While lead playing is the main focus of this blog, we need to discuss a bit of theory in order to better understand the progressions and scales presented on the following pages.
As you may have learned from a guitar teacher or another instructional blog, the major scale is the foundation of Western music, whether it’s pop, rock, blues, country, or any other musical genre.
The structure of the major scale
The major scale is a seven-note scale that is comprised of a specific series of whole steps (two frets) and half steps (one fret):
As you can see, the C major scale contains no sharps or flats, and half steps naturally occur between the notes E and F and B and C. You can apply this intervallic formula (whole–whole– half–whole–whole–whole–half) to any of the 12 notes of the musical alphabet to get its corresponding major scale (try it on the fretboard, too!):
If the major scale is new to you, do yourself a favor: memorize them all!
How to memorize major scales
Memorizing each of the 12 major scales makes understanding subsequent music theory easier because everything relates back to the major scale. As you can see in the table above, I’ve indicated how many sharps or flats are present in each scale.
If you’re familiar with the circle of 5ths (or circle of 4ths), you already know that the order of sharps and flats is always consistent:
- Sharp Keys: F#, C#, G#, D#, A#, E#, and B#
- Flat Keys: Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Cb, and Fb
This means that, by knowing how many sharps or flats are in a given key, you can simply include that number of sharps/flats in the scale, starting with F# (sharp keys) or Bb (flat keys).
The same method applies to flat keys: the key of F has one flat (Bb), the key of Bb has two flats (Bb and Eb), the key of Eb has three flats (Bb, Eb, and Ab), and so on. (If you haven’t already noticed, the order of flats is the same as the order of sharps, only in reverse.)
If you memorize the number of sharps or flats in each key, as well as the orders of sharps and flats, then you will be able to spell out every one of the 12 keys without having to memorize the notes of each scale individually—although that will come with this practice, too.
Knowing the major scales will come in handy when we start discussing chord progressions.