9 Major Scale Patterns For Lead Guitarists

Want to know about major scale patterns? You’re in the right place!

In this free guitar lesson you will learn:

  • 5 of the best major scale patterns.
  • 4 bonus scale patterns to help take your playing to the next level.
  • How to use major scale patterns to play killer solos and riffs.
  • How to use major scale patterns to play in any key.

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What is the major scale?

The major scale is basically all the notes in a certain major key arranged into a handy pattern.

It’s an absolute must for any guitarist.

Major scale patterns for beginners: Open position patterns

The best major scale patterns to start off with are the basic open position patterns.

These are the patterns that use open strings as well as fretted notes.

We’re going to look at open position major scale patterns in the keys of: C A G E and D.

C major scale (open position)

Of all the major scale patterns, this is the ideal one to start off with.

Here’s the tab:

major scale patternsNot sure how to read tab? Fear not! Check out this article: How To Read Guitar Tabs

Here’s what this scale should sound like:

When playing major scale patterns, it’s important to use the correct fingers.

major scale patterns

With this pattern we want to start with our third finger (the ring finger) playing the 5th string at the 3rd fret.

For any of the notes in the 2nd fret, we want to use our second finger (the middle finger).

For any notes in the 1st fret, use the first finger (the index finger).

Don’t just hop about using any old finger. This is a bad habit to form.

Have a few goes at this pattern until you feel happy and confident with it.

Try it slowly to begin with. Rushing through major scale patterns means you won’t learn them properly.

If you want to play something fast, first you’ve got to be able to play it slowly.

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Bonus Picking Tips

Don’t just use downstrokes. Try and alternate between down and up strokes with your pick. This will make your playing more fluid.

To learn more about picking techniques, check out these articles:

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.

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A major scale (open position)

Here’s the tab:

major scales on guitar

Much like the previous pattern, you want to make sure you use the correct fingers.

With the A major pattern, after you’ve played that open A string, you must use your 2nd finger (the middle finger) to press the same string at the 2nd fret.

For the 4th fret you want to use the 4th finger (the pinky).

For the 1st fret you want to use the 1st finger (the index finger).

We don’t use the 3rd finger in this A major pattern.

The next of our major scale patterns is the..

G major scale (open position)

Here’s the tab:

major scale patternsFor this pattern, use:

  • The 2nd finger for the 3rd fret.
  • The 1st finger for the 2nd fret.
  • The 3rd finger for the 4th fret.

The next of our major scale patterns is the..

E major scale (open position)

Here’s the tab:

major scale patterns

You’ll notice this pattern is the same as the A major scale pattern, except it’s one string lower.

Therefore, the fingering is the same:

  • For the 2nd fret you want to use the 2nd finger (the middle finger).
  • For the 4th fret you want to use the 4th finger (the pinky).
  • For the 1st fret you want to use the 1st finger (the index finger).
  • We don’t use the 3rd finger in the E major pattern.

Make sure that you:

  • Use one finger per fret.
  • Play this scale slowly.
  • Practice going up AND down the scale.

The next of our major scale patterns is the..

D major scale (open position)

Here’s the tab:

major scales on guitar

This pattern just uses three fingers (the first three).

  • 1st finger for 2nd fret.
  • 3rd finger for 4th fret.
  • 2nd finger for 3rd fret.

Remember to:

  • Use one finger per fret
  • Play the slow slowly.
  • Practice moving up and down the scale.

major scale patterns

Intermediate Major Scale Patterns: The Closed Pattern

So we’ve tried some open position major scale patterns. Now it’s time to have a look at the closed version.

We call this a closed pattern because it doesn’t feature any open strings. Everything is fretted.

Open position scales are all well and good, but they have their limitations. Most notably, they’re very ‘fixed’ patterns, ie. they can’t be moved around the fretboard very easily.

Not the case with the closed pattern. Once we’ve learnt it, we can move it all over the fretboard.

This pattern also gives us two full octaves (ie. a lot more notes) to play with.

We’ll try this one in A.

Here’s the tab:

major scale patternsWhen playing this pattern, you want to start with your 2nd finger.

From then on, you need to use:

  • The 4th finger for the 7th fret.
  • The 1st finger for the 4th fret.
  • The 3rd finger for the 6th fret.

It’s particularly important with the closed position pattern to keep the fingering neat. If you don’t, you may lose your place in the scale.

It may feel difficult using fingers like the 4th finger to begin with, but in the long run, it’s a lot more difficult to make effective use of major scale patterns if your fingering is sloppy.

Bad habits are difficult to break, so it’s best to start as we mean to go on.

Struggling a bit with this scale?

If this full two octave closed position major scale feels a bit much, you could try something a bit easier.

The G major pentatonic scale

This is like the major scale, except it has less notes.

It’s also a bit more forgiving if you ever get into improvising.

Here’s the tab:

major scale patterns

And here’s a diagram of where you can play G major pentatonic all over the fretboard.

major scale patterns

Advanced major scale patterns: improvisation, key changing and bonus patterns

It’s all very well learning major scale patterns, but what can we actually do with them?

The most obvious answer to that question is: we can improvise!

major scale patterns

If you’ve ever wanted to play a killer solo or a riff or a melody, this is how.

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