5 Major Scales on Guitar

Learn the Fretboard in 5 Shapes

Introduction to Major Scales on Guitar

Learn the Fretboard in 5 Shapes

Major scales on guitar – are they mundane or mystical? Everyone thinks they know what it is (at least as much as they can sing do-re-mi). But, there are several facets to the Major scale that often get overlooked by beginner and intermediate guitar students. If you master the 5 major scales on guitar, you’ll take a giant leap towards mastering the fretboard. This article will help you develop a deeper appreciation for the major scales. When you’re done you might see how ‘mystical’ is the right answer after all!

Guitar Major Scale Patterns

Learning the Major Scale isn’t difficult, but it is very important. If you learn the major scale properly, you’ll learn that there are 5 guitar major scale patterns. These 5 patterns make fretboard navigation easy. But, did you know that they also represent 5 of the most important guitar modes? If you’re learning the major scales correctly, you’ll also be learning these modes:

Playing modes and scales is super easy since the guitar allows for the same pitch to be played in multiple locations on the fretboard, . Generally, the larger community of guitarists and guitar teachers have settled on 5 scale shapes (or scale patterns) that lay out in a predictable pattern across the fretboard. Thankfully, these 5 “shapes” are also equal to five of the famous “guitar modes” that so many guitarists covet :).

Starting with C Major Scale on Guitar

One of the first tasks in guitar lessons (and any instrument lesson, really) is learning to play the major scales. This is much more efficient on the guitar than many other instruments because learning one key (we start with C) means you’ve learned all 12 keys!

Patterns Stay the Same on Guitar

Transposing major scales on guitar is very easy. Did you know that you can transpose any scale to any key by moving it around the fretboard? Think of guitar scale patterns as templates. For example, if I can successfully teach one of my guitar students to play the G Major scale on the guitar then I’ve effectively taught them EVERY major scale. If my student learns to play D Dorian, then they effectively know how to play Dorian with EVERY possible root note. This easy transposing is pretty unique to the guitar. The same ‘repeatability’ works with any pattern on the fretboard… CAGED-based chord progressions, arpeggios, modes, etc.

Major Scales on Guitar Represent the Harmonic Series

The major scale directly represents the fixed laws of nature. Let’s see why this matters, shall we?

Musicians call the first note of a scale the “root” or the “tonic”. This note has much more meaning than you may give it credit for! The “tonic” has a specific resonance (or frequency) that gives birth to a series of other frequencies – the instant it sounds. All of those “child” frequencies are called harmonics and they are determined by the laws of physics. They also happen to constitute several of the notes within major scale. For example, did you know that if you play a “C” on your guitar that your string will also resonate with a mathematically precise D, E and G? Those notes are IN the C major scale! The E and G are of particular importance because along with “C” these three notes create a sacred musical construct – the Major Triad. Wow!

Learning Scale Degrees are Consonant or Dissonant

If you hear two voices sing the same pitch, you’ll likely find the outcome pleasing (Consonant) or unpleasant (Dissonance). Consonance and Dissonance are important and helpful characteristics that we can use to craft music for specific emotional contexts. For example, while a horror movie’s tense scenes could be enhanced with dissonant music, the final escape from a haunted house could be enhanced with consonant music. While the effect on consonance and dissonance may have subjective influence, the relationships of certain pitches have objective consonance or dissonance – based on the relationship between pitches (a.k.a. frequencies).


A Simple Exercise to Try...
  1. Play a C Major chord into a looper (or have a friend play it over and over for you).
  2. Next, play the note D “over” the C Major chord and listen… I like to say this tone sounds “curious” (maybe even “optimistic”).
  3. Now play a D Major chord and play an E “over” the D Mjor chord and listen…

Do you hear that? This tone has the same “curious/optimistic” personality! What does this mean? Well, it means that the second scale degree (D is the second scale degree in C Major and E is the second scale degree in D Major) conveys the SAME emotion. You may think of a different word for it, but you’ll find it is a consistent personality… in any key.

This does NOT mean that D or E have a static personality. It DOES mean that the second scale degree in the Major scale has a consistent personality, though. Once you make this discovery and get to know the 7 tone identities in the major scale, you’ll find it much easier to write or improvise melodies (a.k.a. solos) that convey specific emotions.

Enroll to Learn 5 Major Scales on Guitar

Take the Next Step

Learn the Fretboard in 5 Shapes

Key Take-Aways
  1. Guitar major scale patterns ARE modes
  2. The 5 patterns remain the same in ALL keys
  3. Major scales are based on the physics of sound
  4. Better to learn scale degrees than musical note names
  5. Scale degrees convey specific emotions
Basic (But Free) Email Course

What You’ll Learn

Learn how to play the 5 most common major scale patterns.  These 5 patterns represent the following 5 modes:

  1. Phrygian
  2. Mixolydian
  3. Aeolian
  4. Ionian
  5. Dorian

Here’s what to expect…  Each day for 5 days, you’ll get an email containing a private link to a ‘soundslice’.  A ‘soundslice’ is an exercise that syncs a video demo with guitar tab.  You’ll be able to change the speed of playback and practice the tab, while playing along with the video demo.  As you get more comfortable with the exercise, you can increase the playback speed until you feel confident that you’ve learned the scale pattern.  I’d recommend you dedicate 15-30 minutes of practice each day for a week or 2 (for each scale).  But, if you practice more often or for longer durations, you’ll learn theses scales more quickly :). If you have questions, feel free to reach out via the contact form!


That’s it… for now! I hope it’s clear that the major scales on guitar offer us a chance to dig deep into how music works. Major scales are one of the first things I cover in my private guitar lessons, but it’s also something that I’ll revisit again and again as students advance. Practically every important skill in music has roots (no pun intended) in the major scale. I highly recommend digging as deep as you can.