I am new to guitar and started learning Major Scales, so to go by the definition,

A major scale is a diatonic scale. The sequence of intervals between the notes of a major scale is:

whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half

Now, I am playing G major or A major on an open E string, so the above formula makes sense to me.

But how can I decode Major scales which are played on more than one string, for example the C major scale? How did they come up with the shape?

I want to have an idea of how I can play any Major scale anywhere on the fretboard?

  • 1
    Could you clarify a little? The definition you found is correct. You just start with any note and go up two whole steps, one half step, three more whole steps, and one more half step.
    – Annie
    Sep 16, 2019 at 20:19
  • related: music.stackexchange.com/questions/46190/…
    – Yorik
    Sep 17, 2019 at 20:50

2 Answers 2


So you already know how to construct a scale from semitone jumps, and you know that frets are spaced at semitone (i.e. half step) intervals, and so you were able to put these two things together to form major scales on one string. Now you only have to see the string-to-string intervals in terms of semitones, and you'll be able to utilize more than one string.

The interval between the low E string and the A string is 5 semitones, i.e. 5 frets. And the same with all other neighboring strings, except between G and B it's 4 semitones. So:

  • Low E -> A : +5
  • A -> D : +5
  • D -> G : +5
  • G -> B : +4
  • B -> high E : +5

In total, the interval between the open low E and high E strings is 5+5+5+4+5 = 24 semitones = 2 octaves.

With this extra knowledge, can you use more than one string? For example, G is on the 3rd fret of the low E string. Construct the G major scale from there. First, a whole step, +2 : where can you go? You can either stay on the same string and move to the 5th fret, or you can move to the A string. Yes, the open A string is an A, which is the second scale degree in G major.

Some people choose to memorize ready-made scale fingering patterns and diagrams, and that's OK, but I think it's good if you can construct the scales yourself.


There are many different patterns for playing a major scale on the guitar. All will use the same formula of TTSTTTS (or WWhWWWh) - gaps between successive notes. The simplest one will start on one string, somewhere, and go progressively up that same string in the increments shown. It works, but is hardly practical.

Probably the most common uses all of the strings, and works across them. The way the guitar is tuned, it isn't too difficult. In fact, your hand doesn't have to move up or down the fretboard - it can stay in one position, while the fingers do the work.

Using one finger for each fret, and moving to the next string when needed: for A major - start on bottom string,on the 5th fret, using middle finger. Next note is 2 frets higher, so play it with pinky. Then play 5th string with index, then middle, then pinky.Next string (4) uses index, ring, then pinky. That's one octave.

On to 3rd string. Index, ring, pinky. Then 2nd string, only two notes here - middle, pinky. At the end, on top string, it's index then middle, for the final top A note.

All you've done is translate the TTSTTTS spacings across the strings. The beauty of it is that there are two octaves, and the hand hasn't needed to slide up down or anywhere. By placing that middle finger just about anywhere on the bottom string, and using exactly that pattern, you have all the major scales (yes, all 12) at hand, so to speak!

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