Easy Beginner’s Guide to play C Major Scale on Guitar

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Published on  |  Last Updated on September 22, 2023

C Major Scale was the first scale, I learnt when I started to play solos. When I first looked from outside it was looking tough, but once I got the fundamentals on how the scale is constructed, I was able to understand it easily. At this stage, I expect that you are familiar with Guitar notes and Fretboard. Before playing I strongly suggest that you take some time to understand the basics, which I have given below.

Almost every instrument player needs to begin with the C major scale, which is one of the easiest scales to understand and play. This scale does not have any sharps (#) or flats (♭) and therefore it is called the natural scale. C Major is the most commonly used key in music and hence this scale is absolutely critical to master.

But first, let’s try and understand what a scale is. A scale is a group of single notes organised in the order of how high or low it is in pitch. Usually these groups of notes go higher (ascending) or lower (descending) pitch-wise. 

In order to figure out the notes in any scale, there is a formula created using the knowledge of intervals. Any of seven notes in any scale has a distance between them is known as an interval. This can be thought of as the distance between any two frets. If any two notes on the guitar are two frets apart, the distance between them is called a tone. But, if they are one fret apart, the distance between them is called a semi-tone

Using the concept of intervals, any major scale can be formulated including the C major scale. Here’s how we use the concept of tones and semitones to formulate the C major scale. C major

C Major Scale Formula

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Like any other major scale, the C major scale has seven different notes. Each note has a distance from each other measured in tones and semi-tones i.e. the intervals. The formula for creating the C major scale is ‘tone, tone, semi-tone, tone, tone, tone, semi-tone’. The image below shows what it looks like on the fret-board if we start from the 1st fret of the 2nd string (the root note) and continue all the way to the 13th fret. 

Pointing C Major

This means that we need to start by playing the note on the 1st fret of the B string (named C, the root note). The next note according to the formula would be a tone apart or two frets higher which is the 3rd fret (named D). You can also check this blog How to Construct Major Scale.

We can continue to follow the formula to play the third note which is also a tone apart on the 5th fret (named E). The subsequent note would only be a semitone away from the previous note. Hence, we need to play the note on the 6th fret (named F).

The next three notes are a tone apart i.e. on the 8th, 10th and 12th frets respectively (named G, A and B). The last note or the eighth note of the scale is a semitone away from the 12th fret. So, we need to play the 13th fret (also named C) to complete the C major scale. 

Here’s the tablature of the above C major scale played on the 2nd string. The italic numbers represent the finger numbers of the fretting hand (that holds down the strings on the fret-board).

1 – pointer/index finger

2 – middle finger

3 – ring finger

4 – little finger

Finger representing by numbers

Note that the intervals between the third and fourth notes of this scale is a semitone just like the seventh and eighth notes. All other notes have a tone interval between them. This may help to remember the major scale formula a lot easier.

There are other ways to play the C major scale by using different finger positions. These positions limit the notes to just a couple of frets, using a smaller area of the fret-board and involves playing multiple strings. Therefore, it is easier to access all the notes in the scale.

The different scale positions below don’t always start from the root note (C) and they may span across more than one octave. An octave is the difference in pitch between the first and last notes in the scales.

There are numerous positions to play the C major scale across the fret-board consisting of different octaves. The positions are determined based on the lowest fret from which the notes are to be played and ease of access for the fingers of the fretting hand. Let’s take a look at some of the different scale positions.

Different positions of C Major Scale

1. C Major Scale – Open Position

Image for open position

The notes for this open position all are in the first three frets and also we will be using open strings. We will also be using only first three fingers to fret the notes to play the notes of C major scale as shown in the diagram.

Here’s the tablature for the open position:

Tablature for Open position

2. C Major Scale – Second Position

Image for Second scale position

This scale position is a little challenging to play. It has a couple of notes outside the octave we were used to playing in the open position, but utilises all the notes in the C major scale within the 2nd and 6th frets of the fret-board.

To play the notes in this position, we need to move our fretting hand up by one fret so that we can play the notes on the second fret with the index/pointer finger. To play the notes on the 2nd (B) and 1st (high E) strings, we need to move our fretting hand up again by one fret so that we can reach the note on the 6th fret of the 2nd string (B) with our little finger. Here’s the tablature to help us understand more clearly.

Tablature image for the notes understanding

3. C Major Scale – Fourth Position

In this position, we will be playing the C major scale across two octaves. The root note (C) of the first octave starts on the 8th fret of the 6th string (E) and ends on the 5th fret of the 3rd string (G). We have already played these notes in this octave on the previous two positions, but on different frets and strings using different fingers. The second octave begins from the same note and ends on the 8th fret of the 1st string (high E). These notes are higher sounding pitch-wise.

Image for higher sounding pitch-wise

This one is quite difficult to play, but not impossible. Unlike the way we played the preceding scale positions, this one requires the fretting hand to move about freely instead of keeping it fixed.

The index, ring and little fingers are required to play the notes on the 5th, 7th and 8th frets on the 6th, 5th and 4th strings. For the notes on the 3rd string, simply move the fretting hand down the neck by one fret to use the pointer, middle finger and little finger to play the 4th, 5th and 7th frets. After that, we can bring back the hand to the original place to play the rest of the notes on the 2nd and 1st strings as shown in the tablature below.

Tablature for fourth position

4. C Major Scale – Seventh Position

The octaves used in this scale position are exactly the same as the ones in the previous scale shape. It involves the same two octaves covered in the preceding scale shape. The notable difference is that the notes on each string here begin from the 7th fret except the ones on the 2nd string (B) which start from the 8th fret.

image for seventh position fret

There is no need to move the fretting hand back and forth across the neck. All the notes are quite close by and can be easily accessed. We can use the pointer, middle, ring and little fingers to play the notes on the 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th frets respectively as made clear in the following tablature.

