Understanding the major scale is very important for beginner guitarists because all of your scales arpeggios and chords are based on the major scale. In this lesson we are going to walk you through the formula for a major scale and give you a common scale shape that you can use to play it. Check out the scale diagram for an easy reference to this shape. We will be in the key of G major throughout this lesson.
If you stay on one string, we can define a whole step on the guitar as starting on any note and going up two frets. If you stay on one string again, a half step can be thought of as starting on any note and going up to the very next fret. The formula for a major scale is 2 whole steps, 1 half step, 3 more whole steps, and 1 more half step. Since we are in the key of G, we will start on a G for the first note of the scale.
Start on the G note on the 3rd fret of the 6th string. From G to an A on the 5th fret is a whole step and from A to a B on the 7th fret is a whole step. That takes care of the first two whole steps. Move from the B to a C on the 8th fret for the first half step. Now move from C to a D on the 9th fret, D to an E on the 12th fret, and E to F# on the 14th fret. Those are the next 3 whole steps. Finish the scale with one more half step up to a G note on the 15th fret. This is the entire G major scale played only on the 6th string.
Building scales like this is a great way to understand how scales work, but playing all of the notes on one string is not always that practical for playing in a musical context. The scale shape that we have provided for you automatically fits the formula of whole steps and half steps for a major scale. Practice this shape going up and down and be aware that you are just playing a series of whole steps and half steps that make up the formula for a major scale.
This scale shape is movable, so try moving it around to other keys on the fretboard. The lowest note on the 6th string that you play will be the key that you are in. For example, if you started this scale shape on the 8th fret of the 6th string it would be a C major scale because the note that you started on would be a C. If you have a metronome be sure to use it when practicing this scale. Remember to use alternate picking throughout the scale.