Major Scale (Ionian Mode) - On One String

There is no better place to start learning about scales and modes than the Major Scale - so let's get started.

There are so many philosophies about scales, which means it is difficult for a guitarist to navigate the scales and modes waters. Some guitarists are seduced by books with hundreds of pages dedicated to scales. My approach is fundamentally different - I believe in showing enough basic theory about scales, combining with visualization approaches on the guitar, which will empower you to understand scales to such a degree that you won't need any books!

Major Scale (Ionian Mode) - On One String fretboard diagram In the fretboard diagram we see the wide range to be covered on the fretboard. While this exercise will be on high E string, it is important that you visualize this scale on other places on the fretboard, such as low E string (which will be same frets!), starting from 5th fret on D string, 12th fret on G string, etc). The more you develop your visual understanding of the guitar, the sooner you will develop the freedom to play anything, anywhere on the fretboard!

A lot of guitarists start learning a scale by seeing how to play it in a certain position, across all strings. I will show you such patterns in another exercise in this guitar lesson, but for now I think by seeing how a scale looks on one string is very valuable for fretboard visualization purposes, as well as for phrasing, since playing on one string has a very smooth, fluid sound that is great for phrasing!

So let's have you play a G Major Scale on the high E string.

Major Scale (Ionian Mode) - On One String Guitar Pro tablature
Download Guitar Pro file

Note: To download and view exercise tab you need Guitar Pro

Guitar Pro: the best tablature editor software

Guitar Lesson Exercise Performance Tips

Performance Tips

Playing an entire scale on one string is not something you see guitarists do often. Maybe it is because guitarists don't practice position shifting the way pianists do. So let's get you accustomed to position shifting which will do wonders for your overall fretboard knowledge and phrasing ability!

In the tablature you will notice that I indicate fingerings. This will come down to personal preference. The fingerings I show is just my own preference. I chose this fingering because even though it requires one big shift from 4th finger to 1st finger after the B at 7th fret to C at 8th fret, overall it seems to me to be an approach that minimizes movement and results in a fairly efficient way to play.

You will also notice that I use a slide from the E at the 12th fret up to the F# at the 14th fret. The ability to slide rapidly and accurately on the guitar is one of the most important skills for being able to play across the fretboard and once you are accustomed to sliding in this way you will see the logic in using a slide to play a passage of this sort. But in the end you should do whatever is comfortable!

Lastly, you will see that I included an Ex. B version which is same as Ex. A, just played as 16th notes. Playing as 16th notes will be challenging at first, but the position shifting coordination it will build in your hands will do wonders for your ability to race across the fretboard and play any note you want, anytime, anywhere.

Once you are comfortable playing the G Major Scale this way, try playing it on other strings - for instance, start from 5th fret on D string. Or 10th fret on A string. You get the idea - the key is being able to visualize scales throughout the fretboard!

Criteria for Mastery: You can play the exercise smoothly and cleanly as 16th notes at 100 BPM or faster and you understand how to play the G Major Scale - and any major scale for that matter - on other strings


In the introduction to this guitar lesson I covered some theory behind the Major Scale. I won't repeat here, but I wanted to make some other points about Major Scales which will eventually help you master other scale types. For now, just trust me on this.

Earlier in this guitar lesson I mentioned that the Major Scale is defined by a specific formula of whole and half steps: W - W - H - W - W - W - H. On a piano, if you start at C, and play all the white keys up to the next C, you will be following this pattern of whole and half steps. 

In this case, since I am using the key of G for this guitar lesson, we refer to the scale as G Major (or G Ionian), and it is made up of the notes G - A - B - C - D - E - F#.

In addition to specifying a scale in terms of the whole and half step formula that defines the scale, we can also refer to the scale intervals in relation to the root note. In the case of a Major Scale, if we start at the G, we simply say the root - G - is a unison interval from itself (pretty logical right?) and we notate that as 1. If we consider the A, we notice it is a major 2nd from the G, and we just notate that as 2 (if it was a minor 2nd away from G - an Ab - then we would notate that interval as b2). Continuing this process, with the following definition of the scale interval names,

Scale intervalDefinition
R (root)Unison (so basically, no interval - just the scale starting note itself)
2Major 2nd (whole step)
3Major 3rd (2 whole steps)
4Perfect 4th (2 and a half steps)
5Perfect 5th (3 and a half steps)
6Major 6th (4 and a half steps)
7Major 7th (5 and a half steps)


we can refer to the Major Scale by its intervals simply as R, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

This might seem pointless, but when we get into other scales you will see the power in this way of thinking because we can now think of any other scale as a modified version of a major scale. What do I mean? Consider the diagram below which shows one possible way to play a G Major Scale as a 3-note-per-string pattern (I will cover these scale shapes and others in subsequent exercises).

Major Scale Intervals

When you get to my guitar lesson on the Mixolydian mode, you will see that a Mixolydian Scale is same as a Major Scale, except with a flatted 7th. Once we understand how modifying a Major Scale can produce another scale type we really start consciously thinking about scale intervals which will go a long way towards your overall development as a musician.

So if you already know the Major Scale, regardless of the shape, as long as you know where the scale intervals are you can immediately switch to any given scale. For instance if you are familiar with above shape for major scale you know right away that the Mixolydian Scale will look like this as a 3-note-per-string pattern:

Mixolydian Scale Intervals

Note the flatted 7th shown as the green notes. So this would be transforming a G Major Scale into G Mixolydian, but it is the same idea from any Major Scale to a Mixolydian Scale where you keep the root note the same.

The Mixolydian Scale sounds similar to the Major Scale in that it has a major-ish sound. As we modify more notes of the Major Scale we move further away from a major-ish sound. For instance to turn a Major Scale into a Minor Scale, we flat the 3rd, 6th, and 7th of the Major Scale. This means that we would end up with a Minor Scale as shown below, in which case we are going to a G Minor Scale, but again, don't worry about the scale root - the same thinking applies when going from a Major Scale to another scale with same root note.

Minor Scale Intervals

Hopefully you appreciate this way of thinking. We are getting ahead of ourselves a bit with the scale shapes and the talk about modes, but I want you to get used to this way of thinking early on so that the exercises on other modes of the Major Scale will have additional meaning for you.