Scales and Intervals, Part 2

Picking up where we left off with a basic description of how the 12 notes of an octave are named, organized, and related musically and on the fretboard. Recall the deceptively simple exercise we went over in the last post, of identifying each note on the fretboard.

Try it two ways:

  1. systematically running up the neck one fret at a time, calling out the name of each note as you go along;
  2. randomly selecting the 12 notes in succession, playing every note of that name in every octave, before moving on to the next note.

The reason I say the exercise is deceptively simple is that as a concept, it may seem to be at a basic level — names and locations of notes. But I have seen intermediate and even advanced players have to work at it. Try it, it’s not an easy thing to do all the way through. Five minutes before each practice session for two weeks, you will see results in your fretboard knowledge and ability to navigate quickly and confidently, guaranteed.

Let’s continue with another basic definition. A scale is simply a specific sequence of notes within an octave. There are many different types of scales, of varying numbers of notes. The scale that uses all 12 notes of the octave is the chromatic scale. Most scales you encounter will have five(pentatonic), six (hexatonic), seven, or eight notes. The most commonly used scales are major and minor seven-note scales. This post will focus primarily on the C Major scale.

The C Major scale is ideal for this purpose because it uses all seven natural notes, and no sharps or flats. The sequence goes like this:

C     D     E     F     G     A     B     C’ (start next octave)

In the last post, we looked at the distances between notes in terms of half steps and whole steps (also known as semi-tones and whole tones, respectively). Keeping in mind the full 12-note octave, and the locations of the five sharp/flat notes, let’s break down the C Major scale in terms of distances between each note and the one right after it:


The first row below the header indicates what degree (scale note in relation to the root note) of the scale each note is. The next row shows the interval relationship from one note to the next; C to D, D to E, and so on. The bottom row shows the interval relationship between the root and each note of the scale.

“M” in front of a numeral refers to major, “m” is minor. (The delta (Δ) is also used to indicate major.)

So “M2” means a major second interval, “m7” would mean minor seventh. “P” (can be upper or lower case) means “perfect”; while second, third, sixth, and seventh intervals are always either major or minor, fourth and fifth intervals are always either perfect, diminished (half-step flat), or augmented (half-step sharp).

The augmented interval is also known as the tritone (TT), cornerstone of countless metal riffs, known in classical times as diabolus in musica (the devil in music), for its unresolved sound. The tritone is the halfway point in the 12-note octave.

So to recap the C major scale:

C     D     E     F     G     A     B     C’

The sequence of half-steps (H) and whole steps (W) for any major scale goes like this:


Check out the full-fretboard diagram from the previous post, the one with every note listed. When you apply the W-W-H-W-W-W-H sequence starting from, for example, G, you’ll get the sequence G-A-B-C-D-E-F#-G. That is the G major scale.

Let’s go back to C Major, and take a look at a standard 2½-octave, 3-note-per-string scale, starting from the the 8th fret on the E string.


Of course, there are plenty of areas and positions on the fretboard to play any scale, and we’ll take a look at several as this series moves along. But it’s really effective to work on the basics of the major scale in this position, because it uses all six strings, and is made up of just 3 fingerings paired across the neck.

Now the same scale, spelled out intervallically (again, the Δ denotes major):


Check the tab below for suggested fingering:


The 3-note-per-string setup makes it simple to play the scale in sextuplets:


Strict alternate picking, both down-up and up-down, ascending and descending. The formation is movable, with the first (lowest) note always being the root note, thus the name of the scale. So if you play this formation at the 3rd position, it’s a G major scale, 5th position is A major, etc.

In the next post in the series, we’ll take a look at a few other movable scale formations to use, as well as third intervals.

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