The Two Most Important Scales in Western Music

Today I’ll show you the two most important scales in western music. The “Major Scale” and the “Pentatonic Scale”. If they are not in your vocubalary yet, be eager to learn. If you know your scales you can learn how to solo, improvise and much more. We’ll start with…

The Major Scale.
The major scale is the mother of all scales, because all the other scales, modes, intervals, chords and harmony in western music can be derived from it. If you want to learn anything about music theory you need to know how to play the major scale.

And why would you want to learn music theory? Because you’ll be much faster in learning to understand everything about guitar playing. Yes you’ll become a better rock, blues, metal, country, jazz guitar player. If you know music theory you know the short cuts to playing and transcribing guitar solos, chord progressions and improvising. It makes the life of a guitar player a lot easier.

INTERVALS:
The major scale contains 7 notes starting with the root note and the scale is followed by the octave of the root note: 1(root) 2 3 4 5 6 7 8(=1)(=octave)
To form a scale on a single string we use the formula: W-W-H-W-W-W-H
W = Whole step.(2 frets) H = Half step.(1 fret)

For example: Let’s say we start on a G-note (Low E-string 3rd fret), now go up a whole step to an A(note), then up a whole step to B, up a half step to C, up a whole step to D, a whole step to E, a whole step to F# and finally up a half step to G. So the notes of the G major scale are:G A B C D E F# G
The major scale in the video lesson and the tabs below contain the same notes, only it’s a two octave major scale: G A B C D E F# G A B C D E F# G

The Pentatonic Scale.
The pentatonic scale is so important because it is widely used in Rock, Blues, Metal, Jazz, Fusion, Country and many other styles. Just about any pop, rock, blues guitar solo you hear on the radio is played using the pentatonic scale. And what is quite nice is that it’s not such a difficult scale to learn.

INTERVALS: The pentatonic scale only contains five notes starting with the root note and finishing with the octave of the root note. These are the notes compared to a major scale: 1 b3 4 5 b7 8(=1)(=octave) The interval formula is: 1 1/2, W, W, 1 1/2, W
Note: 1 1/2 = 3 half steps.(3 frets) W = Whole step.(2 frets)

For example: Let’s say we start on a A-note (Low E-string 5th fret), now go up a 1 1/2 step to an C(note), then up a whole step to a D, up a whole step to E, up 1 1/2 step to G and finally up a whole step to A. So the notes of the A pentatonic scale are: A C D E G A
The pentatonic scale in the video lesson and the tabs below is a two octave pentatonic scale:
A C D E G A C D E G A

Now let’s take a closer look at the tabs below.
For the major scale I’ve chosen the G major scale. Once you can play the G major scale you can play it in any key, just by moving up the scale a half step up each time.
If you move up the G major scale up a half step you are playing a G# major scale, move up a half step again and you’re playing an A major scale, move up a half step to A#, up a half step to B, up a half step to C and so on:

G – G# – A – A# – B – C – C# – D – D# – E – F – F# – G

Example see tabs below:
Note: Every scale starts and ends on the root note. Every red note indicates a root note.

G Major Scale
e----------------------------2-3-2-----------------------------------|
B------------------------3-5-------5-3-------------------------------|
G------------------2-4-5---------------5-4-2-------------------------|
D------------2-4-5---------------------------5-4-2-------------------|
A------2-3-5---------------------------------------5-3-2-------------|
E--3-5---------------------------------------------------5-3---------|
Move up a half step and you have:
G# Major Scale
e----------------------------3-4-3-----------------------------------|
B------------------------4-6-------6-4-------------------------------|
G------------------3-5-6---------------6-5-3-------------------------|
D------------3-5-6---------------------------6-5-3-------------------|
A------3-4-6---------------------------------------6-4-3-------------|
E--4-6---------------------------------------------------6-4---------|
Move up a half step and you have:
A Major Scale
e----------------------------4-5-4-----------------------------------|
B------------------------5-7-------7-5-------------------------------|
G------------------4-6-7---------------7-6-4-------------------------|
D------------4-6-7---------------------------7-6-4-------------------|
A------4-5-7---------------------------------------7-5-4-------------|
E--5-7---------------------------------------------------7-5---------|
And so on...
 
