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Memorizing major scales


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I am quite new to guitar theory, and I was wondering how you guys went about memorizing major scales on the fretboard? It seems quite daunting to memorize the whole fretboard from scratch every time I want to learn a new major scale. I understand that the "pattern" is the same (that is W-W-H-W-W-W-H for all notes) but finding the root note in each string, then applying it to every string etc. seems like a very slow and tedious process. Is trial and error the only way to do it until you get used to it?

I've also seen them divide the fretboard into 7 blocks (which from what i've seen are also unintuitively called patterns since it wasn't confusing enough) and claim that they are the "same" across other major scales (I've checked and found that they aren't, unless they were referring to the other "pattern"). Can someone help me out?

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Hello, @Jayarne, and welcome to the forum!

It’s a bit difficult from your first post to discern just where you are in your learning and where to begin, but I’ll (ahem) pitch in.

Yes, the mathematical pattern of major and minor seconds (whole and half tones, respectively) that you describe defines a major scale in Western music. From there, learning the major scales for guitar branches into two separate skill sets: (1) learning the names of the pitches (colloquially, “notes”) in each of the 12 scales, and (2) learning where these pitches are on the fretboard. Yes, some of the work involved is daunting, indeed. That’s why so few people do it.

The first skill set involves learning which pitches comprise, for example, an E major scale: E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, D#. This is not a prerequisite for the second skill set, but a music student ignores it at their peril. I will return to this in a moment.

The second skill set involves locating the root note of the scale, at a desirable spot on the fretboard, and getting one’s fingers from there to the required intervals. You need not know the names of every pitch as you move, but you need to know the names of the pitches on the sixth, fifth, and fourth strings. These strings are where the lowest root will most likely be located. For example: string 6, fret 1: F natural. String 5, fret 3: C natural. String 4, fret 7: B flat. Knowing the root, how you play a scale will depend on what finger you use for the root pitch. And that, in turn, will depend on the musical context.

Rather than go too far here in a direction that might not really be helpful, let me first suggest you examine Steve’s “15 Ways to Practice Scales” (attached, but it assumes some things), then consider his video lessons, “Major Scale Mastery Level 1” (and 2).



You will find countless scale lessons for free online elsewhere: some good, some mediocre, and some promising short cuts. There are none. Most of us are on the Guitar Gathering forum because it was created by a professional music educator who knows what works, and we students are his living proof.

Learning the pitches in each of the major scales involves study and memorization. It is well worth it. I have collected some resources for music study that I found especially helpful:


Finally, a note (pun intended) on terminology. A pitch is a tone with a specified frequency (A 440 Hz, for example), but colloquially what is often meant by “note” outside of music class. A note is a pitch with a specified duration (A 440 Hz, for a quarter measure, for example). A pitch class is a collection of all pitches with the same name (for example: “A natural”, which includes A 440, 220, 110 Hz, etc.).

15 Ways to Master Scales.pdf

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