Guitar Scale Basics

how to play music scales

We know that every song uses only the twelve notes. It can’t use any other notes, as there are only twelve notes in the western theory.

The fact is that most songs never use all of the twelve notes in one song. Every song uses just a certain collection of notes. This collection of notes is called a scale. A song will use the notes from a scale it is supposed to be using, build melodies out of the notes of it’s scale, and build chords out of the notes of its scale.

There are a few scales that you will learn. The reason for learning music scales is that each scale can create a different sounding song. Some scale create sad songs, some create bright songs. Now we will construct a simple scale, the major scale.

The first thing we need to do is list the chromatics. We will list the chromatics in C and build the major scale out of it. Here are the chromatics in C:

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

Here is how we will contruct the major scale:

The first note of the scale will be C.
The second note will be the note a WHOLE-STEP above C, i.e. D.
The third note will be WHOLE-STEP above D, i.e. E.
The fourth note will be HALF-STEP above E, i.e. F.
The fifth note will be WHOLE-STEP above F, i.e. G.
The sixth note will be WHOLE-STEP above G, i.e. A.
The seventh note will be WHOLE-STEP above A, i.e. B.
The last note would be a HALF-STEP above B, i.e. C. This is not exactly the last note, as it has come before, we merely list it as the last to signify that the scale is complete.

Remember the sequence of whole steps and half steps: W,W,H,W,W,W,H. It is essential that you memorize this sequence.

Now, the notes we have chosen are C, D, E, F, G, A and B. C will be the ‘root note’, and the scale will be called ‘C major scale’ (as C is the root note). The first note (C) is also referred to as ‘degree 1’, note 2 (D) as ‘degree 2’, and so on. It is NOT absolutely necessary for a song to use all notes of the scale it is using. It may only use a part of the notes of the scale, as you will see later in this lesson.

Note: When a song uses a scale, say, C major scale, we would say ‘The song is in the C Major Key’.

You will learn more about what a key is later.