One of the most tedious methods of mastering an instrument is learning the scales. Is it necessary to know your scales and be able to replicate them in order to play your instrument? No. Many amazing musicians don’t know how to play scales. However, whether aware or not, they actually do know the scales simply through the time spent playing the same notes in each key. This is because all major keys have something in common, as we’ll get to in this article. Learn all positions of the C major scale on the guitar.
Rules can be broken—and often should be, in music—but most musicians can get further faster when they play by the rules before breaking them. Learning the rules in a college environment can help you progress faster.
The C Major scale is the simplest key to memorize because the key of C is all natural. This means that there are no flats (b) or sharps (#) in the key. To learn the notes of each scale, you’ll need to refer to the Circle of Fifths. Begin memorizing them as you can, but most of that comes with actually playing the notes and chords on your instrument, as most stay in the key of the song. For example, there is not a Bb in the C scale naturally (keep reading for more on this).
The notes in the key of C Major are simple: C-D-E-F-G-A-B.
Begin with C, go along the alphabet until G, then start back at A until you get back to the root note of C. All other keys will have at least one sharp or flat, so that makes them a bit more complicated. The Circle of Fifths helps grow this knowledge base. For example, the fifth note in the key of C is the G. So the G-scale is next and adds a sharp: G-A-B-C-D-E-F#. The fifth note in G is the D, so the D-scale has two sharps: D-E-F#-G-A-B-C#.
All of the notes in music (using sharps, in this case) are: C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B. In flats, it looks like this: C, Db, D, Eb, F, Gb, G, Ab, A, Bb, B. Notice how there is one step between each note in the C Major scale EXCEPT for E to F and B to C, which have no notes between: C (C#) D (D#) E-F (F#) G (G#) A (A#) B-C.
Major key scales follow the same interval structure, or sequence of intervals, commonly explained through whole steps and half-steps: whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half.
When playing a scale, you don’t have to memorize every note on the fret board (in the case of guitar), just the first note and the intervals between the rest. Based on the structure above, you can consider this order: “SKIP, SKIP, NEXT, SKIP, SKIP, SKIP, NEXT.” This follows the major key structure “whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half.” Start at a C note, then SKIP a fret and play the next fret (D), then SKIP and play E. Now play the NEXT fret/note (F), then SKIP and play G, SKIP and play A, SKIP and play B, then the NEXT fret will be back to the root C.
Based on the 7 Positions/Berklee System, there are (you guessed it!) SEVEN positions in the C Major scale, each spanning 4 to 5 frets, centering over these frets: 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 11th, 13th, and 15th. More on this further down, along with a visual to help.
The first position spans frets 1-5, starting and centering on the 3rd as that’s where the starting C note is located on the A-string.
Jens Larsen explains the 7 positions of the Berklee System. Each one stays inside a ‘box’ (a common term for guitar fretboards that means a segment in which a scale can be played).
Here is another article to explore this more, but it’s something that is also learned with time and experience.
Refer to this video from Korey Hicks, the Guitar Division Head at Visible Music College. Korey starts by playing in time with a metronome. This isn’t necessary at first. When you are comfortable finding each note in the C Major scale, then you can introduce the metronome. He is increasing the difficulty each time by playing the scale first over whole notes in time with 1/8th notes, then with triplets, then with 16th notes (playing 4 times faster than the metronome). This could easily be seen as three different levels of guitar experience: beginner, intermediate, and advanced.
Follow Korey’s initial placement for each C note, and notice how he stays inside ‘boxes’ rather than attempting to play across the entire fretboard. Generally, the hand position allows all fingers—from the index/pointer to the pinky—to reach the needed notes without having to move the hand up or down the neck until moving to a new box/position.
He plays each position at these times:
Now you know the rudiments behind the C Major scale and how to implement them to grow your skills. Take time to master at least one box of this scale before advancing to another scale. Use this in conjunction with practicing chords and picking techniques to keep your training well-rounded. Don’t let scales intimidate you. They aren’t necessary to play music and shouldn’t stop you from continuing it, but they will take your understanding of keys and music to another level. Not only that, this will elevate your ability to move along the fretboard smoothly and precisely, thus making you a more comfortable, confident, and valuable player.
Discover the possibilities with a Bachelor of Modern Music in Guitar Performance at Visible. Learning to play the guitar can be a great way to improve your performance skills. At Visible Music College, we offer guitar performance courses that can help you learn the necessary techniques to become a better performer. With our experienced instructors, you can discover your potential and become a great guitar player.