How do I learn all 12 major scales.

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Zegie, Feb 11, 2014.

  1. Zegie


    Dec 8, 2009
    UK South East
    For various reasons I have decided it would be useful if I were to learn, off by heart, all major scales.

    Ultimately I want:-

    - to be able to form a mental picture of each scale
    - to know instantly the letter name of each note in the scale
    - to know instantly the number of each note in the scale
    - to play sequences of notes when given the numbers

    I'm willing and able to put in the time and effort but what I'm looking for is tips tricks and techniques.

    Suggestions welcome.
  2. You've already answered your own question - there are no "tricks" to learning music, just hard work, time, and effort.

    One method of learning your scales is to play every scale starting with the lowest note in that scale on your bass all the way up to the highest note on your bass. For example, if you want to learn the C-major scale, you'd start with your open E string. This forces you to think of the scales outside of normal patters ("start with this finger on this fret, etc..."). Do this in whole, half, quarter, eighth, triplet, sixteenth note subdivisions. Sing the scales, sing the arpeggios within the scales, play the arpeggios, play the scales in 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, 6ths, 7ths, octaves, sing the scales in 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, 6ths, 7ths, octaves, etc...

    There's so many ways to play scales and still make music out of them - have fun.
  3. DriesG


    Feb 27, 2009
    Gent (Belgium)
    That's so true! Always make sure the sound is good, it feels good... Make music whenever you study. And don't forget to listen to the notes: that's as important as knowing the notes and their functions. But I'm sure you'll agree with that! ;)
  4. fearceol


    Nov 14, 2006
    As the_stone said, there are no tricks or short cuts.

    Learning scales on their own is only half of the story. Learn to harmonise the major scale. This is one of the most important things IMO.

    Learn how chord tones are derived from scales and why some chords are minor, some major, diminished etc.
  5. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    You asked a very good question, to answer it we will have to go deep into music theory. Hang on.

    All major scales have the same structure, i.e. whole tone to half tone. So once you have the WWHWWWH thing down it's pretty simple after that. I use the major scale box pattern and let the pattern place the correct notes under my fingers. But, first let's see how the notes develop. Seeing all this on one screen for some reason is hard to find. Seeing it all together on one page helped me.
    Using the memory pegs you should be able to come up with the notes in, say the E major scale by doing this: Write out E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E and to find which notes are sharped tick off -- C scale has none, G scale has 1, D scale has 2, A scale has 3 and the E scale has 4 sharps. Now which 4? Tick off your next memory peg. Fat Cats Go Down Alleys Eating Birds. So the E scale has the F#, C#, G# and D# for it's 4 sharp notes. Now go back and change your E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E to E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, D#.

    That little exercise works on any major scale.

    The mental picture of any major scale is the major scale box pattern.
    Major Scale Box.
    G|---2---|-------|---3---|---4---| 1st string
    E|-------|---R---|-------|---2---|4th string
    Place the box's R on the name note of the chord or scale and then play the spelling of the chord or scale, for example: Cmaj7 chord; find a C on the 3rd or 4th string place the R over that C note then play the spelling for the Cmaj7 chord, i.e. R-3-5-7.

    From any note where is that note's 3? Its always up a string and back a fret. Where is the 5? The 5 is up a string and over two frets OR down a string same fret. Get where all eight of the notes can be found, it will do wonders for your playing.

    Now to your question to know the number of the notes in the scale. We use Arabic numbers for notes and Roman numbers for chords. So the notes in the C major scale are:
    See how that fits into the major scale box pattern above.
    Roman numbers for Chords: I
    C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am, Bdim,. C --- Upper case numbers are major and lower case numbers are minor. How do you know which is supposed to be major or minor? Good question. Major key structure is Major, minor, minor, Major, Major, minor, diminished. 3 Major, 3 minor and 1 diminished chord.

    Your question about being able to play sequences of notes if given the numbers -- I think the above answers that. Let's see:
    • Generic Bass Lines – Root on one and you take it from there.
    • Rock and Roll R-3-5-6 or R-R-3-3-5-5-6-5.
    • Chicago Blues R-R-8-8-b7-b7-5-5 or R-R-4-b3-R-R-5-b7-8.
    • Country R--R-- or R-5-R-5.
    • Root on one, need more bring in a 5, still need more bring in an 8, need more the correct 3 & 7 (or b3 & b7).
    • The root, 5’s and 8’s are kinda generic and fit most chords, so a R-5-8-5 will fit most anywhere except for a diminished chord which will use the b5.
    • Major chords 3’s and 7’s along with the root and 5.
    • Minor chords b3 and b7 with a root & 5.
    • Dominant chords 3’s and b7 with a root and a 5.
    • Diminished chords b3, b5 and b7 with a root.

    I think that gets everything you asked, if not let us know someone will jump on it.

    Good luck.
  6. Zegie


    Dec 8, 2009
    UK South East
    Brilliant. Thank you all. Comprehensive and concise. Many thanks.

    I get the 'formulas' but up until now have understood and played scales by fretboard patterns and the sound they make - it's just that I've not got the mechanics "off pat".

