The C Major Scale

A Scale is defined as a series of notes arranged in order form lowest to highest. There are easily hundreds of known scales in our system of music. However, the most useful and important one of all is the Major Scale. As the basis and foundation of harmony and music theory, the Major Scale provides an important point of focus for a student of music. The tonality, or overall sound and flavor of the scale, is found in virtually all styles and genres of music. As we said in the previous lesson, a scale derives its sound, and is defined by the distance between the note in the scale, this is called a scale formula. With the Major Scale, these distances are either half steps (two notes right next to each other) or whole steps (two notes seperated by one other note). The formula for the Major Scale could is written as:



All serious musicians and music students own and are familiar with a keyboard, the C Major Scale is played on a keyboard by starting and ending on the "C" note. The half steps can be seen as naturally occuring between the B - C and E - F keys as illustrated below. To play the C Major Scale on a piano, you start at the "C" note and play all the white keys, or the large 'natural' keys, those not designated as flats or sharps (the black keys), until you arrived at the next highest "C" note, one octave higher than you started. As you listen to the interactive graphic below, think of all the notes with their solfege names:

Do - Re - Mi - Fa - Sol - La - Ti - Do

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Sliding On One String

The same type of thinking can be applied to the neck of the guitar by sliding up one string and playing the notes of the scale as you go higher and higher along the neck of the guitar. Play along in perfect unison with the interactive diagram below.

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Sliding up and down one string is an interesting, useful and educational way to play a scale but an uncommon one. Although this approach is somewhat unconventional, this type of playing and thinking can add another dimension to your scale playing, scale connecting ability, soloing and therefore overall musicianship. Many guitarists add this up and down linear movement along one string as a logical, intuitive way of creating melodies and or changing position.

C Major Scale, Position One

Of course, most guitar playing, including scale playing is learned in position. The first position begins with the first fret and includes the open strings. When playing in the first or ‘Open’ position, each finger is assigned to its own fret, with the first finger playing all the first fret notes and the second finger being responsible for all the notes on the second fret and so on for fingers 3 and 4. In this course, this scale is classified as the C Type, and should be linked in your mind to the C major chord form found in the open position. It is called the C Type because it is in the open position, the position which serves as the organizer for the understanding of the guitars mechanics.

At right you can practice playing and hearing the notes of the C Major scale with a feeling of smoothness and rhythm, giving each note a clear, full, and ringing quality. As you play, land precisely on each note, with your finger close to, but not touching the actual fret. Musicians call this playing cleanly. When you learn this or any scale, concentrate on visualizing the pattern, its shape and the feeling of running the notes. Scale playing is also an exercise in hearing. Make sure you can hear the scale in your head, imagining the sound of each note and understanding, in your ear, the relationship that each note in the scale has to the scale itself.

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Inside every scale is a whole beautiful world of music just waiting to materialize. The major scale, like all scales, has a sound quality or musical character associated with it. The quality of the major ccale is bright and tuneful. Because this scale is so strong and consonant it is the most widely used scale in our modern system of music. Practice a scale until you can play it smoothly, slowly and rhythmically.

How To Practice Scales

Below is a short video which will help us tie this lesson together and take things a little further, be sure to keep your guitar handy while studying the video.


Here is a visual reference for all notes in the key of C that appear in the first position, the one classic one octave pattern, and all the scale tones that are lower in pitch and higher in pitch as discussed in the video.

Use the following exercise as an ear training study but also as technical to practiced and mastered. By stopping, starting and resting on the root note of C you are training yourself to hear the scale properly.Play the exercise below until you can play it quickly cleany and effortlessly in perfect unison with the recording.

As the basis of many great melodies, solo, licks and riffs, major scale is easily the most important scale in the modern system of music. Among experienced musicians and teachers, the major ccale is the tool for learning about and studying music theory and is practiced regularly. When you study this lesson be sure you are aware of and have firm grasp on three key points:

  1. Scales obtain their sound from the distances between their notes, called a formula. Write down the formula for a Major Scale.
  2. All scales have a generall overall sound quality or musical flavor. This is simply called Quality. The quality of the Major Scale is bright, tuneful and melodic.
  3. Scales should be heard inside your minds ear, knowing the sound of the scale and the distances between the notes.

Through the memorization of scale patterns, your fingers will learn to respond to mental sound images in a smooth, accurate and confident manner.

End Of Lesson One