How Well Do You Know Major Scales?

I’ve written about the importance of knowing Major scales. So much of theory (chords, scales, etc. etc.) relies on a sound knowledge of major scales. While a lot has been written on being able to play major scales up and down the neck in different positions and keys, a very effect way of learning major scales from a knowledge point of view is to learn all 12 major scales in the open position.

Playing scales in the open position is often seen as a beginner’s approach to scales. While this is somewhat true, it’s important to realize that playing scales in the open position can be sometimes technically more difficult than across the fretboard and usually requires a greater knowledge of the scale itself. When you learn a movable scale shape, it becomes very easy to change keys by simply moving the shape around the fretboard. This is not the case with open position scales. For example, to be able to play all 12 major scales in the open position, you need to learn each scale individually.

In this lesson, we are going to look at the 12 major scales in the open position. This information can be found in individual posts on each major scale key, but in this lesson, we are bringing together each key, but only for the open position.

We want to be able to do two things:

  • Play all 12 major scales
  • Know the names of the notes in all 12 major scales

Both of these are very important. Knowing the names of the notes in each scale is very important. There are only 12 to learn (not including enharmonically equivalent keys) so you might as well make it an important goal to reach. Once you know the names of the notes in each scale, music theory (both complex and simple) becomes a lot more approachable.

Of course, being able to play the individual scales is also very important. Knowing the scales in theory is one thing, but we want to be able to express what we know through music, so being able to actually play the scales is very important.

We are going to look at all 12 major scales ascending and descending. When only 1 complete octave will fit inside the open position, we will only play 1 octave. For keys that can fit 2 octaves in the open position, we will play 2 octaves.

I will list the 12 individual keys below, organized in the cycle of 4ths and then discuss a few more points:

C Major Scale

F Major Scale

Bb Major Scale

Eb Major Scale

Ab Major Scale

Db Major Scale

Gb Major Scale

B Major Scale

E Major Scale

A Major Scale

D Major Scale

G Major Scale

As you may have noticed, I have not used key signatures but instead written the sharps and flats beside each note. This is not to say that key signatures are not important, but our main goal here is to be able to play each scale and say the names of the individual notes within each scale.

A good practice approach is to say each note as you are playing them. This has the added benefit of consolidating your knowledge of the notes in the open position.

Once you have mastered each scale (or even before then), you can test yourself by playing the scale in 3rds. Playing scales in 3rds involves playing the scale using a particular pattern. You play the 1st note of the scale, then the 3rd, then the 2nd, then the 4th, then the 3rd, then the 5th and so on.

Here are two examples:

F Major Scale in 3rds

B Major Scale in 3rds

From a theoretical perspective, learning the notes in each scale is easy. Apart from ‘playing  and saying’, as discussed before, a very effective thing to do is to simply write out the names of the notes in each scale. You do not need a guitar for this exercise (in fact, it’s probably better without). Simply get a blank piece of paper, write the name of each major scale, then write the names of the notes in each major scale. This exercise can easily be done on a computer, tablet, phone etc.

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