Supplemental Material for Page 16 (Chapter 2)
The Major Scale
HOME<<<>>> Back to page 17<<<See Page 16 (PDF) > >> Ahead to page 19
Related audio: CD Track 10 (Audio for Pages 16 & 18)
Go to page: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12, 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26, 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32, 33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 43. 44. 45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53. 54. 55. 56. 57. 58. 59. 60. 61. 62. 63. 64. 65. 66. 67. 68. 69. 70. 71. 72. 73.
The "basic info about the major scale" presented immediately below is not necessary for students who are starting out on the guitar and who simply want to start practicing the scale. Supplemental material about actually playing the scale is provided further below. (Scroll, or click here.)
Some basic info about the major scale
(This is "General Music" info, and is not exclusive to the guitar.)
The major scale is a basic building block of music. It consists of seven different notes. When practiced, it normally includes an eighth note which is the same as the first note, but is an octave higher. The major scale is basically all of the notes in a given key played in order from highest to lowest (or from lowest to highest when descending, but the scale is typically thought of as an ascending pattern). In practice, it is generally played ascending and descending, in an even rhythm (all notes held for the same duration).
Here's a closer look:
We'll use the key of C as an example. The key of C is generally the easiest key to consider, because it uses no notes that are sharps or flats. All other keys include one or more sharped or flatted note. (See page 52 for more on this.)
The key of C (like all major keys) contains seven different notes.
The notes in the key of C are C, D, E, F, G, A, B.
The major scale is simply the notes of the key played in order, so it's considered a seven-note scale. However, it is played including the "root" (or "tonic") at both the beginning and end. (It simply doesn't sound complete to omit the root at the end.)
So the 8-note "one octave" major scale in the key of C is:
C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C.
To play the scale both ascending and descending (as you generally should), it would go:
C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C, B, A, G, F, E, D, C.
(Actually, some teachers recommend playing the highest note twice, so it may be:
C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C, C, B, A, G, F, E, D, C.)
Just to be clear:
The information presented above is for students who already have (or are curious about acquiring) a basic understanding of music theory such as scales, keys, etc. It is not meant to imply that this should be thoroughly understood, or even given any consideration by beginners who simply wish to start practicing the major scale. Beginning guitarists are not expected to know the name of each note they play while practicing the major scale. In fact, I specifically recommend against being concerned about the names of the notes you're playing (except for the root) when you first start working on scales. Focus instead on your fingering, tone production, picking, evenness of rhythm and memorization of the patterns.
Actually Playing the Scale on the Guitar
Playing "in position"
We'll follow a basic "rule" on the guitar called "playing in position". This rule, or guideline, applies when playing one string (one "note") at a time; it does not apply to chords. Playing "in position" means assigning fingers 1 thru 4 to play (or to "be in charge of") four consecutive frets. For example, if you place your 1st finger on the fifth fret of the sixth string (or any string) it is now assumed that the 2nd finger will be assigned to play the next fret (sixth fret), the 3rd finger will play any notes on the seventh fret, and the eighth fret will be played by the pinky.
The "position" you're in is identified by which fret your 1st finger is responsible for. Play the fifth fret of the sixth string with finger 1. You are now in "fifth position". Play that same note (sixth string, fifth fret) with finger 2. Now you're in "fourth position", because finger 1 is in charge of the fourth fret. Playing that same sixth string, fifth fret with finger 3 is playing in third position, and playing it with the 4th finger puts you in second position.
As a general rule, try to play "in position" unless some situation dictates that it's impractical. Typically, you'll try to stay in position until you need to move, at which time you'll simply shift to another position and proceed to play "in position" again.
Although it does not occur in the first form of the major scale, note that being "in position" may also include stretching one extra fret below with your 1st finger (for instance, in fifth position, finger 1 may sometimes stretch back to play the fourth fret) and an extra fret above with your 4th finger. (For instance, the pinky may stretch to play the ninth fret while you're in fifth position.)
Quick recap: Playing "in position" means assigning the four fingers to any four consecutive frets.
Regarding the text: In conventional guitar notation, a number 1, 2, 3, or 4 is used to indicate which FINGER should be used to play a given note. A CIRCLED NUMBER is used to indicate which STRING something is to be played on, and a ROMAN NUMERAL is used to indicate which POSITION you should be in. As an extension of this convention, I tend to use "1st", "2nd", etc, in reference to fingers (as they are indicated by ordinary Arabic numbers), and "first", "second", etc, in reference to strings or frets.
