Major Scales by Rick Gartner
Frets magazine, August 1980
OVER THE PAST COUPLE of months, we have discussed chromatic scales, which include all the 12 notes (musical half-steps) within any given octave. There are numerous other scales in common usage that include selected notes from the 12 chromatic notes. Such scales are comprised of specific patters of half-steps and whole-steps (two half-steps). So, relative to a chromatic scale, other scales have "gaps" that occur in designated patterns. The patterns of those gaps are the criteria by which the scales are identified.
Probably the most familiar-sounding scale is the major scale, of "do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do" fame. A major scale like all other scales can begin on any note, but the rest of the notes in the scale always appear in the pattern of half-steps and whole-steps shown in Ex. 1 (whole-steps are shown as "W" and half-steps as "H").
Ex. 1 First note (tonic note)WWHWWH
That pattern encompasses one octave, so the last note of the scale has the same letter name as the first note of the scale. The major scale beginning on the note C is shown in Ex.2.
Ex. 2 C (tonic)DEFGABC
All major scales other than the C major scale contain some sharped (#) or flatted (b) notes; but no major scale contains both sharped and flatted notes. For example, all of the non-natural (sharped or flatted) notes in the A, D, E, and G major scales are expressed as sharps; there are no flats in any of those major scales. With that fact in mind, let's write a chromatic scale and omit the flatted equivalents to the sharped notes (A#[Bb], C#[Db], and so on). Then let's apply the major-scale gap pattern to figure out the notes in the A, D, E, and G major scales. The A and D major scales are already worked out for you in Ex.3, with a "W" written under the whole-step gaps, and an "H" written under the half-steps.
Use these "sharps only" chromatic scales and the major-scale gap pattern to figure out the E and the G major scales (Ex.4). The solutions are printed upside-down for your reading pleasure.
Any bit of musical knowledge is only as valuable as the diversity of its practical uses. In that regard, major scales are very valuable. Playing through a few major scales is a beneficial warm-up routine that combines finger exercise with ear programming. You can observe your fingers-on-fretboard positioning while learning fretboard patterns that often come in handy when you are "jamming" with your friends. (In fact, David Grisman, in his "Mandolin" column this month, prescribes the major scale as a beginning point for improvisation.)
Many melodies and licks are simple major scale segments and re-combinations, so conditioning your ear to the sound of the major scale can greatly increase your ability to pick up tunes and ruffs from record and live performances. Major scales are also used as reference points for describling more complex musical ideas. Chord structures and chord profressions are quite often described in terms of major scales. For example, the ever-popular IIVV chord progression in the key of C includes the C, F, and G chords. Notice that in the C major scale, C is the first note, F is the fourth note, and G is the fifth note (see Ex.2).
Below in Ex.5 are G major scales for Guitar and for mandolin. The guitar scale is a movable pattern. For example, if you shift the entire pattern up one fret, you have a G# major scale. Move the pattern up another fret, and you have an A major scale, and so on. The fretboard patterns for the scales are shown at the left of each scale. The fingering numbers are also shown: 1 (index finger); 2 (middle finger); 3 (ring finger); and 4 (little finger).