If you have ever seen someone play a guitar solo, then you have seen someone use scales. A scale is a series of notes played one after another that gives a certain feeling to a song. You can use scales to make melodies and solos. Instead of playing 3 or more notes at a time like chords, scales are made up of single, individual notes. Scales follow a pattern that repeats after eight notes of the scale have been played. These first 8 notes are called an octave. Some scale charts show one octave, and others show more, maybe even the whole fret board! In GLI, we will show the "box pattern." The box pattern is where the scale is played across the neck as far as possible, usually two octaves and a note. It will look like a box… but I'm sure you figured that out already. So let's check out how a major scale is put together.
Chromatic Scale / Sharps and Flats
The chromatic scale is the first scale you should learn in order to understand some of the vocabulary when learning new scales. The chromatic scale is made up of the 12 possible notes in music. There are the notes A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. But there are also sharps and flats for some of the notes. With these sharps and flats included the 12 possible notes are A, Bb, B, C, Db, D, Eb, E, F, F#, G and G#. This would make the A chromatic scale. If you were to play the A string on your guitar open and play every fret up to the 12th fret you would have played the A chromatic scale.
Sharps are shown by the # symbol and flats are a lowercase b. When a note is sharp it is one half step higher than it is without a sharp, or one fret higher. When a note is flat it is one fret lower. Each fret is one half step. Two frets is a whole step. It is important to know half and whole steps because most instruction books and reference guides will explain scales saying “whole whole half whole whole whole half” and that is the pattern of the scale. Now lets look at the major scale compaired to the chromatic scale.
The top half of this chart is the chromatic scale. And the bottom half is the Cmaj scale. Notice that there is no sharp or flat between E and F and also no sharp or flat between B and C. Keep note of this. Also since each note in the chromatic scale is a half step away, if we make G flat then it will be the same tone as F#, the same goes for a Cb, which is the same tone as B.
Major Scale Pattern
Now the pattern of a major scale is whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half. The bottom portion of the chart above follows this pattern. Since it starts on a C and follows the major scale pattern it is a C major scale. Now we can take this pattern and put it to fret board and music to play it.
On the left is the scale chart for Cmaj and the right, Cmaj in notation and TAB. The great thing about guitar is that you can learn one pattern for a scale and move it all around the fret board to play the other 11 keys for that scale. So take this Cmaj pattern and instead of starting it on a C start it on the 5th fret of the E string, and bam you have an Amaj scale. The major scale pattern is very important to know because a lot of music theory revolves around the major scale. If you have any questions feel free to use the resources available at GLI like the videos, forum and audio clips.