9 Major Scale Patterns For Lead Guitarists

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

major scale patterns

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:

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

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.

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.

Improvisation Challenge

Here is a backing track in the key of A major.

We’re going to improvise along with it using the A major scale pattern.

All you’re going to do here is, listen to the backing track, try out different notes from the scale and see how they come together to form a melody.

Give it a try.

Note that the aim here is not to simply play the notes of the scale in order. That would defeat the object.

What we want to do is mix the notes about so as they don’t sound like a scale, more like a melody or solo.

If you find a pattern of notes that sounds nice when you play it over and over, then you’ve just written a riff.

How to change the key of major scale patterns

Obviously not every song in the world is in A major.

So if we want to have the freedom to improvise in any song, we need to know how to change the key of the major scale pattern.

It’s fairly straight forward.

All we need is a basic grasp of the musical alphabet.

Here’s a handy diagram of ALL of the notes on the guitar:

major scale patterns
Notice how the 5th fret on the low E string in this diagram is an A note?

That’s where our A major scale starts, isn’t it?

So to change the key of our major scale patterns, we can simply use this diagram to move our pattern up or down.

For example, let’s say we want the B major scale.

If you look at the diagram, you’ll notice that B is two frets along from A, so that’s how far up we need to move the pattern.

This is called transposing.

To learn more about guitar keys, go here: Guitar Keys – An Essential Guide

How do we know what key we want the scale to be in?

major scale patterns

A scale pattern is not much use to us if we don’t know what key we need to play it in.

If a song has three major chords in it, we want to figure out which of them is chord 1 (or chord I, as it’s sometimes written in Roman numerals).

This is fairly straight forward.

Here’s a chord sequence:

| A              |D              | E              |                  |

Which of these two chords are alphabetically next to one another?

That’s right. D and E.

Our chord 1 is the other chord.

In this case: A

So the key is A.

So the key of a song is the first chord in the song?

No. That’s a common misconception.

The first chord in the song can be chord 1, but it isn’t always.

For example, if the chords are:

| D           | C             |G            |                |

Which two chords are alphabetically next to one another?

That’s right. C and D.

So the other chord is G.

So the key is G.

NB: This method of figuring out the key only works with major chords, not minor chords.

If it helps, here is a diagram of all the major and minor chords in all the keys that you can refer to:

table of keys - basicNote that the major chords are always 1, 4 and 5 (I, IV and V) and the minor chords are always 2, 3 and 6. (ii, iii and vi.)

Download a free beginner chord guide and learn easy versions of every chord

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  This is one of our most popular guides and will improve your chord ability quickly. Click here to download the guide.

 

Still struggling? Stick to pentatonics!

If you’re struggling to figure out the key despite having this method and the above chart to help you, you can always stick to the pentatonic scales we looked at earlier.

With pentatonic scales you can pick any chord from the song and match up the pattern with it.

Eg. If the chords are D, C and G like in the earlier example, you can use either the D, C or G major pentatonic scale.

Just make sure to match major pentatonics to major chords and minor pentatonics to minor chords.

Want to learn about minor pentatonics? Check out this article: Pentatonic Scale: An Essential Guide

Some bonus major scale patterns

If you’re feeling adventurous, you might like to give these patterns a try:

Major 7 arpeggio:

major scale patterns

What we’re doing here is essentially only playing every other note of the major scale.

So we’re playing the 1st note (the root), the 3rd note, the 5th note and the 7th note. (The final note is just a repeat of the root note.)

We’re leaving out the 2nd note, the 4th note, the 6th note.

As the saying goes, less is more!

You’ll probably find the major 7 arpeggio has a very mysterious sound… or a very jazzy sound.

Three fingers per string scale pattern:

major scales on guitar

This pattern will sound identical to the intermediate pattern, but because it uses three fingers on each string, you’ll find it’s ideal for fast playing, especially if you just pick the first note on each string and play the other two as hammer-ons.

This example is in G.

Obviously for a pattern like this, our earlier one finger to a fret method of playing isn’t going to work.

The best thing to do is start each string with the 1st finger and end each string with the 4th finger.

For the notes imbetween, use either the 2nd or 3rd finger, depending on what’s nearest and easiest.

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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We'll send you a series of lessons that will move you to the next level of your guitar journey.

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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