Playing the one-octave pattern
You can start playing the scale on any reachable fret except the first fret. (Starting with the 2nd finger on the first fret would not leave room for the 1st-finger notes to be fretted.) Unlike the chords presented so far in the book, the scale patterns are movable, i.e. they may be played in any position. The four frets in the diagram represent any four consecutive frets. The fret you're starting on determines the key you're in. For example, lets start with the 2nd finger on the third fret of string six. We're beginning on the lowest note of the scale (the circled note, which happens to be the “root”). We are in the key of G (since the third fret of the sixth string is a G), and we're in second position (even though we're starting on the third fret, because finger 1 is in charge of the second fret). Play the two notes on the sixth string (indicated by the two black dots in the "One Octave" scale diagram) from lowest to highest, which will be frets 3 and 5, using finger 2, then 4. Then proceed to the fifth string, playing frets 2, then 3, then 5 (using fingers 1, 2, 4) and then proceed to the fourth string, playing frets 2, 4 and 5 with fingers 1, 3, 4. Play all of the notes shown on a string (from lowest to highest) before proceeding to the next string. When you get to the highest note (in this case, for the one-octave pattern, that’s the “pinky” note on the fourth string), you’re only halfway done, because you should then proceed to go back down until you wind up where you started (in this case with the 2nd finger on the third fret of the sixth string). In other words, play the scale “up” and then “back down”, or “ascending” and then “descending”…forward and then backwards. (Some people like to hit the highest note twice, so it ends the “upward” portion of the scale, and then is picked again to begin the “downward” portion…others just hit the highest note once, so the pattern just “turns around” or “pivots” on the high note, so the fourth string fingering simply goes 1, 3, 4, 3, 1, rather than 1, 3, 4, 4, 3, 1). Teachers tend to vary on which way they recommend. I don’t hit the highest note twice, but again, there’s no right or wrong. For those who read tablature, here's how it looks "tabbed out" in the key of G, playing the highest note just once:
As soon as you’re comfortable playing the pattern in one particular “position” (for instance, starting with finger 2 on the third fret, so you’re in the key of G), start moving around to other places. That is, play in various keys as soon as you’re ready. Remember, the diagram on page 16 represents any four consecutive frets…if you start with finger 2 on the eighth fret, you’ll be playing a C major scale, etc.
If you have small hands, you may prefer to start in a higher position, so the frets are closer together. It makes sense to start where the size of the frets conforms reasonably well to the size of your hand. Starting around the eighth or ninth frets is often better if you don't have big hands. You don't want to feel like you're having to stretch or reach. Also, don't go so high up that the frets are small and you feel "squished up". Eventually, however, you should be comfortable playing in the second thru tenth positions. (On most electric guitars you may be able to get up the fifteenth position or higher!)
It's especially important not to get used to the dots on the neck of your guitar (fret markers) being in a particular place in relationship to your fingers. (For example, you don't want to develop a preference for the 2nd finger to always be on a fret with a dot.) Practice in a particular key, then move up just one halfstep and practice some more. This aligns the dots under different fingers, and keeps you from becoming more comfortable in certain keys than others.
As soon as you know the one-octave pattern pretty well, move on to the two-octave, and then ALWAYS practice the full two-octave scale form. The one-octave pattern is just a way to get started playing and HEARING the scale. Here's the full two-octave scale in tablature, in the key of C:
What about rhythm?
Play evenly. Try to hold each note for the same duration. You should not be able to "hear" where the form switches from one string to another. Try for a smooth, flowing articulation. At first, think of the notes as nice, slow quarter notes. Gradually increase your tempo. Eventually you'll get fast enough that it will make more sense to think in terms of playing eighth notes.
What about picking?
Once you can play the two-octave pattern comfortably with “all down” picking, consult a teacher regarding “alternate” and/or “economy” picking. The book does not cover picking at all, because teachers tend to have different recommendations.
Using a metronome ("mm")
Using a metronome ("mm") while practicing the major scale is highly recommended. Here's a process I use with my students. Keep in mind that this process is undertaken very slowly, over the course of years:
Once you can correctly play the two-octave major scale slowly and evenly, begin using a mm set at about 72-80bpm, playing one note per click (quarter notes). Be sure to consult with a teacher to ensure that you're playing with correct form and good picking. Gradually increase your tempo until you can play at 144. Then, switch to playing two notes per click (eighth notes) with the mm on 72, and again, very gradually increase to 144. Then, switch to playing four notes per click (sixteenth notes) with the mm on 72 and gradually increase again. This time, 144 is a good goal for serious guitarists, although this may not be attainable for everyone. Fast guitarists play sixteenth notes with the mm on 200bpm or even faster. While picking speed can certainly be developed, everyone has their own limit. Just as we can't all throw a baseball 90 miles per hour, no matter how perfect our form or how much we practice, some guitarists are simply blessed with a potential to pick faster than others.
A word about forms
Why is this scale form designated "first form"? Here's the deal:
As noted in the book, there are five basic "forms" on the guitar. That is, there are five fairly useful ways to approach playing many of the chords and scales. The form with its root played by the 1st (or sometimes, as in this case, 2nd) finger on the sixth string is designated "first form", and the remaining four forms move up the neck from there. As you can see, this scale has the root played by the 2nd finger on the sixth string, so it's the first form. For major scales, Sensible Guitar focuses on the five forms that correspond to the five basic chord forms. (There are even a few other good major scale patterns, presented on page 71.) Because the first and fourth chord forms are the most practical and commonly used, Sensible Guitar presents the first and fourth forms of the major scale first, so you'll know the scale forms that correspond to the chords you'll use most often. The second, third and fifth scale forms are presented later, but are equally useful and important.
BACK TO TOP
PREVIOUS PAGE: Page 17
NEXT PAGE: Page 19
Copyright 2007 C. Cass Music Publishing
All rights reserved