Wednesday, December 5, 2007

How to Learn Guitar Major Scale Patterns

Guitarists of all levels play melodies, riffs, lead guitar solos and bass lines using major scales. The notes of the major scale cover the whole fretboard. To learn this scale template, players break it up into smaller pieces. In this article I'm going to explain to you how this process works and address common issues concerning patterns, fingerings, picking and transposing. With this information you'll understand the process that eventually leads to you successfully using and applying major scales, and developing a strong knowledge of guitar theory.

Major Scale Patterns
When learning the major scale, players break up the notes into positions or patterns. Usually this is done with five pieces but there are other ways to do it. It really doesn't matter how you break up the whole major scale template as long as you can put the pieces together and complete the whole guitar fretboard. Also, different major scale patterns are not different scales. They're the same notes in different positions.

To see the major scale patterns illustrated on a neck diagram just go to and search "major scale patterns." Several web sites will come up that post versions of the patterns for free. Or, see my book Fretboard Theory Chapter 5: The Major Scale.

Memorize Scale Patterns
As you learn major scale patterns be sure to focus on only one at a time. Visualize the pattern on the fret board and play up and down it until you have it completely memorized and your fingers know where to go without thinking. You don't need to start or end on the root, but rather touch on every possible note available in the position you're covering.

Major Scale Fingering
There are no correct or perfect ways to finger major scale patterns, but there are some bad habits to avoid. Don't do something silly like play through a whole pattern with only one or two fingers. This will make you look and sound like a hack. God gave you several fingers for a reason. Use them! Try to get three or four fingers involved. You should be able to cover a position by keeping your hand still and then reaching with your fingers. It's good to settle on something and then be consistent as you practice, but you'll no doubt use other fingerings when you start actually playing music especially when techniques such as slides, hammer-ons, pull-offs and bends are involved.

Alternate Picking
While you're at it, alternate your pick. You'll spend a lot of time rehearsing major scale patterns. Don't reinforce a negative habit by plunking through everything with downstrokes. Kill two birds with one stone by developing alternate picking technique while you learn scale patterns. Choke up on the pick, keep your hand planted on the guitar and alternate continuously without skipping or repeating any strokes. Be sure to rest your hand just above the string you're picking. As you move across the strings, your hand should slide over and rest upon the strings you're not playing to keep them quiet.

Reference Chord
Every time you learn something new on the fret board you should try to peg it to something familiar. This is the key to developing a good working knowledge of music theory especially when applying guitar theory to the fret board. You can apply this pegging idea by associating major scale patterns to reference chords. For example, pattern one (as it's usually taught) can be played right around an "E form" barre chord. Pattern two fits together with a "D form" barre chord. Pattern three with a "C form" and so on. If you know how to navigate the fretboard with chords, and you associate them to major scale patterns, then you'll be able to instantly jump into the major scale in any position. To learn more about chord forms look up the "CAGED Template Chord System."

Connecting Major Scale Patterns
After you complete a pattern, move to the next position and repeat the whole learning process with the new pattern. After you memorize a new position go back and review the others before it. Continue with this process until you've covered the whole fretboard. Then, practice connecting the patterns in both directions across the neck. In other words, connect pattern one to pattern two, two to three, three to four, four to five, then reverse yourself by connecting pattern five back into pattern four, four into three, three into two, and two into one. You may have room to move backward from the pattern one you started at. Try it.

As you move from one pattern to the next, notice how a portion of each is reused in the new position. Visualizing how these pieces connect is the key to navigating the fretboard, understanding how music elements are combined, and developing a knowledge of guitar music theory.

Transposing Major Scales
Once you've completed the whole major scale template in one key you can transpose by simply shifting it to a new starting position. Don't let the fret numbers throw you off. Instead, focus on the shape of the pattern and the feel of the fingering. Connect all the patterns in this new key until you run out of fretboard or can't play any higher. Don't forget to cover the area before pattern one begins. Complete this process through all twelve keys. When you're done, you'll surely have the patterns down pat!

More to Come
Look out for future guitar lessons where I'll explain great ways to practice and helpful ways to begin applying the major scale to music and songs. You'll need this information in order to complete the major scale learning process, and moreover to develop a good knowledge of guitar theory.

Guitar Major Scale Podcast
Listen to free audio lessons on major scales and guitar theory at the links below.

Guitar Major Scale Podcast at iTunes
Guitar Major Scale Podcast at

Play Until Yer Fingers Bleed!
Mr. Desi Serna (Google me!)
Scales, Chords, Progressions, and More


VintageP said...

I started the guitar in middle age and wanted to move quickly to make up for lost time. Luckily, my instructor emphasized the approach you have outlined here. So, I followed it even though up front I felt I was not getting any benefit. However, after 2 weeks I saw the light. I can attest to the value of these exercises!

Norhafidz said...

hello there..

I'm Norhafidz and I like your blog man. I tried finding a way to contact you but seems your blog doesn't have one. I just wanted to ask, do you do link exchange with other blog?

If you do, I would to exchange my link with you,here's my email: norhafidz[at]

Guitar Chords Blog

Mark said...

I really liked your No Woman No Cry video lesson. I am also curious just what sort of guitar you are playing in that video lesson.


Chris Bryant said...

Hi there!

I think the approach you describe is very valide. I do think it is vey important to associate scales and chords on the fretboard, so I'll be practicing this like it : playing the chord, playing the scale (up/down/pattern) and always, then playing the chord again. I'd also practice scales from one chord tone to another (say from the 3rd to the 7th). Practicing that, you'be train your ear and your fingers to play the right scales on the right chords.

Mr. Desi Serna said...

Thanks Vintagep. Keep it up and let me know if you have any questions.

Norhafidz, I can be reached by emailing:

Mark, I'm using a Line 6 Variax acoustic guitar. It's great!