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Constructing the Major Scale by Marc Schonbrun

The major scale is a series of repeating whole and half steps. Every major scale has the same pattern, no matter where you start. This is the reason why you can move the scale shapes around the guitar easily. Theoretically every scale shares the same construction blueprint of half and whole steps. Let's look at the C-Major scale and the intervals between the notes. (See FIGURE 7-2.)

The pattern is whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, and half (or W, W, H, W, W, W, H). This is the formula for constructing any major scale. Apply this across one string of the guitar so you can really see how the intervals separate. Start on the first fret of the second string. The first fret is C, which is the root of this major scale. Following the formula, move up a whole step (two frets), which puts you on the third fret D. If you follow the pattern all the way up you get a C-Major scale across one string. Look at the neck diagram in FIGURE 7-3 for the C-Major scale played across one string.

If you look at the scale this way you can see how the pattern repeats—whole steps are two-fret shifts, and half steps are one-fret shifts. Now let's describe the pattern in terms of guitar fret moves. Instead of half step, let's say “up one” and instead of whole step, let's say “up two.” So now the pattern is: up two, up two, up one, up two, up two, up two, up one. Start anywhere on the guitar and apply this pattern across a single string. You'll get a perfect major scale. Of course, if you start on a high fret, you'll run out of room on the neck, so start on a lower fret. If your neck continued up forever, the pattern would work no matter where you started.

If the pattern for a major scale never changes, how come the fingerings for scales change on the neck? The guitar is not tuned symmetrically, so depending where you start, and what strings you play on, the scale may change and you play across several strings. If you play the same fingering across one string, you'll always get the same shape.

King Major

In music theory, everything reverts to the good old major scale.

Everything that isn't major is some modification of it. So if you understand the major scale and how to spell it, you can figure anything out. Let's look at six basic C-Major scale intervals to see what you can generate from this scale:

C–D (major second)

C–E (major third)

C–F (perfect fourth)

C–G (perfect fifth)

C–A (major sixth)

C–B (major seventh)

The first interval of a scale—a major second—isn't always from C to D as it is in the C-Major scale shown in the previous list. You can locate a major second in any scale if you spell out the scale, find its root, and then find its second note. The same logic applies to any other interval you want to find. For example, if you want to find a major sixth from A, spell out an A-Major scale, find the root note (which would be A), and then find the sixth note of that scale. It's that easy.

Major Rules

Enharmonics can be tricky, so keep these two important points in mind when spelling out major scales and intervals: Scales contain seven different letters (notes) and a letter is never repeated back to back. Just remember, if you're on an F, the next note has to be some form of G, because you must keep moving up the alphabet. Even though F and G are the same note, you'll never see the note of F followed by F —in such a case F would be written as G (using the next letter in the alphabet). A lot of these “rules” are conveniences for musicians who read and analyze a lot of music. Musicians are trained to expect certain groupings of notes. When you read music it's much easier to see notes progress to the next pitch if a different letter is used, than if the same note is repeated with a sharp or a flat added. When spelled out, a scale that contains sharps never contains flats, and a scale with flats never contains sharps. For example, the key of A contains the notes A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A — all flats. The key of A major is spelled A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A — all sharps.

Perfect Sense

The major intervals of seconds, thirds, sixths, and sevenths make sense, but the term “perfect” seems strange. What is so perfect about them? We call them perfect because when you compare C Major and C minor, they both share the same fourth and fifth. Because they don't move, they're called perfect. The other notes with major or minor interval names do shift from scale to scale. Without further ado, let's look at the minor scale and the theory behind it.