Music Theory: Major and Minor Scales on the Fretboard...
Geeks Note: This lesson builds off of our lessons on Major & Minor Scales, Intervals and Fretboard Magic. This lesson will show you how to find Chromatic scales on the fretboard as "shapes" that you can move around.



Learning Objectives
By the end of this lesson, here is what you should have learned:
  1. To be able to play any Major (Ionian) Scale on the fretboard.
  2. Understand what a "mode" is.
  3. Be able to play the Major Scale and Minor Scales on the fretboard.
  4. Learn the shapes within which you will begin to learn to solo.


Finding the Major and Minor scales on the fretboard (especially the Minor Pentatonic) is important to your learning as well as building soloing skills. The Major and Minor scales are chromatic scales (each note of the scale is played). The Minor Pentatonic is not chormatic (Penta means Five so only five notes from the scale are played).

In finding the Major Scale, we are going to look at two ways of approaching it. The first way is finding it by building one note after another in our head using our understanding of Intervals and Fretboard Relationships. The second method of approach will be looking at a Moveable Pattern for the Major Scale and Minor Scales. We will look at the Major and Minor Pentatonics in an upcoming lesson. This may seem like a lot for now but it's not. Pop open a Pepsi and let's give 'er.


 



Building the Major Scale

For this part of the lesson, we are goin to use the A Major Scale. You will remember that the A Major Scale (WWHWWWWH) is comprised of:

A - B - C# - D - E - F# - G# - A


(Refer to our lesson on the Circle of 5ths to build this in your head).


Building the Major Scale on the Fretboard from the 6th String

First we find the Root Note of the Musical Scale on the 6th string. This is the starting point for the pattern. It doesn't matter what note you choose to start with, the pattern will always be exactly the same as long as you are starting on the 6th string.
(The 5th string Major Scale pattern will be shown later).


For the second note in the Musical Scale we move up c which is a Whole Step (W).


Next we move up 2 More Frets which is another Whole Step (W).


Since we are now spanning five frets with our hand, instead of moving another fret on the same string, instead we move up one string to the same fret that we started with on the Root Note. Keep in mind that this is one HALF STEP above the Major 3rd we last fretted on the 6th string.

You will remember from our lesson on Fretboard Magic that a Perfect 4th, the 4th degree of any musical scale, is on the same fret and one string up on the fretboard. This is one of the tricks for helping you remember pattern of the Major Scale on the fretboard.



So far we have completed (WWH) of the Major Scale pattern. We now move one Whole Step again or two frets to find the 5th degree of the musical scale.

You will also remember from our lesson on Fretboard Magic that a Perfect 5th, the 5th degree of any musical scale is one string and two frets up on the fretboard. Another "mental note to self" on the Major Scale Pattern.


The 6th degree of the scale (a Major 6th) is one more Whole Step or two more frets.


Again we are already spanning five frets so we move up one more string. We know from our lesson on Intervals that the Major 7th is 11 intervals above the Root Note. We also know from our lesson on Intervals that if we move up two frets and up two strings that we will find the Unison, the Root Note one octave higher. Therefore, the Major 7th is one half step (one interval) BELOW the Unison.


Finally we are here. We are at the Unison. The Root Note one Octave higher. Up two strings and up two frets from the Root Note.

You have now built the Major Scale for any key on the fretboard, one note at a time. Studying this pattern will also help you find notes on the fretboard. You do this by understanding the relationship between notes and where they are positioned.


Instead of continuing on with the step by step process (you can do that on your own), here is the Major Scale Pattern for the Fretboard. You will see that is spans two and a half octaves. Study this pattern and memorize it. You will always be using it in your musical growth and learning.


Here is the moveable Major Scale pattern one more time, showing all the notes of the "A" Musical Scale. The one other thing I would point out is the open E Major Scale. In this case, the Root note and the Perfect 4th would be the open Low E String and the open A String. The pattern would still be the same.



Building the Major Scale on the Fretboard from the 5th String

I am not going through the step by step for the 5th String Root. You already know how to do that from the lesson above. Instead, I am going to just show you the pattern. Take a few minutes to work it out on your fretboard and play it a few times chromatically (up and down the scale through the Octaves). The example below is showing the D Major Scale from the 5th String.



