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The Major Scale

A scale is built through a sequence of notes ascending and descending. The Major scale is a seven-note scale. In helping us understand the major scale more clearly we first must identify the sequence of whole steps and half steps (tones and semitones). Memorising this way will help when transposing the scale to various keys and more importantly understand the formula that’s used to create it.

The major scale formula is commonly played from its root to the octave. This intervallic sequence as follows.

W = Whole Step (Whole tone)        H = Half Step (Semitone)


The best key to start in would be the key of C. This means you would start the sequence from C and it would spell out this.


C is a good key to begin with because it has no alterations on the notes (No Sharps or Flats). This is particularly easy playing on piano because it only involves the white keys.


Here is the same sequence of notes with the distance between each interval written below it.

C       D      E       F       G       A       B       C

    W     W      H     W      W      W     H

Notice that the distance between E and F is a half step, the same for B and C.

It is important to identify the distance between the notes so that you fully understand the sequence of intervals.

  1. whole step from D is E.
  2. half step from E is F.
  3. whole step from F is G.
  4. whole step from G is A.
  5. whole step from A is B.
  6. A half step from B is C, then you repeat this sequence.

Once we understand the distances between each note of the scale we can label them by intervals.

The Intervals are labelled by distance from the root (Starting note), note that 1 is always the root/tonic.

  1. C = Root/Tonic = R
  2. D = Major 2nd    = ∆2
  3. E = Major 3rd      = ∆3
  4. F = Perfect 4th      = p4
  5. G = Perfect 5th      = p5
  6. A = Major 6th      =∆6
  7. B = Major 7th    = ∆7

* To know more about intervals and how they are defined go to the “Intervals” section here.


When we play the scale sequence across the strings of the bass guitar it most commonly looks like this shape. Notice each note is labelled in sequence of Intervals.

C Major CP1 verticle

The problem we face playing string instruments, is the fact that we can play the same notes in different positions and string combinations. I think a lot of people can become overwhelmed with the concept of trying to play the same sequence of notes in various positions on the neck of the guitar.


A great way to start this journey would be by looking at the scale in one octave and learn to play it in 3 positions. In doing this we can focus on using a systematic approach to our fingering and hand position. This, in the long run, will help develop smooth shifts and fingerings so that we eliminate any chance of stumbling as we climb up the neck of the guitar. Particularly when we start to incorporate fast runs and lines.

Here is an example of how the same notes of the scale are used in conjunction with open strings.

C Major OP verticle

Notice most of the interval positions stay the same apart from the major second and perfect fifth. The importance of identifying the various positions will help us understand the neck better and help us identify more logical fingering when learning songs or solos.

Now we understand the scale and how it is built, we will begin our studies by learning 3 positions of the Major scale. We will start with what I call “Close Position 1”(this is the most common posItion) then “Open Position” (because it uses open strings) and “Close position 2”.

C Major CP1 verticleC Major OP verticleC Major CP2 verticle

Spend a week playing these three positions focusing the fingerings provided. This in return will not only help develop your knowledge of the scale in this position but will also help with finger independence.

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