The same thing goes for the pentatonic scale. In the video I play an A pentatonic scale. Move it up a half step and you're playing an A# pentatonic scale and so on....
 
A Minor Pentatonic Scale
e--------------------------------5--8--5-------------------------------|
B--------------------------5--8-----------8--5-------------------------|
G--------------------5--7-----------------------7--5-------------------|
D--------------5--7-----------------------------------7--5-------------|
A--------5--7-----------------------------------------------7--5-------|
E--5--8-----------------------------------------------------------8--5-|
Move up a half step and you have:
A# Minor Pentatonic Scale
e--------------------------------6--9--6-------------------------------|
B--------------------------6--9-----------9--6-------------------------|
G--------------------6--8-----------------------8--6-------------------|
D--------------6--8-----------------------------------8--6-------------|
A--------6--8-----------------------------------------------8--6-------|
E--6--9-----------------------------------------------------------9--6-|
 

The scales are also really good for practicing your alternate picking. Make sure you first practice slow and keep your notes clean and clear. After a while when you feel comfortable with the tempo gradually build up your speed. Don’t forget your notes need to sound crystal clear at all times before you speed up. Having said that…

Go have a blast!

 

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    12 Responses to “The Two Most Important Scales in Western Music

    • Sean:

      Great article as always!

    • Absolutely agree with the post title. Major and Pentatonic scales rule the roost when it comes to modern music.

    • Hi Bobby,

      The amazing this is, you can spend your whole life dedicating to improvise around these scales and you won’t ever get bored.

      Best regards,
      Klaus Crow

    • Hemanta:

      First of all this site is amazing , this site describes everything in simple language .

      I will practice both scales , but im little confused how to use them in songs when it comes to apply those scales .
      Im beginner in scales , can u tell me some songs which used minor pentatonic scales thnx

    • Chris L:

      Klaus,

      I know you must get this all the time, but you’re amazing! I’m an American student studying in Germany and by coincidence stumbled upon this site a few weeks ago. Luckily I brought my guitar with me and have really benefited from all your lessons. I’ve been playing for 9 years on and off and even after all the time you’ve taught me new ways to approach the guitar!

      Keep doing what you’re doing man, good vibes coming from me to you!

    • Hi Chris,

      Thanks I really appreciate it!

      Best regards,
      Klaus Crow

    • Mick:

      Hello Klaus,

      Just stumbled across your blog and immediately subscribed. Really you’re doing remarkable work. I have been a professor for 20 years so I know a natural teacher when I see one and you are the real deal.

      I love music in many forms and have always regretted that I could never play an instrument. It’s my 50th birthday and I’ve decided to learn the guitar. I am inspired by blues and folk guitarists like Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Blake, John Fahey and Nick Drake. Is it crazy to start at 50?

      Have you ever done a post on a general learning path for beginners to follow?

      Thanks for the lessons and for the inspiration. This blog is a small good thing in the world.

    • Alain:

      Hi Mick, it’s never too late to learn anything…. All you need is an interest…. I started a few months ago am I’m 40… I’m happy I stumbled on this site as well.

      Klaus, you’re doing some great teaching here ! I love it cuz you simplify !

      Thanks !!!

    • Hi Mick,

      I haven’t wrote a post about a beginners learning path, but it sure is something I should and will write about in the near future.

      Maybe this post will summarize what could be part of your overall guitar workout:
      http://www.guitarhabits.com/the-ultimate-motivational-guitar-practice-workout/

      Thanks for a great tip.

      Best regards,
      Klaus Crow

    • Azur:

      Hi Klaus! I really like your blog, it’s very inspirational.

      Awesome website!

      Thank you for your great job!

    • Tony:

      KLAUS! I just found your site. I am a decently experienced 23 year old player, but I have been craving a lot more in my repertoire. I am so glad I found your site: I have just bookmarked it on my browser. Thank you so much for your incredible insight. I can’t wait to practice some of the things I’ve been reading on here so far.
      Cheers,
      Tony

    • Prasana:

      hi klaus sir,
      thank you for sharing all these tips it is very helpful

    Leave a Comment

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