Major scales are one of the most fundamental tools, both from a practical and theoretical perspective on the guitar. From a technical point of view, being able to play every major scale in any position on the guitar gives you great access and control over the fretboard.
From a theoretical point of view, major scales are the cornerstone for much theory relating to soloing, composition, chord construction and the formation of other scales. When you construct chords, you are actually using the notes from a major scale to do so. For example, to play an F major chord, you need to use the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes (F, A, C) of an F major scale. Even the construction of minor chords and altered chords uses major scales as its basis. For example, a Gmin7b5 chord uses the altered notes of a G major scale – 1, b3, b5, b7 (G, Bb, Db, F).
Modes and scales are also constructed using major scales as the foundation. When you play a Dorian scale, you are effectively playing a major scale with a flat 3rd and flat 7th. Obviously, understanding and mastering the major scale is therefor the first step in mastering the Dorian scale.
To be thourough, I have included an individual guide to major scales in every key. Once you understand how major scales work, you should be able to figure out how to play them in any given key. However, the following list provides a specific guide to each individual key, which should provide extra insight.
I have divided the keys into two categories: Common major scales and secondary major scales. The Common major scales are the scales that are used most of the time whereas the secondary major scales contain the keys that are used less often.
Common Major Scales:
- A Major scale
- Bb Major scale
- B major scale
- C Major scale
- Db Major scale
- D Major scale
- Eb Major scale
- E major scale
- F Major scale
- F# Major scale
- Gb Major scale (enharmonically the same as F# Major)
- G Major scale
- Ab Major scale
Less Common Major Scales
- A sharp Major scale (enharmonically the same as Bb Major)
- C# Major scale (enharmonically the same as Db Major)
- D# Major scale (enharmonically the same as Eb Major)
- G# Major scale (enharmonically the same as Ab Major)
Very Rarely Used Major Scales
- B# Major scale (enharmonically the same as C Major)
- E# Major scale (enharmonically the same as F Major)
- Cb Major Scale (enharmonically the same as B Major)
- Fb Major Scale (enharmonically the same as E Major)
Just to clarify, each position of every scale has been notated in both standard notation and tablature along with a diagram of the given position. The way I recommend practicing scales (this is how I have notated them) is to start from the lowest root note in the chosen position, ascend to the highest note possible in that position (regardless of whether or not it is the root note) then descend to the lowest possible note in that position (again, regardless of whether or not it is the root note) and finally ascend back to the starting note. If this seems confusing, just follow the given notation and it should make sense just by example.
As I mentioned, mastering major scales is one of the most important things you can do. Get familiar with the theory behind it and then start practicing in different keys. It is important to be able to pick a certain key and then play the 5 different positions (plus the open position) of that key. So constantly test yourself. For example, pick the key of Ab, play it in the open position and then play through the 5 positions in an orderly manner, just as demonstrated in the post on Ab major. Another good approach is to pick 1 position and then try to play through every key in that 1 position. So for example, start in the 5th position and play Bb major, then play Eb major, then Ab major and so on. Sometimes you might have to move up or down 1 fret but you should generally be able to go through all the different keys by staying in the one position. Using the cycle of 4ths is a great tool for moving through every key.
Once you really start to get the hang of your major scales, test yourself by improvising, composing melodies inside the scale and using patterns to play through the scales.
It takes time to master the different shapes and positions in every key but it is well worth practicing every day. Remember, mastering major scales is one of the most important things you can do on the guitar!