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I am starting to play / improvise in the major scale and would like to learn some guitar solos that are good examples of this scale so that I see how other people use it. What are some famous solos in contemporary or classic rock that make use of this scale?

Update: I asked the question in this form because I thought it was more genericly useful, but some of the answers aren't quite getting at the question because they're assuming I'm a begininer (which is how I phrased the question) and giving other advise. I'm a teacher, and I find that my students learn scales, theory, and improvisation much better if they learn it in the context of a song they might know. I was looking for some new examples to change up my teaching a little.

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    I think it's a great idea to teach scales by including real music, like a solo, along with the regular playing of scale patterns on their own. – NReilingh Nov 4 '12 at 18:04
  • I kinda went the other way, going through the major scale, first up and down so my fingers knew where to go, then skipping notes and such until I started recognizing things. "Oh, that's 'God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen'", and such. – Dave Jacoby Nov 6 '12 at 14:51
  • Brian May from Queen used the major scale notes in lots of his solos. – Tim Apr 16 '13 at 7:49
  • Even though it's not rock (and that's why I comment instead of answering), moto perpetuo By Paganini (the violin part obviously) is a great exercice to learn the C scale and even to learn to sight read because of its very few alterations. – Chipsgoumerde Apr 16 '13 at 8:55
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    Check out: Lou reed, sweet jane youtube.com/watch?v=LrMLt9bMd_I; – Roland Bouman Mar 25 '14 at 10:02

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Sweet Child Of Mine always struck me as a decent solo that stays mostly in the major scale.

  • er.. does it ? I think it's mainly minor.. pretty sure, in fact (tell me if I'm wrong!) – user2808054 Nov 14 '16 at 10:54
  • Presumably JimR was thinking of the main riff, which is major. Yeah the solo is mostly harmonic minor I think. – Bacs Nov 14 '16 at 15:45
  • There's a sort of mini-solo that comes after the chorus about 1:10 into the song that's major. If you wanted to you could also teach the vocal melody on guitar since it outlines the major scale; it can be interesting for students to see how melody lines map to the neck. – Some_Guy Sep 10 '18 at 12:01
  • But yeah, the extended solo section doesn't use the major scale, it goes from mainly harmonic minor and then into "blue minor" (or what a guitarist might call "pentatonic"). – Some_Guy Sep 10 '18 at 12:01
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To me, you don't learn solos to learn scales, you learn scale patterns. While it's possible to learn scales from solos you'll never quite be able to understand them and it can take an awful long time (maybe for a few intelligent people it will work but for most it won't). If you want to learn scales learn scales, not solos, chords, etc... If you wanna learn to solo learn solos, etc...

If you want to teach improvisation you can have them learn specific solos so they can use them to get used to working the changes/playing in time/etc but if they ultimately want to be free to do their own thing they have to do it all. You shouldn't assign solos based on which scales they use but the complexity. Music isn't about scales and even if you knew the major scale perfectly doesn't mean your solos will sound any good.

If I were the "teacher" I would assign "solos" based on complexity, style, and specific issues it may solve for the student(if they student has issues with position changing I might try and find a solo for him that would help with it). I would also have the student work on scale patterns along side of everything else.

A student should be working on many things a little bit at a time and not one thing only. Scales, songs, chords, arps, solos, improvising, techniques, theory, etc... All these need to progress about the same although some are more important than others. This is assuming the student wants to do more than just play his favorite song.

Heres a list of the order of things that should be focused on by a beginner:

  • Basic Chords (standard open position chords),
  • Basic Scale pattern fragment(very simple 2 or 3 line box pattern),
  • Simple fun songs for chord practice and maybe even a little simple soloing,
  • Basic Theory (very basic as not to overwhelm the student),
  • Possible sight reading
  • Very simple techniques.

The lower stuff should be introduced subtly and without any requirement. Like if your teaching a pull-off you would do it very quickly but just mention a word about it when the context is right. e.g., if your teaching a simple box pattern you could say "You can pull off the note without picking if you want", etc...

Once they get more advanced you can then adapt the order for what they need. For instance if they pick up the chords very easy (which usually isn't the case but assuming) then you could focus more on scales and improvising and more complex chord forms.

  • I don't think there are rules to learn improvisation. There are tools that can help you to get better, yes, but rules? There are plenty of great musicians that have learnt the hard way, simply listening and playing along with records. – elias Nov 4 '12 at 19:37
  • I think it depends on the instrument. For guitar (which I play), yeah, it's scale patterns, and as long as you can say "This note is A, this scale pattern is a harmonic minor scale, that's where the anchor should be, so this flurry of notes is in A harmonic minor." But that scale pattern (except in the most abstract sense) is useless with the piano, and I'm sure it's all out the window with horns. – Dave Jacoby Nov 6 '12 at 14:50
  • VarLogRant - 'that scale pattern' is not useless with the piano.Sadly it involves learning each and every scale pattern on each and every note - yes, thats 12 maj.,12 min., 12 pents etc.Each is a pattern in its own right, so there's a heck of a lot more to remember ! Guitar patterns are SO much easier, as there are fewer, and all transferable up and down the neck. I know - I play both. – Tim Apr 16 '13 at 7:38
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    Not agreeing with this answer.If I teach a solo, that's ALL I've done.It is difficult for a learner to grasp the connection between a given solo and improvisation.The opposite is apposite. When a pupil knows scale patterns he can visualise how Clapton, et al,uses the notes from the pattern to come up with a solo.Smoke on the Water - blues scale.Sunshine of your Love - blues scale.Etc.etc.When you learn a solo you learn the notes for it in a particular order.This does not help to produce a solo of your own.Teaching a riff is almost as bad for getting someone to improvise by themselves. – Tim Apr 16 '13 at 7:46
  • @Tim Upvoted, but if you teach the material by ear this is less true. When teaching, I start very basic (1 or 2 notes), and have the student play back to me what I play them. By the time we're learning more complete solos or riffs, they're still learning by ear, and so I'll play the riff to them slowly until they get it (repeat bits where they make an error, and of course correct fingering if necessary). This habit of learning by ear not from tabs means students invariably digest some of the underpinnings of the solos. Of course it's still useful to look at shapes and scales afterwards too! – Some_Guy Sep 10 '18 at 12:20
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Have to say it's not all that common, but here are some guitar solos I can think of which I think are major:

