You can view the free PDF of all 5 scale shapes mentioned in this post by clicking here. Alternatively, there’s a great free website called Fretastic which can lay out the 5 guitar major scale shapes in any key for you with a nice UI.
I’m guessing you’re here because you’ve been stuck in one place on the fretboard for so long that you want to expand.
And what the heck? No, I don’t mean that literally.
But anyway, that feeling that a whole wild fretboard is out there, and you just don’t know how to use it ain’t a nice one.
So today I’ll be curing you of your fretboard phobia by showing you the 5 major scale shapes, patterns, positions, whatever they’re called on guitar and how you can actually use them to solo and riff.
Because that’s why you want to learn them in the first place, right?
So let’s roll.
Why Are Scale Shapes a Thing, and How Do They Work?
Alright, before you start mindlessly going up and down these shapes trying to learn them…
It’s important to realize what the notes mean that you are actually playing. That way you’ll eventually be able to use them for stuff.
The key thing to remember is that each major scale shape contains the exact same notes.
And these notes are scattered all over the fretboard.
So for example, the C major scale is made up of the notes C D E F G A B.
And using my Nobel-Prize-Winning Mathematics skills, I’ve counted C notes on the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 8th and 10th frets of my guitar.
Assuming each of these Cs has a D E F G A B following it, we end up creating a bunch of different ways we can play a C major scale, all over the place.
So to find these notes, that’s where learning shapes comes in…
The Major Scale Shape No.1
Many of you may know this shape already, but I don’t care, I’m gonna teach you it anyway. I’m so evil, muhaha…
We’re gonna be tackling the 5 guitar major scale shapes in the key of C today, just because why not. I mean, C is a nice key.
So without further ado, here’s the root position shape:
The red notes indicate the root “C” notes in these shapes, and the blue notes indicate the other notes of the C major chord (the major 3rd and the 5th).
It’s important to take a note of these coloured notes as you learn the 5 major scale guitar shapes.
That’s because these are the notes that you’ll typically want to linger on in your solos/improvisation. All the other notes are just filler notes to help you get there.
Landing on these notes will make your solos sound way more melodic. So think of them as the Bingo notes, if you will.
Kiko Loureiro also has a great video explaining this concept, in case you want to see this in practice.
So play that shape up and down a few times to embed it into your muscle memory.
After that, you’ll be ready for the next one…
The Major Scale Shape No.2
This is where the fun begins. If you’ve never learnt a second scale shape before, then when you’ve learnt this one MAN it’s gonna feel good.
So I’ll hold it from you no longer.
Or will I…
Haha, so evil... Anyway, here it is, position numero dos:
Notice how we aren’t starting the shape with a “C” root note anymore.
We’re actually starting the shape using the 2nd note of the C major scale (D).
And because we’re starting using a different note, we get a different pattern as a result.
But the coolest part of all of this is…
That the top half of shape 2 is the EXACT same as the bottom half of shape 1.
So if you stacked the shapes on top of each other, you’d get something that looked like this:
Pretty epic, right?
Knowing this will help you stop looking at these guitar major scale shapes as 5 individual patterns…
But as one, massive shape that you can freely move around in.
So before we move on to learn the others, we need to get to that stage where the two shapes feel combined…
*How to Practice and Connect Scale Shapes for Fast Progress
Great! You now know two scale shapes. But unfortunately, they’re still just two separate shapes.
So to glue these two shapes together properly, you should use something I like to call, The Glue Method.
So The Glue Method is as follows:
- Go up and down the two shapes individually until they both feel comfortable
- Then practice going up the first shape and sliding up to the highest note of the second shape when you reach the top. From there, descend through the second shape instead.
You can even invert this so that you ascend through the second shape, slide down to the first shape and descend through the first shape too.
- After that, practice going up shape 1, and sliding up on each string to the extra notes in shape two.
As always, you can invert this by descending through shape 2 and sliding down on each string to the lower notes in shape 1.
- To finish it all off, have a bit of a groove and improvise sliding between the two shapes and playing whatever notes you feel like. It doesn’t have to sound melodic at this point, we’re just trying to get used to the shapes.
Before you know it, you’ll forget that they were once two separate shapes.
