Jazz Guitar Lesson
The major scale is the single most important element in music. It's the most common musical "sound" we know (do re mi fa sol ...) and it's the main reference for all other musical materials (scales, chords, arpeggios, tunes, improvisations, etc.)
That scale has been around for centuries and is the "common ground" for all the music on earth,throughout history. For example, most lullabies, traditional melodies and national anthems are in the major scale. And still today, most of the pop/rock/jazz of the 20th and 21st centuries is based on the same scale, in one way or another!
It's obvious that any aspiring jazz guitarist should eventually master the major scale. And, not only on the level of mere memorization but also on the hearing, tactile and technical levels.
On the Guitar
Go ahead and familiarize yourself with the scale on your fretboard. It can be played using a combination of fretted notes and open strings (also referred to as the open position):
C D E F G A B C
[Notice open D, G and B strings]
Please refer to A Modern Method for Guitar
Or it can be played using only one string at a time (also referred to as horizontal playing):
C D E F G A B C
[Notice the distance between E-F and B-C]
Please refer to The Advancing Guitarist
Hearing It by Singing It
I believe the most important aspect for all jazzers is to really hear the sound of this scale. Understanding the theory is optional in the beginning. I suggest you play and learn this scale from an aural perspective at first. Also, it is highly common for jazz guitarists to sing along to their playing. Try it! It helps reinforce the link between your fingers (what you play) and your ears (what you hear inside.)
This basic scale is so easy to hear and recognize that it is worth trying right now! Sing it. :-)
Finally, the major scale can also be played "in position" (one finger to a fret for the fretting hand alignment). This is usually what is taught in guitar methods. See this course:
Painless Scale Positions: The Complete Course. In this course, you'll master scales in the common "positions system" efficiently, easily and logically. The program contains over 2.5 hours of videos, numerous PDF and FIFTEEN assignments to keep track of your progress. Plus, a friendly teacher delivers the materials to you step-by-step. (-: (watch video to learn the major scale in positions)
It is a very good way to "compartmentalize" the neck. You will get familiar with the whole instrument dealing with it chunk by chunk.
The scales can also be played in a "diagonal" way on the guitar. (but don't tell anyone!)
Theory: Scale Construction
The theoretical side of the major scale is easy to grasp. It is built of seven notes that are laid out using intervals of major and and minor seconds. See the theory section on JazzGuitarLessons.net for deeper, more thorough explanations on this.An interval is the distance between two notes; they're named by ranks (depending on how big the leap is): seconds, thirds, fourths, fifths, etc.
The half-step is a minor second the whole step is a major second.
The formula for major scale construction is :W - W - H - W - W - W - H
(W stands for whole-step and H for half-step)
For example, C major scale:
The half-steps are between the third-fourth and seventh-first degrees of the scale (E-F and B-C in the case of C major.)
Look at the single-string version above for frets 5-6 and 11-12.The placement of those half-steps in two specific location creates this scale's unique sound characteristics. Looking at a piano keyboard also clear things up for me:
(there's no black key between E-F and B-C)
The major scale is the point of reference for building other scales with a different sound. The numbers 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 are the major scale degree. We alter the major scale degree with flats (b = half-step lower) and sharps (# = half-step higher) in order to get different scales.
...feeehhweew... ok that's all for the theory!
Once more: if you like this, please refer to the theory section on this website.
Feeling adventurous? Check out our FREE guide on chord substitutions!
Ever wonder how jazz guitarists get all these fresh and different sounds out of their comping and solo guitar playing? Well, a lot of that has to do with the use of chord substitutions. In our guide, we’ll go over the basics and even some more sophisticated techniques you can use to spice up your harmonic content!
Marc-Andre Seguin is the webmaster, mastermind and teacher on JazzGuitarLessons.net, the #1 online resource for learning how to play jazz guitar. He draws from his experience both as a professional jazz guitarist and professional jazz teacher to help thousands of people from all around the world learn the craft of jazz guitar.