  • I believe in a thing called love - The Darkness
  • Wish you were here - Pink Floyd
  • Purple Rain - Prince
  • I Want to Break Free - Queen
  • Maggie May - Faces
  • Right By Your Side - Eurythmics (kind of a solo)
  • Hammer to Fall - Queen (second solo)
  • Come up & see me - Steve Harley & the Cockney rebel

Although now I think about it, some of these possibly would use a minor 7th (thanks Tim), but are fundamentally major in that if you stray into a minor scale (flatten the 3rd), it sounds all wrong.

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    A diminished seventh is the same note sound as a major sixth. You probably mean minor seventh. – Tim Sep 9 '18 at 8:04
  • @tim thanks, I googled dininished 7th and found it wasn't what Idthought it was. I'm not that good with the names of things like that, but can find it all ok on the guitar. Answer corrected. – user2808054 Sep 10 '18 at 9:25
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    @user2808054 people often say "flat 7" too, just FYI (especially in pop, rock, jazz contexts). Upvoting this answer because I think it's great to teach mixolydian alongside major, and having solos that occasionally pop in a flat 7 in a major context is a great way to teach students about "major solos" in a broader sense. (It's not confusing to a student to see that sometimes the 7 is flat and other times not, if anything it's more confusing to insist on a wall of separation between mixolydian and major in guitar context) – Some_Guy Sep 10 '18 at 12:26
  • @Some_Guy ta, aye I've heard 'flat 7' too whcih is where the confusion with diminished came from. Only been getting it wrong 30 years haha – user2808054 Sep 11 '18 at 8:52
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I don't know if you would find many solos in Rock that is pure Major. Most would reference the Pentatonic, Lydian, or Mixolydian scales. I would say that Jessica or Melissa from Allman Brothers would be solos and licks to check out. I'm thinking Don't Stop Believing from Journey would be one to look at.

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I once asked Jimmy Hendrix what scales he thought of when playing solo's - he then gave me the best advice I ever got : he said "I don't think of scales, I close my eyes and go for it'. However, as a start point you may find this interesting.....

http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/how-to-use-the-pentatonic-scale-in-a-lead-guitar-s.html

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I believe the first guitar solo on "Comfortably Numb" stays completely in the D major scale for the first half, then G major for the second half. And it's something any "classic rock" listener will know very well.

(The second solo is bluesier.)

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One of my favorite guitar solos/songs in major is "The Wheel" by Jerry Garcia. Two reasons it might not fit the parameters of your question: he is playing pedal steel, and he mostly avoids the 7th degree. But I'm pretty sure that throughout, the major 7th would sound better than the flat 7th. And this definitely isn't just a simple pentatonic--he uses all the rest of the notes of the major scale.

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It seems to be difficult to get a straight answer to "how do I solo in major?". I can play the blues blindfolded in my sleep, but soloing over a major progression has been troublesome, and dropping down to the actual "relative minor" position three frets down was disastrous. None of the usual "tricks" seem to work there. I tried reverting back to my modes or positions to come up with the perfect solution. It's a combination of the Lydian and Mixolydian modes, starting on the IV or the fourth note of the major scale. Be aware that the starting note isn't the root, of course, but in this position (Lydian) on the lower three strings, and then sliding up two frets and continuing in Mixolydian on the upper three strings, I found it extremely easy, using the "pentatonic mindset" that I'm accustomed to, to solo fairly effectively over major progressions. I'm sure the musical "geniuses" will have no idea what I'm talking about, but for those of us working Joes who just want to play a passable solo over major, try this out and I think you'll be pleased. Questions? Just read what I wrote again, and keep trying. There's no magic, if you're good on blues, you're halfway there, just keep plugging and you'll get it. James Taylor's Fire and Rain is the song that helped me with the breakthrough.

  • Hey Mike I used to have a devil of a time on the majors and come from a blues background too so I've got to share whats worked for me as well. The myxolodians and what not was way too much memory work for me and playing guitars we think in shapes more than straight lines so I just learned all the chords in the major progression I-ii-iii-IV-V-vi and then the diminished chord which is rarely used but important for soloing. By knowing the chord shapes all the way up and down the neck I know the scales and I know how they relate to the chords played. This is the best! – user10893 Aug 10 '14 at 2:04
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A couple majors scale songs ,I ran across was 38 special hold on loosley and bostons more than a feeling .

I think if you find one lead, like i did, with the 38 special guy, Jeff Carlisi. albumn 1981 & 82 there are way more where that came from. but i havent checked that yet. A guitar player I dont think would go learn to go that route for just one song. Its style hes good at and most likley uses over and over.

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You are asking for a song that doesn't even use the seventh. That's hard. You still have the sus, major seventh and ninth to use. I would say look for songs that are all about the major seventh our ninth. Songs like Lonely Night in Georgia or some Menken songs from Disney like beauty and the beast come to mind. But really, give them the seventh and so many doors will open.

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