Part 2 – How to Use the Major Scale on guitar

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HOW to Use the Major Scale on guitar


So by now, you (hopefully) know at least 1 major scale pattern. On guitar there are 5 patterns (often called positions) that make up the major scale between 12 frets. After 12 frets the patterns will start again because the 12th fret is actually the octave of the note that the strings are tuned to. Even though they are often thought of as 5 different patterns/positions, really what we have is one big pattern. It is useful to start thinking of it this way as soon as possible- once you know two consecutive positions, for instance, start trying to connect them and see them as one bigger pattern of note options. If you make an attempt to connect them as you learn and use them, eventually you will think of all 5 positions as one big pattern.


The shape of the major scale is always the same, irrespective of the key, because it it came from the Major Scale formula: T T S T T T S. This makes it a shape that you can slide left or right and it will put the pattern in different keys.


So lets start to have a look at how, just by knowing this one parent pattern- the Major Scale- means that we already know what we need in order to use other common scales too, including the:

  • Minor scale
  • Major pentatonic scale
  • Minor pentatonic scale
  • Modes


NOTE:  What I will show you here is somewhat of a shortcut if it isn’t built upon with note-knowledge, because it uses pattern-based memory which our minds are very adept at creating and using. You will find it easy to memorise patterns and can be very tempted to leave the process there. Please realise that these patterns are a very useful scaffolding on which to anchor our note-knowledge. We do this with mental labelling exercises once the patterns have been memorised.


The result we are after is the ability to keep track of what is going on musically! This is important to keep in mind so that you can assess your own progress.


Now, let’s start by using the major scale, position 1, to play in any key that we choose. Remember how we said that the major scale pattern can be shifted left and right to place it in different keys? Think like this: for whatever major key you’d like to play in, you want to slide the pattern left or right until the Major Root Note Positions land on the notes that correspond to the key you have chosen (you actually only have to focus on aligning one major root note because once that one is in place, they all are by default, check it out).


Let’s say you want to play in the key of E…

If you look at position 1, there are Major Root Notes ONLY on the E and D strings in this position.


So find the note E somewhere on the E strings (it’s at the 12th fret) or the D string (2nd or 14th frets). Now slide the whole pattern left or right until these major root notes are on the corresponding frets.  In other positions they exist on different strings too but we are simply using position 1 to focus on for this example.


E Major

See how the Major Root Notes (Black) are aligned with the note E? Placing the pattern here puts us in the key of E!

With time and using mini-exercises that target these skills, you will know every position of the Major Scale including every Major Root Note!




Ok, time for you to do some exploration of your own. Try to take position 1 (or any others that you know quite well) and try to find these keys:

  • A
  • F
  • D
  • C#
  • B
  • G#
  • G
  • D#


Good luck. Once this is easy enough to do, move along to the next lesson to see how we can also start playing around with a new root note called the Minor Root Note, which gives us access to the Minor Scale.

Andrew Scrivens

Andrew Scrivens

I am a live musician and guitar teacher from Brisbane, Australia, with extensive experience playing live, in the studio and for TV shows. I play in many venues, studios, music shops and with my students and as such am exposed to a lot of different gear. I form my opinions based on my experiences playing instruments in these locations.

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