The A MAJOR Scale, -Root 5 Thinking

Theory First

Like all major scales, A major is defined by its formula and spelling:


With the A Major Scale there is a demand for 3 sharps, C#, F# and G#. This demand is made in order to preserve the proper relationship, and therefore sounds, between all scale members.

Using the trainer below, ytou can see that the A major scale is easily played by starting on the open “A” string and following the basic formula of half steps and whole steps. Practice this scale until you can slide up and down through the scale in an effortless, rhythmic fashion. If you have a keyboard, get to it now and play along, as you do, try to say or sing the solfege name of each note as you play.

A Major, Position One

A Major, Position One

Next, focus on the key of A major and its standard open position fingering pattern as it is routinely played and taught. As with the key of E, the key of A major serves as a natural point of reference and organization in any study of fingerboard mechanics. As your fingers learn their way across and through the pattern, make mental notes concerning the location of the 3 occurrences of the A root note. Play the scale ascending and descending as smoothly and rhythmically as possible, saying the solfege names of the notes as you work your way through the pattern. As you mouse over the diagram, explore the optional position II ‘speed’ fingering where you will use your first finger for both frets I and II.


Open A Major Training Exercises

Use the visualization exercises below memorize the fingering pattern for open position A major. There are three ways to study the animation; (1) simply watch the scale materialize, (2) play along watching the neck and (3) play along watching the printed music. As usual each note is sounded 3 times as it appears in the animation.

Next is the complete 2 octave fingering at a tempo of 120BPM, which is a little on the quick side. Use this drill until you are very comfortable at the tempo and can play the scale quickly and cleanly, using both of the suggested fingerings, from memory alone. Also make a mental note of what I have called the ‘lower extention’, shown in gray. It may be a stretch, but treat this exercise as if it were your favorite guitar solo.


scalej69Melodic Work: Devils Dream

In my system, any scale you learm must be translated into something musical. In this study you’ll be using the open A major scale to learn a beautiful and favorite flatpicking song (fiddle tune) called Devils Dream. This song is a study in the use of open strings and repititious phrases and chord tones. At a good many points during the song its easy to see a chord shape emerge from the pattern of single notes called for by the melody.

Through the use of the open strings (or optional fretted ones) found in the pattern, difficult lines are made easy. When learning these melodies you should keep in mind the fact that each new key you learn to play in is like its own little musical neighborhood. A unique neighborhood with it’s twist, turns and secret little pathways known only by frequent visitors. The open A major scale is no different in this regard as is illustrated in the diagrams found here. Two of the notes, high E (1st string open) and high B (2nd string open) each appear in two different locations in the first position. Having options for note locations makes playing certain passages easier.

Transposing Up One Octave

The A major scale in the open position is considered a root 5 scale pattern. The shape of the scale is best studied by transposintg the pattern up one octave in pitch. The resulting pattern, although very useful and interesting, is normally not thought of a first choice, or “go to” scale pattern. That beinfg said, this scale pattern is a necessary and vital part of this course and professional level guitar playing in general.


A Type Of Scale Pattern

Because this scale pattern contains so many out of position notes, traditionally only fingered with first finger stretches, another fingering pattern is preferred choice for a scale whose notes are working their way up the neck (higher in pitch), from a 5 string root note. That scale, which is the A Type of major scale pattern in this system, appears in the drill below.


Sliding Vs. Stretching

As many players do not like to play the D notes on the 10th fret of strings 1 and 6, finding it uncomfortable and awkward to stretch finger one back out position for so many notes, an alternate multi-position fingering is also popular. This approach puts the scale in position 11, with a sliding shift to position 12 -giving the first finger plenty of work. The fingering pattern has you sliding up one fret, to the 12th position, to accommodate the last few high notes in the scale. Many players find that making this one fret shift from position 11 to position 12 to be quite comfortable as the strong and nimble first finger one is the finger that is doing the work of the position shift. The diagrams below have these two fingerings indicated in white.


Transposition Trainer: Preferred Shape

In my system, I strongly prefer to use the first option discussed in this lesson, the scale pattern in which finger is stretched back one fret out of position, as opposed to using a scale pattern which makes me change positions. Use the trainer below to become comfortable with playing the preferred root 5 major scale fingering, the A Type, in different keys, sliding the scale pattern (shape) up and down the neck.

Acrobat PrinterPrint And Save

Included with this this lesson is a printed summary, deeper analysis and fresh perspectives on the key of A major. Open the printed study.


“My first experience with the guitar was taking lessons from Karl Aranjo as a high school student. His lessons were more than just a collection of tips and riffs: they were a method. As I look through, I get to take a trip back through those lessons and am reminded about I loved about them. His strong focus on the fundamentals quickly draws a connection between general music theory and the particulars of how that theory can be applied to the guitar, even allowing us as guitarists to use our instrument as an abacus-like tool to enhance our musical insight. In high school, Karl’s lessons got me up to speed to jam with my friends and in the school band almost immediately. In the almost 20 years since I left high school and had my last lesson with Karl, the things he taught me have continued to serve me well; I’ve played almost continuously in a variety of styles (jazz, rock, funk, folk), both as a hobby and as a part-time professional (currently playing with San Francisco’s Smash-Up Derby). If I hadn’t grown up in the same town as where Karl taught, I might have missed out on a lifetime of fun playing the guitar. With, wherever you are, you can benefit from the same quality instruction that I had!

-Grahm Ruby

“Mr. Karl Aranjo is one great teacher to work with. When working with him, he is very flexible, and will teach you all the basics and fundamentals you will need while learning how to play the guitar. From learning basic chords to crazy licks and solo’s. You will become an expert in no time and looking like a professional guitar player. In my experience, I learned to master chord progressions much easier and understand it in a better perspective. In my music career/hobby, it has given me nothing but success to play in a band as a front man/rhythm guitarist, compose my own type of music, and as well as songs that I really wanted to learn how to play on the guitar. Learning through Karl Aranjo was a great experience and has helped me understand the guitar a lot easier, I would not have wanted this learning experience any other way.”

-Julius Isaac

“I had the pleasure of being a guitar student of Karl’s for several years. Karl advanced my playing ability a great deal very quickly by giving me a perfect combination of guitar technique, theory and assigning songs that motivated me to continue learning. I highly recommend Karl for all level of guitar players no matter if you are a beginner or advanced.”

-Tom Hunt

”Karl Aranjo is a great and experienced teacher with an extensive knowledge of guitar playing and theory. His thorough online course, covers the whole spectrum from the first time beginner to advanced.”

Blake Aaron- Internationally Known Recording Artist

”Karl helped me dive into the blues when I was first starting out, and learning how to improvise opened up many doors for me on guitar. He has a vast knowledge ranging many musical styles, and i would recommend him to anyone trying to learn the instrument!”

Eric Cannata Young The Giant