Hello hello and welcome to another lesson by yours truly, Tony G!
In this lesson, I’m going to share 3 ridiculously simple tricks that will have you mastering the major and minor scales with ease. I’ll also cover the different notes in the two scales and show you exactly how we find them!
Let’s jump right in!
Major and Minor Scales Tip no. 1 – Learn Music Intervals
My first tip for you today is to learn what an interval is. An interval is basically the space or the distance from one note to the next. If you can learn intervals then you’ll be able to play scales no matter where you are. This is because you can keep track of how many half steps or whole steps we need in order to find the next note of a scale. For much more in-depth knowledge on musical intervals, check out EarMaster.com. Note, I am not affiliated with or sponsored by EarMaster in any way.
Music Intervals on Guitar
Let me break that down for you in layman’s terms. The two basic intervals we will be working with are a “Half Step Interval” notated as an ‘H’ and a “Whole/Full Step Interval” notated as a ‘W’.
A half step interval is a note either half step up or down and on the guitar and it’s as simple as moving only one fret. If you are playing the G note on 3rd fret, 6th string, a half step interval up would be the 4th fret which is G#/Ab.
A whole step interval is two half step intervals combined which amounts to two frets. If you are on the G note on 3rd fret, 6th string, a whole step interval up would land you on the 5th fret, which is A.
These two types of intervals are the only ones we need to learn these scales. There are other types of intervals, but we’ll learn that later down the road.
Major and Minor Scales Tip no. 2 – Learn Horizontal Scales
My second tip for you lovely people is to learn how to play scales horizontally so we can see the intervals at work. Think of it like a piano – A piano can’t be played vertically as it only has one row of keys. We’re going to treat one string like a row of piano keys.
Horizontal Scale vs Vertical Scale
- It’s much easier on the guitar to see intervals when we work with just one string and play horizontally.
- The beauty of the guitar is that we can play vertically which gives us so much more range in one position. However, it can get confusing when we try to judge intervals as we move between strings.
- Let’s keep it simple and play the scales horizontally in the keys of E Major and E minor.
E Major Horizontal Scale
Major Scale Intervals: W – W – H – W – W – W – H
Let’s go ahead and walk through the intervals of a major key in E. Between the first note, the low E and our second note, there will be a whole step interval. Again, a whole step interval is two frets. Therefore, your second note is on 2nd fret which is F#.
The next interval is also a whole step. Therefore, you go up two frets from the 2nd note which will be on 4th fret, G#.
The interval between the 3rd and 4th notes is only a half step interval. Go up one fret from the G# and you get an A on 5th fret.
Quick Side Note
You don’t need to memorize the specific notes of E Major. I’m listing them for your knowledge but this is the beauty of knowing the intervals! If you know the intervals, you don’t need to know the notes because you can always find them! No matter what key you’re playing in, you can always find the notes. For more information on learning the notes of the fretboard, check out this free lesson right here!
Continuing on, from the 4th note, we go up a full step which will be from 5th fret to 7th fret, which is B. From there we go up another whole step to 9th fret, which is C#. Between the 6th and 7th notes is also a whole step so up two frets to the 11th fret which is D#.
The last interval is a half step from 11th to 12th fret which returns us to the tonic (home base or 1st note of scale), E.
Once you hit the E again, you can just follow the same formula up the neck and keep it going! Many of you will run out of frets before hitting another E, but it’s fun to see how far you can get. In total we played 8 notes but in fact, this scale only consists of 7 notes…
Breaking Down Diatonic Scales
In Western music, 7 note scales reign king. The term, “Diatonic” doesn’t just refer to the fact that the scales have 7 notes. However, it’s an easy way to remember the difference between the Diatonic Scales and the “Pentatonic Scales” which have 5 notes.
We only count the unique notes so when we get to the 8th note, ‘E’, we don’t count it as a new note. We simply resolve to the tonic which means we bring it home by returning to the first note of the scale.
Because this scale has only 7 notes, we can theoretically continue playing this scale in different octaves forever and ever and ever! Once you get back to the first note (tonic), you can continue with the same intervals and continue to play the same notes over and over again.
In this case, the E Major scale notes are as follows: E – F# – G# – A – B – C# – D#. Again, you don’t have to commit this to memory, but the notes of a scale are the basis for so many concepts in music theory.
E Minor Horizontal Scale
Minor Scale Intervals: W – H – W – W – H – W – W
Let’s walk through the intervals of a minor scale in the key of E minor. We’re going to see some similarities and differences in regards to the major scale, but all will become clear by the end of the lesson!
Between the first note of the scale and the second note of the scale, we have a whole step.
