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Theory Request #1 - Major Scales explained

Andrew Milner

Campfire Attention Holder
  • Nov 11, 2019
    1. Topics of discussion

    In this thread, we're going to discuss major scales and how to play them on the guitar. This request came from @Kim La . So, let's get on the square and on the level.

    2. Steps, half-steps, and frets

    Much like how you can measure the distance between cities in kilometers or miles, so too can you measure the distance between notes in steps and half-steps. These bad boys are also known as tones and semitones or whole tones and half tones.

    A half-step is the smallest tonal distance between two notes. On your guitar, that is basically the distance between two consecutive frets on the same string. A step consists of two half-steps, which as you can see translates to two frets on your guitar.

    3. Major scale formula

    Major scales consist of 7 different notes, which follow the following formula:


    W stands for whole step while H stands for half-step. And what we have in the formula is the distance between two consecutive notes of the scale, in ascending order.

    In other words, the difference between the first note and the second note is a whole step, the difference between the second note and the third note is also a whole step, and so on.

    Since there are 7 distances there, one can conclude that a major scale has 8 notes. Then why did I say 7 earlier? Because, while there are in fact 8 notes, one of them is repeated. The note that is repeated is the first note, which is also played at the end of the scale, an octave higher than the note that started the whole thing.

    4. Figuring out the notes of a scale

    When it comes to a standard tuned guitar, these are the notes you can play on each string:


    If we are to play the notes of the C major scale, then by applying the formula above, we would get C, D, E, F, G, A, B and we would end on C again. Kind of like this:

    C major.png

    Of course, there are many other scales for you to choose from. It would be highly indicated to study the lesson the Papa Gates has on the Circle of 5ths in order to gain an even easier way to figure out the notes of each scale.

    5. The CAGED system forms for major scales

    The CAGED system is based on 5 chord forms. The name of the chors are in the name of the system and they are of course the basic forms of the C, A, G, E and D chords, which look like this:


    If we are to play the C chord using all these shapes, it would look like this:


    In order to successfully play major scales using the CAGED system forms, you need to learn the shapes of the root chord of the scale (the chord formed on the first note), using these movable shapes. Afterwards, you just add the missing notes of the scale which are located on the frets you're not using to play the chord. Let's look at the C form for example:

    C major_C form.png

    Let's move on to the A form:

    C major_A form.png

    Next up, the G form:

    C major_G form.png

    The E form is next:
    05. C major - E form.png

    Finally, the D form:

    C major_D form.png

    6. The 7 positions of the major scale

    Papa Gates has a wonderful tutorial on this. Basically, the 7 positions of the major scale is a concept referring to you playing a major scale in 7 different ways, starting on a different note each time:

    7 forms.jpg

    That should wrap everything up.


    • C major_E form.png
      C major_E form.png
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    Last edited:


    Garage band Groupie
    Nov 11, 2019
    Andrei, this is amazing!! Thank you so much for explaining this so clear!! I think now i fully understand it (for the first time, after a lot of youtube videos and reading about it), this is the complete explaining, while on other sites/youtube sometimes they explain 1 part, this is the total package, im really gratefull for this, thanks a lot :)
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