My StudyBass

What is the Major Scale?

The major scale is the scale on which most music is built and revolves around. It is the scale most familiar to people. You may have heard someone sing Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do. This is the major scale.

Side note for non-American-English speakers:
Confused about TI and SI? Please read American-English music terminology.

The major scale contains seven different notes. When we talk about the major scale’s notes they are identified as Root (R), 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. The numbers used to identify the notes of a scale are called scale degrees. Scale degrees are important to memorize whenever you learn a scale or pattern.

One Octave Major Scale Fingering

There are many ways to play the major scale on the bass fingerboard. The first major scale fingering you should learn covers a four-fret span. This fingering uses one-finger-per-fret and begins with your 2nd finger on the root note of the scale. Your hand should not shift. Click the play button on the fretboard diagrams to see the fingering.

To play the scale going up, play the notes in order: Root, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, octave of the root.

To play the scale going down, start on the high root note and reverse it: high root, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, R.

This major scale fingering is very versatile. It can be moved around to anywhere on the fretboard with the low root note on either the E-string or A-string. This means you can play every major scale there is.

For example, to play a G major scale you’d start the root on G. (See G Major Scale diagram.)

Or, to play the D major scale you’d start the pattern’s root on D. (See D Major Scale diagram.)

You should practice the scale by playing it up and down and in all areas of the fretboard.

Whole-Step/Half-Step Construction of the Major Scale

Scales are often described as a series of half- and whole-steps. We said the chromatic scale was all half-steps. The major scale uses a combination of whole- and half-steps.

The major scale is built with the whole-step and half-step series: W W H W W W H

A half-step occurs between the 3rd and 4th notes of the scale, and again between the 7th and octave root of the scale. All other notes are a whole-step apart.

As an example, the C major scale contains the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and finishes on C an octave higher. Half-steps occur between the 3rd and 4th notes E and F, and between the 7th and octave notes B and C.

The location of these half-steps plays a big role in the sound of the scale. No other scale has this whole-step/half-step construction. It is what gives the scale its uniqueness.

Intervallic Construction of the Major Scale

The major scale contains all the major and perfect intervals from the basic musical intervals we discussed. Those are: M2, M3, P4, P5, M6, and M7. Again, it is the only scale with this unique combination of intervals giving it its unique sound.

Every major scale has its own unique set of notes, but with the same intervallic structure. Since there are 12 notes in the musical alphabet, there are 12 unique major scales. One major scale based on each of the 12 notes.

Why Learn the Major Scale?

The major scale is essential to learn for many reasons. Firstly, most songs revolve around the notes of one particular major scale. The seven notes of the major scale serve as a piece of music’s main note palette.

If a piece of music is built around the C major scale, the melody and chords would contain various combinations of the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, and B — the notes of the C major scale. We would say this piece of music is “in the key of C major.”

You’ll remember that one of your biggest responsibilities is to define the sound of each chord played in the music. As you study music you will see that chords and scales are linked in a number of ways. Knowing the scale will help with knowing the related chords and vice versa.

Another important reason for learning the major scale is most of the other common scales and patterns used in music are described in relationship to the major scale.

For instance, another scale’s structure may be described as differing by one or two notes from the major scale pattern. In that way the major scale serves as a musical standard and reference point. Knowing the major scale well will make learning and understanding all other scales and musical patterns much easier.

Yet a third reason is many other scales are directly derived from the major scale. You will hear a lot of talk of the modes of the major scale. Modes will be discussed more in future lessons. Just as a quick preview a mode is a scale obtained by starting and ending on the other notes of a parent scale. For example, the first mode of the C major scale is C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C. The second mode would be D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D — the same notes but now from D to D. Similarly, the other modes would be from E to E, from F to F, G to G, and so on. There are seven modes for each major scale since there are seven possible starting points (notes) in each major scale.

Major Scale Example Usage

In the major scale examples you can hear how to practice the scale up and down. I also show you how the major scale acts as a kind of “glue” for the chords of a song.

Major Scale Details
Whole-step/half-step construction: W W H W W W H
Intervallic construction: Root, M2, M3, P4, P5, M6, M7, P8
C major scale spelling: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C