 

Now remember... there are OTHER shapes/patterns for the Major Scale on both the 6th and 5th Strings. You can even create 4th string and 3rd string patterns. Try those out yourself, just remember never to span more than five frets on any single string. You can also Google 5th string,major scale,pattern,guitar to come up with some other resources for Major Scale patterns.

 


Natural Minor Scales

Don't confuse Minor scales with Minor Pentatonic Scales. They are two different things. Minor Scales have SEVEN notes, Pentatonic Minors have FIVE notes.

You will remember from our lesson on Major & Minor Scale construction that a Natural Minor Scale is comprised of the Interval formula:

W - H - W - W - H - W - W


The notes of a Natural Minor scale are NOT THE SAME as the notes of the same named Major Scale. What I mean is that for the A Major Scale the notes are:

A - B - C# - D - E - F# - G#


However, the A Natural Minor Scale is comprised of the notes:

A - B - C - D - E - F - G


Start at the Root Note A and follow the WHWWHWWH progression and you will see how the notes of the A Natural Minor Scale are constructed.

You will also probably be thinking to yourself that these are the exact same notes found in the C Major Scale. You would be correct in that assumption.

You see, each Major Scale has a relative Natural Minor Scale. The Relative Natural Minor to the C Major Scale is "A" or the A Minor Scale. If you refer back to the Circle of 5ths you will see that on the INSIDE of the circle are lower case letters. These lower case letters are the Relative Minor Scales to the Major Scales on the outside of the circle.

There is also a very simple rule to find the Relative Minor Scale.

The Relative Minor Scale is the 6th Degree of any Major Scale


As an example, using of course, the C Major Scale:

C D E F G A B C
1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th  


We can see in the above layout that the A note is the 6th degree (Major 6th) of the C Major Scale. Therefore we know that the A Natural Minor Scale is the Relative Minor Scale to the C Major Scale AND we also know that it will contain the exact same notes as the Major Scale it comes from. The notes are exactly the same because the intervals are identical, they just start at a different point.

W W H W W W H
W H W W H W W



Natural Minor Scale Fretboard Patterns

With the information above, you can build the Natural Minor Scale patterns yourself step by step (good practice). I am going to show you the fretboard pattern for the Natural Minor Scale as well as the Harmonic and Melodic Minor Scales. You can Google for other possible patterns or you can use your new found knowledge to build some yourself (remember, don't span more than five frets on a single string).









 


A brief aside on modes...

You have undoubtedly heard the term "Modes" or things like "Phrygian" or "Mixolydian". These are "modes" of the Major Scale. There is no great secret to them. They are simply the Major Scale in question started at the specified Degree (or Note) in that Major Scale. As we adjusted the interval pattern above for a Minor Scale, so we adjust the interval pattern by one position for each of the Modes.

Ionian mode
Ionian mode is simply the Major Scale that we looked at above and in previous lessons. The interval pattern is WWHWWWH.

Dorian mode
Is a Scale that starts on the 2nd Degree of the Major Scale, the adjusted interval pattern is WHWWWHW.

Phrygian mode
Is a Scale that starts on the 3rd Degree of the Major Scale, the adjusted interval pattern is HWWWHWW.

Lydian mode
Is a Scale that starts on the 4th Degree (Perfect 4th) of the Major Scale, the adjusted interval pattern is WWWHWWH.

Mixolydian mode
Is a Scale that starts on the 5th Degree (Perfect 5th) of the Major Scale, the adjusted interval pattern is WWHWWHW.

Aeolian mode
Is a Scale that starts on the 6th Degree of the Major Scale, the adjusted interval pattern is WHWWHWW. This is, as we studied above, the natural Minor Scale to the Major Scale as this mode starts at the 6th degree. Hey, you already know the Major and Minor Scale patterns, that means you already know the Ionian and Aeolian modes!

Locrian mode
Is a Scale that starts on the 7th Degree of the Major Scale, the adjusted interval pattern is HWWHWWW.



Here are the Interval Formulas. You Don't need to memorize the formulas, just know what degree each mode starts on and you can build it in your head from the Major Scale and the Major Scale Interval Formula.

Ionian: W W H W W W H
Dorian: W H W W W H W
Phrygian: H W W W H W W
Lydian: W W W H W W H
Mixolydian: W W H W W H W
Aeolian: W H W W H W W
Locrian: H W W H W W H







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© Aaron Gallagher