C Major Scale on Guitar: Positions & Theory

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In this lesson we’re going to dive into the ever popular C major scale. This scale is very common and is used as the key center of countless songs. It’s happy sounding scale and typically one of the first scales guitar players learn.

Let’s dive in and take a look.

Notes of C Major

C major scale is a 7-note diatonic scale. It contains the following notes:

C – D – E – F – G – A – B

It is the only major scale that contains all natural notes with no sharps or flats, which makes it easy to remember.

Intervals

All scales are derived from specific intervals that make up the scale formula. The scale formula for C major is:

  • Root
  • Major 2nd
  • Major 3rd
  • Perfect 4th
  • Perfect 5th
  • Major 6th
  • Major 7th

In the diagram below, we can see how the notes and scale intervals are related.

C major scale notes and intervals

Scale Structure

C major scale follows the major scale structure of whole and half step intervals:

W W H W W W H

A whole step is equal to two frets on the guitar and a half step is equal to one fret.

If we start on the C note on the 8th fret of the 6th string and follow this pattern up the fretboard, we can see how we get the remaining notes of the scale.

C major scale whole step half step pattern

From the diagram above we can see the scale structure emerge.

  • From C to D is 2 frets (Whole step)
  • From D to E is 2 frets (Whole step)
  • From E to F is 1 fret (Half step)
  • From F to G is 2 frets (Whole step)
  • From G to A is 2 frets (Whole step)
  • From A to B is 2 frets (Whole step)
  • From B to C is 1 fret (Half step)

At this point we’ve learned the notes of the scale, the scale structure, and the intervals that make up the C major scale.

Now it’s time to put all of this together and learn the scale positions on the fretboard.

C Major Scale Positions

Like all major scales, the notes of the C major scale can be grouped to form five distinct patterns or positions across the fretboard. These patterns are commonly referred to as CAGED patterns because they’re based on the open chord shapes of C, A, G, E, and D chords.

Alternatively, you can also learn the C major scale positions by using the 3 notes per string method. However, I prefer to use the CAGED system for learning scales because I think it makes it easier to visualize and remember. Personally, I find them easier to play as well.

Let’s take a look at each scale position. For each position, I’ve included three fretboard diagrams.

The first diagram contains the scale shape with the notes of the scale on the note markers.

The second diagram shows the intervals of the scale. It’s really important to study the intervals of each scale position closely. Although we’re looking specifically at the C major scale, the relative position of the scale intervals will be exactly the same for all major scales.

In other words, these scale shapes are moveable. You can play any other major scale by simply playing the same scale pattern starting from a different root note.

The third diagram indicates the recommended fingering for the position.

Guitar tab is included for each position. When playing through the scale positions, it’s best to start on the lowest root note and play the scale ascending and descending, making sure to play all of the notes of the position. This will allow you to hear how the scale sounds relative to the key center note, C. In turn, this will help develop your ear.

Position 1

Diagram of the first position of C major scale
C Major Scale – Position 1

Position 1 for the C major scale starts with the root note on the 8th fret of the 6th string. This position contains three root notes, found on the 6th string, 4th string, and the 1st string.

Guitar tab for position 1 of the c major scale

Position 2

Diagram of the second position of C major scale
C Major Scale – Position 2

The second position starts with the root note on the 10th fret of the 4th string. This position contains two root notes, with the second root note falling on the 13th fret of the 3rd string.

Guitar tab for position 2 of the c major scale

Position 3

Diagram of the third position of C major scale
C Major Scale – Position 3

Position three also contains two root notes. The lowest root, and starting point for this position of the scale, is found on the 14th fret of the 5th string. The other root note is found on the 13th fret of the 3rd string.

Guitar tab for position 4 of the c major scale

Position 4

Diagram of the fourth position of C major scale
C Major Scale – Position 4

The 4th position contains two root notes, the bass which is on fret 15 of the 5th string and the 2nd on the 17th fret of the 3rd string.

This position spans six frets, so there’s some shifting and stretching involved with playing this position in its entirety.

Guitar tab for position 4 of the c major scale

Position 5

Diagram of the fifth position of C major scale

Position 5 is the only other position to contain three root notes. The bass root is found on fret 20 of the 6th string while the other two are on the 17th fret of the 3rd string and the 20th fret of the 1st string.

Guitar tab for position 5 of the c major scale

C Major Scale Connected

Below you can see how the positions of the C major scale are connected.

C major scale positions connected

Positions in Multiple Locations

Certain positions of a scale may exist in multiple locations on the neck. In the case of C major, positions 3, 4, and 5 occur before position 1. The diagram below illustrates this.

Building the Chords of C Major

Building chords from the C major scale gives us all of the chords in the key of C major. That’s to say that all of these chords fit naturally into a C major chord progression.

To build chords from a scale, you simply stack thirds for each note in the scale. What this means is we take the first note, count three notes to get the second note and count three more to get the third note of the chord.

An easier way to look at it is you’re taking the 1st note (root), the 3rd note, and the 5th note. For a complete understanding of this process, check out How to Build Major Scale Chords.

Let’s write out the scale notes and build the chord for each.

C – D – E – F – G – A – B

C major chord diagram
C Major Chord

C Major Chord

Starting with C as the root we get the C major chord:

C – D – E – F – G – A – B

  • C – E – G
D minor chord diagram
Dm Chord

Dm Chord

Starting with D as the root we the D minor chord:

D – E – F – G – A – B – C

  • D – F – A
E minor chord diagram
Em Chord

Em Chord

Starting with E as the root we get the E minor chord:

E – F – G – A – B – C – D

  • E – G – B
F major chord diagram
F Major Chord

F Major Chord

Starting with F as the root we get the F major chord:

F – G – A – B – C – D – E

  • F – A – C
G major chord diagram

G Major Chord

Starting with G as the root we get the G major chord:

G – A – B – C – D – E – F

  • G – B – D
A minor chord diagram

Am Chord

Starting with A as the root we get the A minor chord:

A – B – C – D – E – F – G

  • A – C – E
B diminished chord

Bdim Chord

Starting with B as the root we get the B diminished chord:

B – C – D – E – F – G – A

  • B – D – F
ChordCDmEmFGAmBdim
NotesC-E-GD-F-AE-G-BF-A-CG-B-DA-C-EB-D-F

Relative Minor of C Major

Every major scale has a relative minor, which is the minor scale that shares the same notes and chords as the major. For major scales, the relative minor is the 6th degree of the scale. In the case of C major, the relative minor is A minor.

Degree1234567
ChordCDEFGAB

Even though the scales share the same notes and chords, the feel is different. This is because you’re changing the key center. For more on the concept, check out the relative minor and relative major scales lesson.

Songs in the Key of C Major

There are literally tons of songs in the key of C major. Here are a few songs you may be familiar with:

Listen to these songs and play along to see if you hear the C major key center.

Wrap up

With this lesson, you should have a solid understanding the C major scale. We covered the notes and intervals that make up the scale, the chords that are built from the C major scale, and its relative minor scale.

Next steps would be to apply this information musically. You can begin by coming up with 2- and 3- chord progressions using the chords from the scale. You should also practice using the scale over a C major backing track to help develop your feel for playing over chord progressions as well as developing your ear.

AGT book of scales cover

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