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Notes on Guitar

Major Scale Patterns on Guitar

Patterns


Guitar players think primarily in patterns, but patterns are not consistent from string to string.  The intervals between strings low E, A, D, and G are the same (a perfect 4th), so patterns don’t change between these strings.  The same is true between the B and the high E-string (also a perfect 4th).  What makes patterns challenging is the interval between the G and the B-string (a major 3rd), which is a half-step smaller than the intervals between all other adjacent strings.  This presents a unique challenge when playing scales and melodies.




















Let’s check out a few different patterns for the major scale.  We’ll look at how the patterns change based on where you start and we’ll show you the best fingering to use for each pattern.





















For example: Start by playing C on the 3rd fret of the A-string with the second finger.  Next play D on the on the 5th fret of the A-string using the 4th finger.  Then play E on the D-string using the 1st finger…etc.


Just one pattern left…

Standard Major Scale Pattern


We can think of the pattern above as the standard pattern for the major scale.  Keep in mind, this pattern only works on strings low E, A, D, and G (see area in yellow below).  Since this pattern takes three strings to complete, it will only work when we start on the low E or the A-string (circled in red).


What does all this mean to me?


This means that if you play the standard major scale pattern starting on any note on the low-E or A-string, you will have played that note’s major scale.  


For example: Start on G and play the pattern.  That’s a G major scale!  Now start on B and play the pattern.  That’s a B major scale…and so on.

Does this always work?


Yes, it does!  This pattern works up and down the neck until you either run out of frets or hit the open strings.  Even if you don’t know what notes you’re playing, the pattern is always the same.



Major Scale Pattern - Variation #1


For any major scale starting on the D-string, our pattern crosses the infamous B-string.  This means that you’ll have to reach one fret higher on the B-string than you would have in the standard pattern.  So if you would have played a note on the 1st fret of the B-string, you’ll find that note on the 2nd fret instead.  This makes up for the smaller interval between the G and the B-string.


Try playing an E major scale using this variation.  Notice how the pattern shifts up by one fret as you cross the B-string.


This pattern works starting on any note on the D-string
for a scale played on strings D, G, and B.

Major Scale Pattern - Variation #2


We will have a similar situation for any major scale starting on the G-string.  Instead of our pattern shifting on the last string of the scale (the B-string), it will now shift on the 2nd string of the scale (still the B-string).  


Try playing an A major scale using this variation.  Notice how the pattern shifts up by one fret as you cross the B-string.

This pattern works starting on any note on the G-string
for a scale played on strings B, and high-E.
Now you know three distinct major scale patterns!

Review - All 3 Patterns


Let’s review the different areas that a major scale can be played using these patterns.