The Major Scale

By Andrew Thompson and Wayne Holdom


So, what is the Major Scale?

The Major Scale is the starting point in understanding about Melody and Harmony in music. The theory behind the Major Scale is very complicated and dates back to well before the Ancient Greeks, but in its present form it was standardized around about 1600.

Tones and Semitones

A semitone is the smallest unit of musical distance between two notes of different pitch and equates to a movement of one fret in either direction along the same string. For example, fret No 7 on string 4 is a semitone lower than fret 8 on the same string and fret 3 on string 1 is a semitone higher than fret 2 on the same string. A Tone is 2 semitones and therefore 2 frets.

To play a Major Scale simply follow this procedure:


Begin on ANY NOTE. This is called the 1st, Key Note or TONIC
Play a TONE higher. This is called the 2nd or SUPERTONIC
Play a TONE higher. This is called the 3rd or MEDIANT
Play a SEMITONE higher. This is called the 4th or SUBDOMINANT
Play a TONE higher. This is called the 5th or DOMINANT
Play a TONE higher. This is called the 6th or SUBMEDIANT
Play a TONE higher. This is called the 7th or LEADING NOTE
Play a SEMITONE higher. This is called the OCTAVE, Key Note or TONIC


There is no doubt that an understanding of how to play scales well is vital to progress on any instrument, so if you neglect this as unimportant then your progress will unfortunately be very limited indeed. Scale playing trains the fingers and hands to co-ordinate correctly and in control but, perhaps more importantly, trains the ear to how melodies and harmonies are constructed to help us to learn to play by ear. So scale playing is VERY IMPORTANT

To help you to practice the 12 Major and Natural Minor scales, follow this link to our scale homepage.