    For example, if someone was to say to me what's the fifth note in the scale of D major? or what number is the note of E in the scale of B major? I want to be able to instantly come up with the right answer. At the moment I can work it out (eventually) but find myself doing the same mental and physical calculations each time. (In other words, I don't remember).

    That's why I am seeking 'tricks and techniques' or drills -call it what you will, exactly like as MalcolmAmos' memory pegs, but yes maybe it's just down to developing a more agile brain and keeping at it.
  7. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    Need the 6th note in the C scale. Nothing wrong with counting on your fingers. Later on you will just know that the 6th note in the C scale is the A.

    Like I know the F is the 4th note and the G is the 5th. It'll all come this is a journey we are on............
  8. Stick_Player

    Stick_Player Banned

    Nov 13, 2009
    Somewhere on the Alaska Panhandle (Juneau)
    Endorser: Plants vs. Zombies Pea Shooters

    There are more... I think.

  9. WashburnAB95


    Nov 18, 2013
    A good way to pratice scales....

    Play the 1 note to the 4 note then go back to the 2 note and play the next 4. If we where playing in "C" it would go like this


    and so on.
  10. WashburnAB95


    Nov 18, 2013
    There is basicaly only about 3 finger patterns that make up all the major scales. Playing the exercise I showed you will get you confortable with all of them.
  11. t77mackie


    Jun 13, 2012
    Wormtown, MA

    Learn it once then move it around as necessary. That ^ diagram is E Major scale - 3 notes per string - and all her inversions. If you want to play G Major move the 1st pattern up to the 3rd fret. Let's not over complicate things. The more you practice this the more the fretboard opens up and the more you will 'see' it the way you described.

    If you need an explanation beyond the obvious feel free...

    Good luck!
  12. MountainMorado


    Oct 19, 2009
    Endorsing Artist: Godlyke Basses & Thomastik - Infeld strings
    may I suggest that after you get comfortable with all the major scales that you practice the relative minor scale of each major scale? And continue to practice them in the cycle of 5ths.
  13. Red_Label


    Dec 1, 2013
    MT, USA

    Good post! I call this the "Master Pattern" and have been teaching it to guitar students for many years. Because it not only works for the major (Ionian) scale in ANY key (if you move it up or down the neck), but also for the minor (Aeolian) scale and all the rest of the modes. It's enabled me to envision the entire fretboard for improvising in any key and mode and truly sets you free. Why think of scales and keys as each one being different, when you can envision ONE master pattern (with seven sub-patterns or boxes) and just slide it up and down the neck to change keys and modes.?

    Here's my diagram of the Master Modal Pattern and each member box (just subtract the top two strings for bass of course). To change keys/modes, just slide the whole pattern to the left or right. For instance, to get A Major, just move everything to the right two frets.

    *** My apologies for this being on six strings. I haven't done one of these up for bass yet. ***

  14. Red_Label


    Dec 1, 2013
    MT, USA
    As a followup to my post above, if you look you can see that scales/modes are just a series of whole and half steps. If we base them off of the major scale, we see that the major scale is this series of steps (W=whole, H=half): W W H / W / W W H. I separated the "W W H" on each side with a / to show what are called "tetra-chords". If we look at the Dorian mode, we see it to be: W H W / W / W H W. So it's tetra-chord is W H W. And so on.
  15. t77mackie


    Jun 13, 2012
    Wormtown, MA
    Nicely put, Red.

    I'm all for being as lazy err... efficient as possible as far as having to memorize junk. Hence my diagram. Learn that and by default you'll know all 12 major and minor scales, the dom7, etc. Learning staff will be much easier as well because you'll be able to wrap your head around it with the visualization of patterns.

    For the new guys, music theory is not a bottomless pit. There is a finite amount of stuff to learn and one can make a career out of knowing not much more than a couple patterns if desired.
  16. Zegie


    Dec 8, 2009
    UK South East
    Wow. Lots to digest. I liken my musical journey to looking through a fence - sometimes you see it and sometimes you don't. Other times you get just a tantalising glimpse. Thanks for the glimpses, can't wait to get home tonight and pick up my bass.
  17. LeeNunn

    LeeNunn Supporting Member

    Oct 9, 2012
    Charlottesville, VA
  18. Zegie


    Dec 8, 2009
    UK South East
  19. DavC

    DavC Supporting Member

    May 17, 2005
    Trinity, FL
    I played piano for about a decade before starting on bass/guitar ...

    from my point of view ( 50 years on keys ) ... I think all the keys/scales are a bit easier to actually see on a keyboard ...! on fretted instruments , they're patterns ..
    they don't look like that on the piano ... therefore , maybe that might help you visualize the notes better ..!?

    then maybe it would help learning the basic natural Chords for each key ... in C ( the # I chord ), triad would be C E G ... so C=1 , E=3 , G=5 ... however you can visualize the notes of all the scales ... we all have our own methods to our madness ..!! and maybe the easiest way isn't the best way for you to remember things ..!?!?
    getting the stuff into your head is One thing ,... being able to access that info quickly takes practice just like everything else ..!
  20. I'm learning them as we "speak". Here's how I'm doing it, chewing down four at a time playing and saying the notes as I go.


    Good luck, it's not that hard but it is a great idea to learn this as early as possible.