C Major Scale Guitar For Lead Guitarists

Want to learn the C major scale? You’re in the right place!

c major scale guitar

In this free guitar lesson we’ll show you:

  • 3 essential C major scale guitar patterns.
  • How to jam with the C major scale and create awesome solos.
  • The secrets of the C major scale.
  • A bonus scale: the A natural minor scale.

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1) What is the C major scale guitar?

The C major scale is an absolute must for guitarists and musicians in general.

Here are two of the most common C major scale patterns.

c major scale guitar

c major scale guitar

2) Why should we learn this scale?

Once we know the C major scale, we will understand the key of C. If we know the key of C, we can jam and write music in the key of C.

C major is the easiest key for musicians to think in because it doesn’t contain any confusing sharp or flat notes. It’s an excellent doorway into the world of music theory.

Let’s have a go at playing this essential scale.

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3) Easy C Major Scale Guitar Patterns

There’s more than one way to play the C major scale on a guitar.

The first C major scale guitar pattern we’re going to look at is ideal for beginners this is the:

  • 1 octave open position C major scale.

Here’s the tab:

c major scale guitar

Not sure how to read tab? Check out this article: How To Read Guitar Tabs

For this pattern, we want to use the:

  • 3rd finger (ie. the ring finger) for the 3rd fret.
  • The 2nd finger (ie. the middle finger) for the 2nd fret.
  • The 1st finger (ie. the index finger) for the 1st fret.

NB: Our thumb doesn’t count as a finger when fretting notes on the guitar. Our fingers are numbered 1-4, index to pinky.

Like this:

c major scale guitar

Try not to just hop around with one finger or to just use any old fingers. Those are bad habits to form.

We want to get our fingers working and we want them working nice and neatly.

Also, with our picking hand, when we play this (or pretty much any scale) we want to alternate pick.

This means we alternate between down and upstrokes of the pick. Don’t just use downstrokes.

This is time consuming and can sound clunky.

Want to know more about how to alternate pick? Check out this article: Alternate Picking

Here’s a recording of what this scale should sound like:

Try and be patient and play this scale slowly at first. It’s more important to play it correctly than quickly.

Only when we’re completely confident that we can play something slowly should we be thinking about speeding it up.

Once you’re happy you can play this scale, try descending the pattern, ie. playing it in reverse.

Although we’ve called this a beginer’s pattern, it’s one that will serve you well right through your journey as a guitarist. Don’t just discard it and forget it when you move onto more advanced patterns.

c major scale guitar

4) C Major Scale Guitar – An Intermediate Pattern

Once we’ve gotten to grips with the 1 octave open position version of the C major scale, we can move onto this next closed position C major scale guitar pattern.

This pattern differs from the first in that it doesn’t feature any open strings (hence: ‘closed position’) and covers 2 octaves. (This means we get twice as many notes to play with.)

This pattern is called:

  • The 2 0ctave closed position C major scale.

Here’s the tab:

c major scale guitar

Download our lead guitar cheat-sheet to make things easier

It can be disorientating for guitarists to understand which scales work with which keys.

With this in mind, we created a cheat-sheet; a key and scale-finder that you can use again and again. Click here to download your copy.

 

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Now, for this pattern, we’re going to use all 4 of our fingers.

As with the previous scale, DON’T just hop about with one finger.

Some of your fingers, especially your 4th finger (ie. the pinky) might feel a bit weak and wobbly compared to the others, but that’s all the more reason to start using it. We need to build up strength in the weaker fingers.

We want to start this scale with our:

  • 2nd finger (ie. our middle finger) playing that first note at the 8th fret on the low E string. (6th string.)

Further, we want to use this same finger for every 8th fret note we encounter in this scale pattern.

For the next note:

  • Use your 4th finger on the 10th fret of the low E string. (6th string.)

This is the finger we’re going to use for every 10th fret note in this scale.

For the next note:

  • Use your first finger on the 7th fret of the A string. (5th string.)

Again, this is the finger we use for every 7th fret note in the scale.

For any notes at the 9th fret, you may have guessed, we use the 3rd finger (ie. the ring finger).

This method of playing is known as: one finger per fret.

When playing a one finger per fret scale we don’t really need to do any moving left to right across the fretboard. Our fingers are already hovering in the frets they need to be in.

Here’s what this scale should sound like:

As with the previous scale, we must be patient and go slowly with this scale at first. Play it correctly, not quickly.

Once you’re happy you know this scale, try descending down the scale.

c major scale guitar

5) C Major Scale Guitar – Advanced Patterns

If you’ve gotten to grips with the beginner and intermediate C major scale guitar patterns, you might want to try a more advanced pattern.

This pattern is stretchier than our previous two and it requires us to move about more.

It also features three notes on each string, making it ideal for hammer-ons and triplets.

Let’s try it.

The 2 octave, 3 note per string C major scale:

c major scale guitar

With this pattern we want to start on each string with our 1st finger (the index finger) and finish on each string with the 4th finger (ie. the pinky).

As for the note in between, we can use either the 2nd or 3rd finger, depending on what works best.

If we’ve just played the 8th fret with the 1st finger then it’s less of a stretch if we use the 3rd finger to press the 10th fret.

However, we then have to stretch over to the 12th with our 4th finger, so perhaps our 2nd finger would have been better.

Try both and see which you prefer.

When going from the 9th to the 10th to the 12th, the best fingering is:

  • 1st, then 2nd, then 4th.

When going from the 10th to the 12th to the 13th for those final three notes, the best fingering is:

  •  1st, then 3rd, then 4th.

Obviously, with this pattern we can’t use the one finger per fret method. We don’t have enough fingers for that, but that doesn’t mean we just start using any old fingers for any old notes.

Our approach to playing the pattern should still be practical and logical.