The Glue Method is just so awesome that it will soon take over as Man’s best friend.
So make sure you are at the forefront of this revolution.
The Major Scale Shape – No.5
Wait. What the heck? Shape No.5? Sam, have you …err… accidentally missed a few?
Nope. I did it on purpose.
Because by this point, you’ll know the first shape really well. And at the end of the day, you’re gonna be spending a lot of time there because it feels easy.
And it makes sense to glue on the two shapes either side of the shape we know the best, first. That way, we have the option to go both up and down the fretboard when soloing.
So here it is:
You’ll notice that the two root “C” notes on both of the E strings are the same ones from our first shape.
And if you use The Glue Method to connect this with the original shape, you’ll find the fretboard really begins to open up.
The Major Scale Shape – No.3
Alright, alright. We’ll return to the order now.
I apologize if I triggered the OCD part of you a bit there.
But hey, it’ll be worth it.
Anyway, here’s the third shape:
You know how these things work by now.
Go up and down it a few times, and then glue it to the end of the second shape with – you guessed it – The Glue Method.
Ooh, and remember to practice these connected scale shapes in a bunch of different keys.
The patterns will be the same, just shifted up or down the fretboard according to where the root note is.
There’s no good being a master in C major when someone starts jamming with you in G.
After that, you’ll be ready for the last one…
The Major Scale Shape – No.4
Just one more… One more scale shape to go. You can do it! I believe!!!
So here’s the last shape:
Boom! That’s all of them.
But please promise me this…
You practice this shape an octave lower on the 3rd fret too.
Shape No.4 needs gluing to the bottom of the 3rd shape, as well as to the top of the 5th shape. Practising it an octave lower too will help with that 5th shape gluage.
Plus, for all you acoustic strummer fellows out there, playing this high up the fretboard will be massively uncomfortable unless you play it an octave lower anyway.
Pff… guitar action…
Playing the Major Scale Vertically
Oh yeah, before we move on to how you should actually use the 5 guitar major scale shapes, you should practice playing the major scale vertically too.
That way, you’ll feel as comfortable going vertically up the fretboard as you will going across it.
And this’ll help you also learn where all the notes are that you can slide or bend up to, which results in more pizazz and flourish.
And we all love a bit of pizazz and flourish.
How to Use the Major Scale Shapes to Solo
You didn’t just learn these shapes for nothing! You learnt them because you wanna do stuff with them.
And the number one rule to remember is that just going up and down scale shapes won’t sound melodic, even with nice phrasing.
And that’s why learning the Bingo notes in each shape is so important. You land on these, you sound way more melodic.
As well as this, getting used to landing on chord notes is especially useful when soloing over chord progressions.
That’s because the ultimate end goal is to be able to hit the notes of each new chord as it comes in a progression, using your chosen scale as passing notes to get there.
For example, if you’re soloing in the key of C major, and an F chord comes your way, you can use the C major scale as passing notes to get to the chord/arpeggio notes of F.
Then as a G chord comes around, you’ll use the C major scale as passing notes to get to the G chord notes!
That way, you can stay connected with the backing track underneath.
It’s tough, but the mark of a true pro.
However, guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani looks at this an alternative way.
He purposely avoids the chord tones and tries to land on notes like the suspended 2nd and the 4th so that the melody doesn’t resolve. It keeps the listener on edge for what comes next.
Some of these concepts are pretty advanced, but they can be good as long-term goals!
Oh, and finally… just because there are all those scale notes doesn’t mean you have to use all of them.
Otherwise, it’s gonna sound like you’re trying to use all of them. And that ain’t what you want.
So be liberal in skipping notes and even strings at any time.
Wrapping It Up
Congratulations! You are now a major scale pro.
Soon enough the entire fretboard will be wide open for you, and you’ll be ripping the fretboard up like a paper shredder.
Just remember to learn each shape one at a time, and spend the time gluing each new one onto the end of the last one.
Alternatively, there’s a great free website called Fretastic which can lay out all 5 guitar major scale shapes in any key for you with an epic UI. It’s way better than any other website of the sort and has a bunch of other scales and chords on there too.
I’ve been Sam Olverson,
Have fun learning the shapes!