How To Play The Major Scale On Guitar

You already know the sound of the major scale – from childhood lullabies, to Mozart, right through to Katy Perry – the Major Scale is deeply embedded in society (and in your ears!). You are off to a great start; now let me show you the easiest way to approach the major scale on guitar.

Basic Music Terminology Before I get into too much detail, here are a few simple rules to remember:

  • Ionian Mode = The Major Scale
  • 9th of a scale or chord = 2nd
  • 11th = 4th
  • 13th = 6th
  • Tonic = home or resting chord
  • Root = first note or bass note.

Major Scale Example

major scale

Major Scale Visual Example

Real Life Example
All the white notes on a Piano create the C major scale.

Real Life Example

chord progression In this example our key is C major. C is our I chord and we play C major scale over this chord.

How this Scale fits on the Guitar

A white circle means that note is the root note of the scale. A number indicates what finger to use (1: first finger, 2: second finger, etc). You can easily move the shape up and down the fret board to play in different keys, just position the white dot over your chosen root note.
major scale major scale

When to Use the Major Scale

Use it only on tonic major chords. Watch out, not all major chords are tonic chords. The Lydian Mode is your mode of choice for any non-tonic Maj7 chord. The Major Scale is a great scale to ‘blanket’ tunes with when you are starting out jazz guitar. If you learn the Major Scale really well, you will also learn 7 others at the same time. Awesome, right? 7 for the price of 1! Check out Major Scale Modes to see how.

How to Improvise with the Major Scale

  • 7th, 9th and 13th (or 6th) are the most colorful notes in the Ionian mode
  • The root, 3rd and 5th sound plain and nice.
  • DANGER: emphasizing the 4th note of this mode sounds really nasty. (Which could be a good thing if you are a nasty guitar player).

I highly recommend you check out How to Solo on Major Chords immediately. In this lesson I show you the easiest and most effective approach to improvising over tonic major chords.

Major Scale Mode Summary

ScaleMajor Scale/ Ionian
ChordMaj7, Maj9, Maj13
NotesR, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
C Major ScaleC, D, E, F, G, A, B
Chord/ Guide Tones3rd and major7th
Color Tones9th, 13th,
Avoid Notes11
Sam's TipWelcome to the most common scale in the world. It's really important you know this guy well - spend some time exploring it.
Now that you understand what this scale is, I recommend you immediately check out my lesson How to Practice Jazz Guitar Scales. Use that lesson to build muscle memory and speed. Strive to know the Major Scale really well – both in your ears and fingers. You won’t regret it, I promise!

Further Learning

Free Major Scale Mode Lessons

  1. Ionian
  2. Dorian
  3. Phryigian
  4. Lydian
  5. Mixolydian
  6. Aeolian
  7. Locrian

Thanks for checking out this lesson, please feel free to leave a comment below with any suggestions or questions.

~ Sam Blakelock | pickupjazz.com

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