Theory - the C Major Scale


This lesson deals with the music theory behind the C Major scale and how to play that scale on the guitar. The major scale is the most basic musical scale in the western musical system.


A lot of common songs like children's songs and anthems are composed entirely wih the major scale because of its recognizable sound.


The group of all available tones together is called the chromatic scale. These are: C, Db, D, Eb, E, F, Gb, G, Ab, A, Bb and B.


The tones Db, Eb, Gb, Ab and Bb are called flats and are each one half tone lower than the respective tones D, E, G, A and B.


Db, Eb, Gb, Ab and Bb are effectively the same tones as C#, D#, F#, G# and A#. These are called sharps. Db and C# are one and the same tone, Db is a half tone lower than D and C# is one half tone higher than C.


The chromatic and major scales on the piano

The layout of the chromatic scale and its relationship to the major scale can be seen in the top right image on this page. This depicts the keys of a piano. The piano keyboard explains the relationship between the tones most clearly because the way it's laid out.


The white keys of the piano are C, D, E, F, G, A and B. Together, these form the C major scale. In the C major scale, 'C' is the most important tone and is called the root.


The black keys are Db, Eb, Gb, Ab and Bb, or C#, D#, F#, G# and A#. As can be seen, not all tones of the major scale have black keys between them. The distance between C and D is two half tones. Same for distance from D to E. The distance between E and F however, is only one half tone as there is no black key between them.


This yields the following pattern of distances between the tones of the major scale: C 1 D 1 E 1/2 F 1 G 1 A 1 B 1/2

This means that the formula for the major scale is: 1, 1, 1/2, 1, 1, 1, 1/2.


The chromatic scale on the guitar

Let's first play the chromatic scale on one string of the guitar. The first note will be C, on the first fret of the B string (2nd string from the bottom). 2nd fret: Db - 3rd fret: D - 4th fret: Eb - 5th fret: E - 6th fret: F - 7th fret: Gb - 8th fret: G - 9th fret: Ab - 10th fret: A, 11th fret: Bb, 12th fret: B, 13th fret: C again. That last C is one octave higher than the one we started with on the first fret.

guitar c major scale tab


The major scale on

guitar - one string

Now, play the major scale on the same string, the B string. The first note is C on the first fret. 3rd fret: D - 5th fret: E - 6th fret: F - 8th fret: G - 10th fret: A - 12th fret: B - 13th fret: C again.


The major scale on guitar - in position - TAB

Of course, playing those 8 tones like that, on only one string, is not the best solution as it requires shifting your fretting hand for every tone. That's why scales are normally played over more strings. This enables you to keep the fretting hand on the same place on the guitar neck. This is called playing in position.


Play the TAB for the C major scale on guitar as depicted in the image. These are exactly the same tones C, D, E, F, G, A, B and C, but now laid out over the bottom three strings of the guitar. This way you can play the whole scale without having to move the left hand. Keep in mind that the same set of tones can also be played on different positions and strings on the guitar. This is just one available option.


That's it for now, take care!


guitar theory c major scale - piano keys and all chromatic tones