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Why You Don't Need the Major Scale for Guitar

… at least not yet.

Last week I posted a video on YouTube that received quite a lot of comments. Some people expressed disagreement and hey that’s fine. But what was clear to me is that there is some misunderstanding.

And that’s likely because I didn’t FULLY explain in last week’s video why I believe you don’t need the full 7-note scale. That wasn’t exactly what that video was about. So now, let me explain. I think you’ll all find this useful.

The guitar fretboard is a visual instrument

There are TWO main reasons and I only mentioned one last week, which was that the full 7-note major scale is almost never used in popular music… so why would you start there? It takes a lot of time to memorize that scale up and down the fretboard. And if some famous guitar YouTuber posts a video saying that’s how he would relearn guitar by starting with that… and hundreds of thousands of guitar students watch it, they are being mislead. That person taught college-level music a long time ago, and not guitar. So I get annoyed when people are led astray, wasting their time.

As some commenters pointed out, I like to talk about targeting intervals in my lessons. For example, targeting a fifth, or targeting a third in your solos. Those commenters suggested that you would need to know the full major scale to know where those intervals are.

But that's not true at all. And in fact, that would only be useful if you were playing a song that had only one chord. Which is very few songs. As the chords change, we want to be able quickly find the intervals of each chord in the song.

Examples of using chord shapes on the guitar

Here’s the thing … the interval shapes are in the chords that you probably already know.

Take a major bar chord built with its root on the low E string. I can tell you all the intervals inside it….. Root 5th Root 3rd 5th Root.  Now I already have a handful of target notes that I can use!

Take a minor bar chord with its root on the low E string. The intervals Root 5th Root m3 5th and Root.

The huge advantage of this is that we can visualize each chord as they change in the song. If we just use the major scale to find our intervals, we would only know the third from the root chord. But what about the third from the IV chord? The third from the V chord? How about the minor third from the VI chord?

Chord shapes do a far better job at giving us the interval shapes we need – and help us to play over the changes!

Here’s another example, what about a minor 7? Let’s say it’s a blues-y song and we want to target the funky minor 7. Imagine an A7 chord, now which one of those notes is the minor 7? Here’s another minor 7. Just memorize where it is in the chord shape and there you have it. Play some scale then target that note to end your lick.


Tell me, how does memorizing the full major scale help us do all that?


With this method, thinking in chord shapes, we have all the intervals we need for every chord of every song! Even when songs have chords out of key.


I’m not saying you should never memorize the full major scale. I certainly know it up and down the guitar fretboard. But the reason why too many teachers still teach it to guitar players is just because…. they always have. That’s what we were all taught when we were kids. And why? Because that’s what classical musicians are taught. But we’re not playing classical music! We’re playing rock, blues, folk, country, funk, pop and everything in between.


The shortest distance to your goals is the best. And in the middle of a song, you want to be able to look down at the fretboard and instantly see what you need … and the notes are all right there in our pentatonic shapes … and our chord shapes.

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