Basic Guitar Harmony: Scale Primer and Intervals – Part 2

In Basic Guitar Harmony: Scale Primer and Intervals – Part 1 the key reasons for studying harmony were outlined as well as the introduction to the chromatic scale. Now the attention will focus on understanding the major scale.

The Major Scale

In the Western culture, as opposed to Eastern culture, most of the music heard derives from the major scale. A major scale can begin on any of the twelve tones of the chromatic scale. The difference between the chromatic and major scale lies in the relationship between each tone. The major scale uses a specific whole step (two frets) and half step (one fret) order (Example 1).

Example 1

major scale formula

whole step = Whole Step

half step = Half Step

Building Major Scales

Now that the formula for a major scale is defined, it’s time to build one. The C Major scale starts on the note C. Using the chromatic scale from before and the formula just presented as a guide (Example 2), the next note in the scale is up a whole step to the D. Another whole step brings the scale to an E. One half step away from E is the note F (notice that there are no sharp or flat notes between E and F and B and C). Continuing on with the formula for a major scale, a whole step from F is G, another whole step from G is A, and another whole step from A is B. The last distance is a half step bringing the scale from B back to the root note C. The C Major scale is now complete.

Example 2

c major scale

Notice that the same indications for whole step (angled straight lines) and half step (curved line) are used in the examples for clarification. It is difficult for many beginning guitarists that read only music to separate the idea that the lines of a musical staff are different than the strings. This becomes more apparent due to that moving from one line to a space on a musical staff does not always equal the same distance. Obviously, on the tablature lines, it is much easier to see the distance by fret (one half step).

The Bb scale gives another view of a scale taken from the chromatic scale (Example 3). Another new symbol appears in this scale known as a natural sign (♮). This symbol appears on the B note after the B♭ and all other flat notes. It returns the note to the natural instead of keeping it a half step below the normal B note. This does not need to be written in the note names because it is obvious in not having a flat sign next to them.

The Bb major scale does not have the notes circled to give a sense of the lack of observable distance (whole step vs. half step) in a normal musical staff. The distance is easily seen in the tablature for the guitar.

Example 3

bb major scale

Examples 4 and 5 illustrate the C major scale and Bb major scale without the extra notes of the chromatic scale. Each scale is played entirely on string n in order to familiarize the the distances of the whole step and half step.

Example 4

c major scale 2

Example 5

Bb major scale 2

The next step in the process is to construct all twelve major scales on paper, away from the guitar. The following order is a good order to use because it is referred to as the circle/cycle of 4ths (this will be discussed in Part 3): C, F, B♭, E♭, A♭, D♭, G♭, B, E, A, D, and G. Check your results with the those in Appendix A of the downloadable resource available at the end of this series.

After double checking the scale, it is time to begin the memorization process away from the guitar. The importance of this memorization in the life of a musician cannot be overstated. Almost every theoretical concept in music will be based on this information. The better you know these major scales, the easier more advanced concepts in music will be to attain.

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