place to start. I believe a student gets a much better understanding of a major
scale by seeing it and playing it up and down on a single string. This approach simplifies
matters greatly and has some very beneficial side-effects. Here are a few for starters:
playing in position (playing
playing up and down on one string at a time
This list could go on, but I will stop here. For more great ideas about why
horizontal playing is so good for your playing consult Mick Goodrick's book called
The Advancing Guitarist. This is one of those books that
will keep you busy for a lifetime. His book is not so much a "method for the guitar,"
but rather, it's a great source of ideas and cool ways to think about
So without further ado...
It's simple and straight-forward. Simple is always a good place to start
when learning something new.
It helps the student to become less afraid of the higher positions
on the guitar.
It's easier than playing in position which helps a student experience
an early sense of accomplishment. This usually motivates the student to explore
It helps to instill the major scale formula in the student's mind.
A student really has to think about whole steps and half steps
to play the scale correctly. From my experience if a student first learns a
major scale by playing a pattern of the scale in a fixed position then she
loses the essense of the formula when she jumps to
different strings within the pattern. She does not yet understand the tuning or intervallic
relationship between the strings of the guitar and hence her learning does not go as
Ideally, playing up and down on one string at a time
forces the student to think about note names
instead of simply relying on fingerings for a specific pattern.
The C Major Scale on the B String
Here is an illustration of the C major scale with the root starting on the first fret of the B
string (the second string of the guitar) and ending at the 13th fret. I have drawn the root notes in
purple to differentiate them from the other notes in the scale.
I have also drawn black fret markers in this diagram at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th and 12th frets.
These markers, or inlays, are very common on most guitar necks and help one find their way around
the fretboard. Without these markers it's very easy to get lost.
As you will discover once you get to the 13th fret, the pattern repeats. This is just how the
guitar works. You see, all of the open notes on the guitar are repeated
one octave higher starting at the 12th fret of the guitar. It follows then that notes at
the first fret on the guitar are repeated one octave higher at the 13th fret and notes on the
2nd fret are repeated one octave higher at the 14th fret. This pattern continues until you run
out of frets (or string.)
I have also drawn the major scale formula in this diagram - labeling whole (W) steps and half (H)
steps between the appropriate notes.
Play this scale slowly with your index finger. Don't worry about speed. Simply try to get a
good tone from the string. Listen to the notes. I bet this scale
sounds familiar to you.
The C major scale can be played using this pattern on any string of the guitar. Simply find a
C note (your starting and ending note) on the string you wish to
play. Once you've found your starting note, play notes according to the WWHWWWH formula. This
will yield (or produce) a C major scale. It's that simple. For example, if I wanted to play
a C major scale on the 5th string I would start at the 3rd fret. If I wanted to play a C major
scale on the G string or 3rd string of the guitar, I would start on the 5th fret.
Now here is a beautiful and simple fact about this configuration of notes:
One can play any major scale with this pattern. First, decide which
scale you want to play. Say you want to play a G major scale. Now find the root note on the
string you wish to play. In this example let's start at the G located on the low E string at
the 3rd fret. Starting with this low G, play notes using the WWHWWWH formula. These notes produce
a G major scale. For the most part, you know you have played the scale correctly if you end 12
frets higher on the G note at the 15th fret of the low E string. Now go down the scale and repeat
this process a few times. Voila, a G major scale on the low E string.
Now, do this for all major scales in all keys on all strings of the guitar!
What? You're thinking I must be crazy, but it's not as bad as you think. If you do this, you will have
started on the path of becoming a great guitar player. Just remember to be patient. It takes time,
many years really, to learn how to play well.
Where are the notes on the guitar?
At this point you might be asking yourself, how do I know where the notes are on the guitar?
Well, if you have read and understood this lesson as well as the previous lessons,
you already have enough information to figure this out. As an
exercise I encourage you to do this. You know the tuning of the guitar. (If you don't click
here.) You also know the intervals
in between all of the natural notes. (I just gave you a major hint.) In fact, the best way to
learn the notes on the guitar is to first learn where the natural notes are located. Once you do
this, all the other notes will follow as they are expressed in terms of the 7 natural notes.
Click here for a blank tableture diagram of the first 15
frets of the guitar. Print it out and then fill it in with the natural notes. This will become a
valuable tool for you and I encourage you to refer to it as a means of strengthening your understanding
of the fretboard.
If you're really lazy check this out: Natural
Notes On The Neck Of The Guitar, but I encourage you to do the exercise first. (Use this
to check your answers if you want.)
A Playing Exercise - An Intro to the Major (Ionian) Mode
Now here is a great little exercise that I got from Mick's book - the book I mentioned above. You will need
a way to record your guitar. If you only have a little tape recorder that will do just fine. You don't
need your recording to sound like a million bucks. We just want to get some chords down on tape so we
can play over them.
First, record the following vamp. A vamp is usually one or two
chords that are repeated over and over again - a little jam, so to speak. Consult the following
diagram for chord fingerings and the harmonic rhythm for the chords. Harmonic
rhythm refers to the number of beats a chord gets before changing to the next chord. In the
example below, each chord gets 8 beats - the harmonic rhythm does not change or vary.
Make sure your recording is at least 3 or 4 minutes long. Play any strumming pattern you like - something
mellow works great, that is, something not too fast is preferable. This is a listening exercise as well
as a playing exercise.
Notice the little symbol above the hash marks in the second measure. It means to play the same exact
thing as the previous measure. So you will play a C major 7 chord for 8 beats before changing to an F
major 7 chord. Also, notice the 2 little dots at the end of the 4th measure to the left
of the barline? This is a "repeat" symbol and it means to go back until you find 2 dots to the
right of a bar line. In this case, we go back to the first measure of the vamp. So
these 4 measures repeat until we get sick of them. In computer parlance - this would be considered
an infinite loop - very bad, but in music, it's totally cool.
Now, while listening to the tape, improvise a melody on the high E string using only natural
notes on the guitar. Be sure to use only the high E string for the
full duration of the song. Also, be sure to play only natural notes (notes in the C major
scale.) The whole point of this exercise is to see what you can do with only one
string of the guitar and only natural notes. It also happens to be a great way to learn
the natural notes on the guitar one string at a time.
After you have finished playing along with the tape, rewind it and play over it again,
but this time, use only the B string. You will be tempted to jump to a different string
while you are playing, but I encourage you to resist. Stay on only
one string for the full duration of the vamp. This is a kind of "limiting"
exercise. That is, when you impose a limitation on your playing you simplify things. This makes
it easier to learn for obvious reasons.
Now repeat this exercise for each string of the guitar. If your vamp is 4 minutes
long you will have to play at least 24 minutes before you get through all 6 strings of
the guitar. You will notice that some notes sound better over the C major 7 chord while
other notes sound better over the F major 7 chord. Also, some notes work for both chords
very well. Why do you think this is so?
In later lessons I will expand on this exercise as it will be a kind of "foundational
exercise" for something called modes. For now, just
be aware that these two chords are derived using a C major scale and that's why the C major
scale sounds good over this vamp. Another thing to make note of is that this mode is called
Ionian or the Major Mode.
All of the modes will be discussed in more detail in later lessons. This is just a brief
introduction. Good luck and make some music!
Proceed to Lesson 4 or go back to the