“Wait Tony! That’s what we did in the major scale!” I know, my young padawan, I know. It’s one of a few notes that remain constant between the major and the minor scales. In fact, there are four notes between the scales that stay the same and only three notes that change!
You’re telling me! The first time I learned that, it was a revelation. Let’s move on to the 3rd note.
The third note is a half step above the second note of the scale. Here is where you see the first deviation from the major scale. This is a minor 3rd.
From the 3rd, we move up a whole step getting us to the A on the 5th fret. This again overlaps with the major scale as does the next note! We move up a whole step from the A to the 7th fret which is B, just like we did in the major scale. I will tell you exactly why at the end of this lesson so don’t go anywhere!
Moving on, we move only a half step to the 6th note which is C on 8th fret. To get to the 7th note, we move a whole step to D on the 10th fret, and then one more whole step to resolve to the tonic, E on 12th fret.
Consistencies and Differences in the Major and Minor Scales
Between the major scale and minor scale, we only have three notes that change. If you are following the lesson closely, you will know that they’re the 3rd, 6th and 7th notes of each scale.
Considering how different the sound is, I find it fascinating that the major and minor scales share four notes in common and only have three that change.
We can address the 3rd, 6th and 7th as the minor 3rd, the minor 6th and the minor 7th. Adversely, we can address them as the major 3rd, the major 6th and the major 7th when playing the major scale.
“What about the 4th and 5th, Tony?!”
Stick around until the end of this lesson, and I’ll tell you the secrets of the 4th and 5th, don’t you worry!
Horizontal Scale vs Vertical Scale Revisited
When we play the scales horizontally, it’s much easier to see which notes stay the same and which notes change. You might find yourself playing a few of the major notes when trying to play the minor scale and vice versa, but that’s ok!
Mistakes are something to learn from, not to be disappointed in.
Continue to work on these intervals in a horizontal aspect first and once you’ve mastered them, you will be ready to take on the vertical scales as well.
Before you move onto that however, there is one last tip I have for you to ensure that the notes that you hear correspond to the correct scale.
Major and Minor Scales Tip no. 3 – Scales of Emotion
When you’re playing major and minor scales, I hope you notice a difference in the sound. In order to really cement this in your mind, I strongly recommend that you associate an emotion with each scale.
The easiest way to describe these scales with emotion is as follows: Major = Happy, Minor = Sad. However, this is not what everyone hears! If you play the scale and associate it with a different feeling or emotion, I want you to hold that close to your heart and go with it!
The reason I think this is so important is because when you are playing a scale, you should be able to hear a wrong note. Not just knowing it’s wrong or right based on what fret you played, but by the sound! A great way to do this is to associate an emotion with the scale so when you play a note and it doesn’t fit the emotion, you will know it’s not right.
One of the biggest issues I see with students of many levels is the fact that they trust their eyes more than their ears with the guitar. I have one thing to say about that…
Don’t believe your eyes! Believe your ears!
If what you play sounds right, then it is right, all else be damned! If your finger looks wrong but it sounds good, let it be. Don’t fall into the trap that too many guitar players fall into and think that is has to look right in order to be right.
Let’s move on to a quick recap and the secrets of the 4th and 5th notes of these scales!
Major and Minor Scales Recap
Going through these scales, we see that there are four notes that remain constant, and three notes that change. The three notes that change are the 3rd, 6th and 7th. These are important notes to know later on as you learn new chord voicings such as a m7 chord or a maj7 chord.
The Secret of the 4th and 5th
Ok! Thank you for sticking around! It’s time to reveal the secret of the 4th and 5th notes of the scale.
We actually refer to these notes as the “Perfect 4th” and the “Perfect 5th” because they never change between the scales.
“But Tony! The 2nd doesn’t change! Why isn’t it called a ‘Perfect 2nd?!’”
Oh trust me, the 2nd is trying its best! However, we don’t call it a “Perfect 2nd” because it too can change based on variations of scales you will learn down the road. For now, just give the 2nd credit for being its best self!
Utilizing Scale Intervals Anywhere on the Guitar
Once you memorize the scale intervals in a Major and Minor scale, you will be able to use it anywhere on the neck. You can start on any note of any string and play the scales horizontally and vertically (if you have enough frets and strings).
As long as you know how the intervals between the strings work and how the intervals of notes form scales, you will become a scale master!
For more information on learning the fretboard and how the intervals of the strings work, check out this free lesson right here.
For a Free 5-Day Course that will improve your mechanics with chords, chord transitions, strumming, soloing and more, click right here!
Leave a Comment!
Before you go, I would love to know what emotions you associate with the major and minor scales in the comments below! If you have any further questions, I would love to hear them as well.
Thank you for being here and I look forward to seeing you in the next lesson!