Learning major scales on the bass guitar can be daunting at first, but with a little bit of practice and understanding, you’ll find mastering the fretboard to be much easier.
This comprehensive guide explains major scale theory in detail, so that you can view each spread across the fretboard in novel new ways.
Once mastered, major scales will give your bass playing new levels of control and musicianship. So join us as we explore major scale fundamentals and music theory!
The major scale
The major scale is one of the most important musical scales for composition, performance, and musical practice. It’s also one of the most common scales in western music.
It is a seven-note sequence of intervals that creates a sensation of tonality and helps to provide structure for songs. Each major scale contains eight notes, beginning with the root note and ending with its octave, as well as two intervals known as the major third and major sixth.
These scale degrees create a familiarity in the sound which contributes to the sense of stability and resolution associated with major keys.
To play a major scale on an instrument, it is important to understand how each note relates to the others within the key.
Understanding and interpreting the major scale offers potential musicians an invaluable foundation that can be used to discover more complex musical concepts in harmony, improvisation and composition.
Building A Major Scale
To build a major scale, you must know and understand a concept known as tonal structure.
This sounds like a fancy term, but really, it’s just a way of describing the musical theory blueprint that is used to construct all major scales.
Whether it’s the C major scale, G major scale, D major scale or a major scale in any other key, all major scales will share the same tonal structure.
Let’s clarify a few useful terms here.
Root note – The starting note of the scale. If we build this tonal structure from C, for example, we’ll build a C major scale.
Tone – On the bass guitar, a tone (also known as a whole step) is the distance from one fret to another that is two frets up or down on the same string.
For example, if you play the 1st fret on the A string and go up a tone, you’d go up to the 3rd fret on the A string.
Semitone – Also known as a half step, is the distance from one fret to one that is immediately next to it going either up or down on the same string.
The tonal structure of the major scale is:
Root note – tone – tone – semitone – tone – tone – tone – semitone.
Now that we understand that the major scale is just a string of tones and semitones (or whole and half steps), let’s start building major scales in different keys.
The C Major Scale
As we’re building a C major scale, our root note is C.
Up a tone is D, up another tone is E, up a half step to F, up a tone to G, up another tone to A, another tone to B and a final half step to B.
This gives us a complete scale of: C D E F G A B C.
A Major Scale Bass
Now let’s try this from A.
Our root note would be A and, if we follow the same tonal structure we’d get the following major scale.
A B C# D E F# G# and A.
D Major Scale
Let’s now do the D major scale.
The starting note of the D major scale is D and, if we follow the same tonal structure as we have done for the previous two scales we’d get D E F# G A B C# and D.
This is one of the best things about music theory. If you take time to understand the principles behind it (rather than just trying to memorize everything without internalizing the logic) you’ll be able to work out any scale, chord, chord progression or riff that you like.
What does a major scale sound like?
A helpful reference you can use to understand what a major scale sounds like is the melody from “Do-Re-Mi” from The Sound Of Music.
This melody quite literally is the major scale starting from the lowest note, going an octave higher through the scale before coming back down.
All the scale degrees are featured in this melody in scale order which makes it a great melodic reference for the sound.
Major scale for bass patterns
The major scale for bass is actually very easy to learn because the bass guitar is a pattern instrument.
This means that, when it comes to the bass, all major scales are essentially played with the same pattern and if you want to change key, you just have to change where the pattern starts from.
The major pentatonic scale
The major pentatonic scale is a great tool to add to your musical portfolio. This scale is perfect for when you need an uplifting and cheerful sound, as it contains all the major notes of the key without any additional accidentals.
It’s made up of five notes – a root note, a major second, major third, a perfect fifth and major sixth – which create a simple yet beautiful sounding scale.
In C the notes would be C D E G A C.
As such, the major pentatonic scale can be used in almost every musical style from blues to pop music, making it a great choice for players of all levels looking for something new to learn.
Moving Scales Around The Neck
Transposing a bass scale is an incredibly useful skill for any bassist. Transposing allows you to move the same scale to different areas of the fretboard, making it easier to access and expand our improvisational capabilities on any given string set or fingerboard.
It involves taking a particular neck pattern, such as the combination of root notes, semitones and tones that make up the major or minor scales, and moving it across the fretboard while retaining its interval structure.
The key point is that this process should be done in a logical manner so that you create patterns that are sensible and easy to learn.
Once you have mastered how to transpose scales effectively you will be able to unlock greater musical potential on your bass!
What is a major scale on bass?
A major scale on the bass is the same as it is on any other instrument. It’s a scale that is built using the following tonal structure.
Root note – tone – tone – semitone – tone – tone – tone – semitone.
Is there an A major scale?
Yes, there is an A major scale. The notes are A B C# D E F# G# and A.
How do you play the A major scale?
To play the A major scale you need to play the following notes – A B C# D E F# G# and A – in that order on your bass guitar. You can then use the free PDF from this article to learn the A major scale bass pattern on the bass neck.
How do you play C major scale on bass?
To play the C major scale you need to play the following notes – C D E F G A B and C – in that order on your bass guitar.
Where is C major on bass?
The C major scale can be started on the bass from any fret that produces the note of C. Commonly this is from the 3rd fret of the A string or 8th fret of the E string as they both produce the same note, C.
What is the C major scale pattern?
The major scale pattern can be played in a number of ways on the bass.
You can play it all up one string, you can play it “in position” which means within a certain area of the neck or you can play it with some more irregular patterns.
Have a look at these videos to learn all the different options for the major scale for bass.
What notes are key of C for bass guitar?
The first note is C which is then followed be D E F G A B and C.
How do you play major scales on a bass guitar?
You need to learn the theory of the major scale and then the pattern. Once you have those two things you can play any major scale by starting the bass pattern from any note.
What is the G major scale on bass?
The G major scale on bass is G A B C D E F# and G.
How do you play G major scale on bass?
Where is the key of G on bass?
G is commonly found at the 3rd fret of the E string (assuming your bass is in standard tuning) but also at the 10th fret of the A string, 5th fret of the D string and can also be played by plucking the open G string.