Playing any major scale (and other scales) by knowing 4 (actually three) fingering patterns

Starting with the open string C major scale pattern, we get to know 3 patterns of scale playing that can open up the fretboard for you.

C major scale – open strings

If you find out the notes for the frets shown (use this diagramn of fretboard notes if useful), we find that they are the notes of the C major scale: C D E F G A B C

C major scale – 5th string root – without open strings

The above picture shows the relation between open strings and the string adjacent to it. This gives us an idea of where to look for a fretted note which is the same note as an open string.

In the C major scale pattern given above, note the open string notes used, find the same notes on a fret using the string relations given in the above picture. We get the below pattern to play the C major scale:

The pattern above can be used as the pattern to play major scale when the root is on the 5th string.

For example, if we use the pattern starting from 5th string 5th fret (D note) we will be playing the D major scale. You can verify it by transposing the notes of the C major scale two notes up. 

C major scale notes: C D E F G A B C

For the D major scale, C note becomes D note. D becomes E. E becomes F# etc. 

Compare it with the notes we get when we use the pattern above, starting from the 5th string 5th fret, and we will see that they are the same. 

Similarly finding major scale patterns without open strings gives us the following:

Major scale pattern with root on the 3rd string

The above pattern can be used to play the major scale from any note on the 3rd string as the root. The scale in the image is the A major scale. If you shift the whole pattern one fret to the left, you will be starting from the G# note as root, and the pattern will give us the G# major scale.

One way to find the above pattern would be to start with the C major scale notes, change C to A and change all the other notes also appropriately.

A major scale notes: A B C# D E F# G# A

Find the notes on the fretboard and you can verify that the pattern above shows the A major scale. 

Major scale pattern with root on the 4th string

In the picture above, the pattern starts from the 2nd fret of the 4th string – the E note.  The pattern starting from the E note gives the E major scale. Start the pattern from the 3rd fret of the 4th string, the F note, and you will be playing the F major scale.

Major scale pattern with root on the 6th string

This pattern is similar to the 5th string root pattern. Use it to play major scale from any note on the 6th string as the root. The above pattern shows the G major scale since the root is on the 3rd fret of the 6th string, the G note. Start from the 5th fret of the 6th string, the A note, and you will be playing the A major scale as long as you keep the pattern intact, following the relative positions. 

The notes on the standard tuned fretboard

Get familiar with the sequence of notes and the open string notes. With those two, we can find the note on any fret. 

Remember the open string tuning of each of the strings.

Sequence of notes is: C  C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B C C C# …

Use the sequence of notes to find the note on any fret.

For example, to find the note on the 3rd string on the 3rd fret, remember that the 3rd string open note is G, count 1,2,3 notes on the sequence of notes: G (open) G#(1st fret) A(2nd fret) A#(3rd fret) B(4th fret)…

The note on the 3rd fret of 3rd string is A# (same as B flat).note-sequence-chromatic-scale-grey

Playing any Major scale

Find out the root note on the 6th, 5th, 4th or 3rd string. Use the corresponding major scale pattern to play the major scale. It is simple to play any major scale once you realize that all you have to do is memorize the 3 major scale patterns (6th and 5th have the same pattern) and find the root note each time you have to play the major scale.

An easy quiz

How would you play the G# major scale, if you are to use only the first 5 frets?

  1. within the 1st 5 frets, we have G# note on the 6th, 3rd and 1st strings.
  2. Since the major scale patterns are all at least 4 frets in width, we will have to use a G# note which is on the 1st or 2nd frets.
  3. The 3rd string G# is on the 1st fret. Use the major scale pattern for root note on the 3rd string, starting from the 1st fret of the 3rd string, to play the G# major scale. Done.

Playing other scales

Any scale can be learnt with the major scale as a reference.

For example, the mixolydian scale has the same notes as the major scale, except that the major 7th note in the major scale has to be changed to the minor 7th note (one fret to the left, wherever you play the 7th note).

The lydian can be played by playing the major scale pattern with the 4th note sharpened – the 4th note in the major scale is to be shifted one fret to the right. 

Ragas based on the major scale modes

Simplifying the field to patterns that can be used in multiple situations, makes learning and execution easier. Using the patterns above and a method to find any note on the fretboard, we have covered all the major scales starting from different strings, in one shot. In addition, once you know the relation of other scale with the major scale, you have unlocked the whole scale possibility on the fretboard. You can naturally try and find out more of  different patterns to play scales. 

For example, in the above patterns, three strings are used with 2,3,3 notes on each string. You could find a pattern that uses 3,3,2 notes on each string. For example, play the C major scale starting from the 3rd fret of the 5th string. This time, play the C major scale notes by playing 3 notes on the 5th string, 3 notes on the 4th string and 2 notes on the 3rd string.

Practising scales gives the mind/body information about how the fret/string distances correspond to the notes/tones. It is a worthwhile exercise if we want to understand the instrument better and gain freedom in playing music on the fretboard. 

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