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December 17, 2013

How to master the major scale in every key by using the circle of fourths

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Written by: maiki

Most of us have learned to get by when it comes to knowing our scales. We might have learned them from muscle memory, memorized just a few that we use all the time, or might not have even known where to start. Fortunately there’s a bulletproof system which we can use to accurately calculate the notes of the major scale in every key, and all before we’ve even picked up the guitar! Sure, it’s a little bit complicated at first, but I promise once you ‘get it’ it’s actually quite simple and you’ll never have to use guesswork again.


Chromatic Scale

First of all, let’s quickly revise the Chromatic scale:

C, C#/Db, D, D#/Eb, E, F, F#/Gb, G, G#/Ab, A, A#/Bb, B, C.



Notes such as C# and Db are known as enharmonics, which means a pair of notes that occupy the same fret and sound the same.

Other enharmonic notes are: D# and Eb, F# and Gb, G# and Ab, and A# and Bb.


The Major Scale Formula

Using intervals, let’s also briefly revise the major scale formula:

Tone, Tone, Semi-tone, Tone, Tone, Tone, Semi-tone.

T, T, ST, T, T, T, ST.

Tone = 2 frets.

Semi-tone = 1 fret.


 The Major Scale in Every Key

Now that we have established that, let’s look at the major scale in all the keys and work out how to master them using the circle of fourths.

The way to master this concept is to actually put your guitar down, get a pen and a piece of paper, and start writing this down, the concept will become clearer to you in the process as you construct the major scale in every key.


Key                         Type                      Scale

C Major C D E F G A B C
F Major F G A Bb C D E F
Bb Major Bb C D Eb F G A Bb
Eb Major Eb F G Ab Bb C D Eb
Ab Major Ab Bb C Db Eb F G Ab
Db Major Db Eb Ab Gb Ab Bb C Db
Gb Major Gb Ab Bb Cb Db Eb F Gb
B Major B C# D# E F# G# A# B
E Major E F# G# A B C# D# E
A Major A B C# D E F# G# A
D Major D E F# G A B C# D
G Major G A B C D E F# G


Notice that when you look down the key column, each successive key is a fourth step up. If it’s still not too clear, refer to the articles on the circle of fourths to help clarify it a bit more.

As you write each row, you’ll notice that from the second row on, in the key of F, the first flat appears, and it appears on the fourth step, Bb, which then becomes the next row to start on.

Each succeeding row gets a new flat at the fourth step while keeping all the flats that were previously picked up, this continues until you get to the row where Gb starts, where there are now flats just about everywhere, however, on the next row starting with B, which is an enharmonic of Cb, all the flats are replaced by their enharmonic sharps, which gradually decrease with each succeeding row until you get to the row starting with G, and now you’re left with only one sharp which is F#.

If you were to continue this pattern, then the next row after G would start with C, as it is the fourth step of G, and there are no sharps or flats in the key of C, which is at the top row, thus the cycle begins again.

Practice writing this out a number of times without referring to these notes until you grasp the concept, then memorize it.

Memorize, memorize, memorize.





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