Tablature for Seventh position

5. C Major Scale – Eighth Position

For this position, we start playing from the root note C on the 8th fret of the low E string. It consists of the notes in the same two octaves used in the preceding scale shapes. But, the frets and strings are different from the preceding scale positions. And based on this, the right fingers need to be used to have better access to these notes.

Image for Eighth Position fret

This position involves a bit of stretching. We need to stretch our fretting hand a little bit to facilitate the use of the little finger to hold down the notes on the 12th frets on the 6th (E) and 5th (A) strings. For the notes on the 2nd (B) and 1st (high E) strings, we need to position the fretting hand a little higher up the neck of the guitar for the ring and little fingers to access the notes on 12th and 13th frets. All finger positions are given in italic numbers within the tablature below.

Tablature for Finger Position

6. C Major Scale – Twelfth Position

This is the last of all the scale positions in the C major scale. The notes in this scale incorporate the use of notes of a much higher octave we’ve yet to come across. Since this involves playing notes on the 12th, 13th, 14th, and 15th frets, naturally the notes in this scale would sound much higher in pitch. 

Image for twelfth position fret

But, we’re dealing with notes of a much higher octave and therefore playing these notes may not require much stretching of the fretting hand since the distance between the frets on the guitar here are relatively smaller in comparison to the lower frets. However, due to the action of the strings, it may still be quite a challenge to play these notes without a buzz. 

As is the case with the other scale positions, we need to use the appropriate fingers of our fretting hand to yield a successful result. Tablature with finger numbers (in italics) are provided below.

Tablature for finger positioning of twelfth position

Interestingly, we can also attempt to play all these scale shapes in reverse! In each of the scale positions, we can try starting from the last note of the 1st string (high E), and work our way backwards until we get to the note which usually begins on the 6th string (E). 

Now that we know how to play the C major scale in different positions all over the fret-board, let’s move on and see how a C major chord is created using the notes of the C major scale.

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C Major Scale Chords

Before we get to that, let’s try to understand what a chord is, a chord is two or more musical notes played at the same time. On the guitar, a chord is played by holding down some or all of the strings by the fretting hand, while the picking hand (the hand that plays the strings with a pick) strums some or all of the strings at the same time. This way, we hear multiple notes simultaneously. 

The C major chord is the most commonly used in western music. This chord is formulated using the notes of the C major scale namely, C, D, E, F, G, A, B and C again. So, the C major chord is based on the first three odd numbered intervals from the scale i.e., the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes (C, E, and G). This is called a major triad since it mainly consists of 3 notes from the major scale.

C Major Scale Chords image

So, we use these 3 notes to play the simplest form of the C major chord using just one finger to hold it down. All we need to do is put our pointer on the 1st fret of the 2nd string, and then strum the thinnest three strings. 

The chord diagram and the photo below show how to hold the C major chord in the open position with the root note on the 5th string (A).

Practicle finger Positioning
Chord diagram for fingers

C Major Scale Chords

There are other chords that are within the key of C major including the C major chord. Let’s see what they are.

1. D Minor Chord

This chord is created in the same way as the C major chord with notes from the D minor scale. The 1st, 3rd and 5th notes in this scale are D, F and A, which are played together creating this minor triad. Here’s a chord diagram to show us how to hold this chord in the open position on the fret-board using just the top 4 strings.

D Minor Chord Diagram

2. E Minor Chord

Probably the easiest chord to play, the E minor chord only requires us to use two fingers to hold down the 2nd fret on the 5th (A) and 4th (D) strings. The rest of the strings are open and all the strings are strummed by the picking hand. Check out the chord diagram which shows how easily this chord can be played.

E Minor Chord Diagram

3. F Major Chord

Just like the previously discussed chords, the F major chord is also created using the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of the major scale (F, A and C) and is also a major triad. This chord can be challenging to play at first since it involves flattening the pointer/index finger to hold down the first two strings at the same time. Here’s the chord diagram that clearly illustrates how to hold this chord.

F Major Chord Diagram

4. G Major Chord

Another interesting chord is the G major chord, which is also extensively used and quite easy to play. It involves the use of three distinct notes G, B and D which are the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes of the G major scale. So this is also a triad based on the related major scale. Here we have the chord diagram which shows us the chord.

G Major Chord Diagram

5. A Minor Chord

The A minor chord is the relative minor of the C major chord. It uses the notes A, C and E according to the minor triad formula. Comparatively, this is also one of the easier chords to play on the guitar. Check out the image here to better understand how to play this chord.

A Minor Chord diagram

6. B Diminished Chord

This chord does have a different name owing to the fact that the 3rd and 5th notes of this triad are a semitone lower (flatter – ♭) than it should be. The three notes that constitute the B diminished chord are B, D and F. It’s quite a tricky chord to hold down. Using a combination of these notes on the guitar, this is how it’s played across the 5th, 4th, 3rd and 2nd strings.

B Diminished Chord Diagram

In order to practice these chords, we must try holding down each chord first with our fretting hand and with the picking hand, we must pick each string (including the open strings) to check if it’s getting muted or if there’s a buzzing sound. Next, we must try switching between different chords and make sure we don’t mute the strings and try to get a clean sound.

It goes without saying that the only way to truly master the above-mentioned chords and scales is through dedicated practice every day with the help of a metronome. We should start at a really slow speed (like 40-60 BPM) until we’re fairly confident enough to play them properly before gradually increasing the speed to about 80-100 BPM or faster.

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