As with the previous patterns, try descending it once you’re confident you know the pattern.

c major scale guitar

So why might we learn a pattern like this?

The previous intermediate pattern is a very useful pattern, but it can be a bit limiting when it comes to speed.

Playing fast is by no means the be all and end all of guitar playing, but it is nice to have the option available to us.

NB: as with the previous scales, learn this one SLOWLY before you attempt to do anything fast with it.

Because this scale pattern uses three notes per string, it can allow us that little bit more speed.

Once you’re thoroughly familiar with this more advanced pattern, try playing it as triplet hammer-ons.

This means we only pick the first note of each string and let the other notes sound on their own by simply hammering our fingers onto them.

Not quite sure about hammer-ons? No problem. Check out this video by Jack:

Here’s what this scale should sound like when played as triplet hammer-ons:

Note that the rhythm has a sort of: 123, 123, 123, 123… feel.

That’s why we call these triplets.

6) C Major Scale Guitar – How and when to use the C major scale.

So, now we know the C major scale, what can we do with it?

Scales are not and should not be simply exercises we learn for the sake of it. They’re there to be used.

The most obvious thing we can do with the C major scale is improvise with it, this is also known as ‘jamming’.

c major scale guitar

Do you have a friend who plays guitar who’s written a song in the key of C?

Do you want to play along on lead guitar?

Then the C major scale is exactly what we need.

If a rhythm guitarist is playing chords from the key of C then a lead guitarist can play any notes they like from any of the C major scale guitar patterns we’ve looked at in this article.

Want to find out who the best guitarits of all time are? Check out this article by Rolling Stone: 100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time

Don’t have a friend with a song in C on hand?

Not to worry, here’s a quick backing track for us that should suffice.

As you listen to these chords in the key of C, try playing some notes from one of the C major scale guitar patterns and see what happens.

Don’t worry about being technically flash. If anything, we want to keep things simple to begin with.

Try simply playing a note, and then another note, and then another note and listen to your lead guitar melody start to form itself.

Try to be creative with the order of your notes. Don’t just play the scale notes in order. That will sound like an exercise rather than a melody. Mix the notes about!

Don’t feel you have to start on the first note of the pattern either.

Remember, we’re not looking to play the scale here. We’re looking to create a melody or a solo using the scale.

c major scale guitar

But how do we know if a song is in C major?

Here are the chords from the key of C major:

C   Dm  Em  F  G  Am  Bdim

If a song uses any combination of these chords then we’re in C major.

For example, if the chords go:

C            | F             | G            |C              |

We’re in C major and can use the C major scale.

If the chords go:

G            | F            | C             |C               |

We’re in the key of C major and can use the C major scale.

If the chords go:

C            | G           | D             | D              |

Then we’re NOT in C major.

Why?

Because ‘D’ isn’t one of the chords available in the key of C.

Dm is, but not D.

The sequence started on a C, but sadly, that doesn’t always mean it’s in C.

If you want to learn how to move the major scale around the fretboard so you can play in other keys besides C, check out this article: Guitar Keys: An Essential Guide

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7) C Major Scale Guitar – The Theory Behind The Scale

As we mentioned earlier, the C major scale is the easiest key to think in.

It doesn’t contain any confusing sharp or flat notes. The C major scale contains just ‘natural notes’.

You know how a piano or a keyboard has some black keys and some white keys?

The natural notes are the white ones.

c major scale guitar

To spell the C major scale we simply start with C and work our way through the alphabet.

C  D  E  F  G  A  B

Some people are a bit confused by the fact that after ‘G’ we suddenly have an ‘A’ note.

c major sclae guitar

There’s no ‘H’ note in music, or an ‘I’ note, or a ‘J’ note etc.

The musical alphabet only goes up to G. After that, we go back round to the beginning, which is A.

If you think about it, that actually makes the musical alphabet a lot simpler than the normal alphabet.

So if someone asks you, “What’s the third of C?” you needn’t be stumped.

All you need do is count along from C:

C  D  E

It’s E.

So the third of C is E.

If you want to know the fifth of C, again, let’s count along:

C  D  E  F  G

The fifth of C is G!

It’s really that simple.

Do you see what we mean when we say the C major scale is the doorway into the world of music theory?

Why not try playing some of the C major scale guitar patterns we’ve learnt today and say the names of the notes as you go.

8) C Major Scale Guitar – The A Natural Minor Scale

Every major key has what’s known as a relative minor key.

In the case of C major, it’s A minor.

So we can very easily transform a C major scale guitar pattern into an A natural minor scale guitar pattern.

Let’s find out how.

Here’s an open C major scale:

c major scale guitarTo make this into an A natural minor scale, all we do is add two notes at the beginning: the open A string and then the A string pressed down at the second fret (a B note):

c major scale guitar

Note: because we’ve started two notes earlier, we’ve finished two notes earlier.

The C major scale and the A natural minor scale are basically the same scale just approached from a different angle.

Find Out What You Should Learn Next With Our Guitar Map

If you want to understand where you’re up to in your guitar journey you should take a look at our Guitar Map. It will show you what you ‘should’ know by now (and also what you need to learn next to move forward as a guitarist).

Most people find that the Guitar Map shows them how everything fits together and best of all, it will help you identify gaps in your knowledge that are holding you back.

(There is often just one piece of information that holds people back, 1 key insight that they need to know so they can continue moving forward and improving in their guitar journey.)

We made the Guitar Map so people like you can quickly identify what you don’t know, that you need to know next. We hope that makes sense!?

NOTE: The Guitar Map is now included in our free special report: 'The 7 Steps To Guitar Mastery'.

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Learn how everything fits together quickly, easily and effectively. We share ninja tips (for instant fun!) but also timeless fundamentals that will deepen your understanding.

NGAEM

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