Have you been playing the guitar for some time? Are you simply memorizing patterns without knowing why or how you’re able to produce those kinds of sounds?
You may be doing your guitar lessons a disservice if you’re not familiar with the basic concepts of guitar scales. But don’t worry. In this article, we’ll cover what you need to know about major guitar scale shapes for it to make sense in your guitar journey.
The simplest way to define a guitar scale is that it is any series of musical notes arranged by frequency or pitch. It’s less confusing to know that, in its basic form, a scale is just an enhanced version of an ascending or descending sequence of notes.
Pitch and frequency represent the same thing but from separate viewpoints. While a pitch is usually referred to as how high or low it sounds when you hear it, frequency is more of a technical term that measures the cycle rate of the physical waveform. The higher the pitch of a particular sound you hear, the higher the frequency of a waveform.
You already know that scales are a series of musical pitches, but how are they understood? In music, a pitch is represented by the first seven letters of the alphabet: A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. One of these letters will associate with each note (pitch) on the scale.
By moving between notes, you’re introducing yourself to the concept of changing pitch, which is measured in half and whole steps.
- Half Steps (Semitones): If you begin to play with your first finger on the 1st fret of the sixth string, then move your finger up to the 2nd fret (still on the same string), you moved a pitch one-half step.
- Whole Steps (Wholetones): If you begin to play with your first finger on the 1st fret of the sixth string, then move your finger up to the 3rd fret (still on the same string), you moved a pitch one whole step.
These two terms give you a way to describe the movement up and down the fretboard easily. Particularly, when discussing the ascending and descending scales.
Think about the major scale as the “mother” of all scales and the reference point for all other scales. Scales are also a great way to shift gears in the middle of practice. This helps refocus your attention on important details and sharpen your hearing.
Scale patterns allow you to play your guitar in any key just by applying the same fingering pattern to another root note. Meaning, you can quickly transpose between musical keys without much of a challenge.
The five major scale shapes are C, A, G, E, and D, which surround the entire fretboard. These scale shapes are applicable to all 12 keys by simply moving the shapes up or down on your fretboard. For instance, if you move five shapes up at two frets (a whole step), then all of the shapes are in the key of A. That means you have five A major scale shapes.
The five major scale shapes derive from the CAGED system. So what’s the big fuzz about it? Well, if you’re serious about guitar playing and you want to understand how this instrument works in relation to the fretboard, the CAGED system will be your valuable tool.
The CAGED system makes it easier to find your way around the neck of your guitar and understand how chords, chord shapes, and scales are related to each other. Every chord shape can be moved up and down of your fretboard. But for that to happen, you have to take 5 of the open chord shapes then turn them into closed chord shapes. That means there should be no open strings in the chord.
In this article, the G major scale is used as an example. If you take a look at the sheet music and the diagrams below from guitarhabits.com, you will notice that each scale shape is played starting from the lowest root note (red note) then all the way up (ascending order) to the last note on the high E string. Next, it’s played all the way down (descending order) to the first note on the low E string and up again to the first root note.
- Do it slowly but surely.
It will be hard to get it right the first time unless you’re born a musical genius. Play it as many times as you can at a slow speed until you do it perfectly. You will then speed up without making mistakes. It’s important that you correct your mistakes early on so that you don’t develop bad habits, which you have to undo later on.
- Learn patterns one at a time.
Of course, it’s important to learn all five scale shapes. However, do it while learning to make music with them. It makes more sense to learn one scale shape and play a solo, than be able to use all scale shapes without being able to play any music with any of them.
- Use fingertips.
When playing, don’t let your fingers to fold. Make sure to use the tips the entire time and avoid barres.
- Start and end on the lowest root note.
Doing so helps train your ears into hearing scale sounds. So make sure to start on the lowest pitch (root note), then play up as far as you can and go back to the root note.
Learning the guitar needs patience and persistence. It’ll take some time before you can play all major guitar scale shapes with ease. Regular practice is your key to success, and don’t forget to have fun in the process!