Scales in music

Here’s a simple lessons about chromatic scale, major scale and pentatonic scale.

1. Chromatic scale

Play a note on the first fret of any string in the guitar, then the 2nd fret and the 3rd fret on the same string and then play each note in the adjacent fret as you move towards the body of the guitar. What do you notice? You probably notice that the sound becomes sharper. So the note changes as we move from one fret to the other in the same string. Chromatic scale is the combination of all the adjacent notes.

Here are some simple rules before we begin though:

1. The sound becomes sharper as we move from the neck of the guitar to the body of the guitar and is denoted by a hash (#). So, the note that comes after A is A# (A sharp) and the note that comes after C is C# (C sharp).

2. B and E don’t have sharps. So, the note that comes after B is C (not B#) and the note that comes after E is F (not F#).



Let’s find the chromatic scale of E:
E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E

There are 12 notes in the chromatic scale and if you look at the guitar, there are two dots on the 12th fret. These dots indicate that the notes repeat after the 12th fret. (The open string note on the 1st string and the note on the 12 fret of the same string are both Es)

C Chromatic scale:
C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C

A Chromatic scale:
A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A

2. Major scale 

We have all heard ‘Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni, Sa’ or ‘Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do’, that’s what Major scale is. There is a simple formula you can use to find out the notes in the Major scale.

Let me explain the notations that are used in the formula.
1. W = Whole step (if you skip one fret and play the next note)
2. H = Half step (if you play notes in the adjacent frets)

wholeHalfHere’s the formula:

Let’s find out the notes in E Major scale:

E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, D#, E
There are 7 notes in the Major scale.

A Major scale:

C Major Scale:
C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C (Count the notes in the ‘Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni, Sa’, Sa repeats two times so just 7 notes)

3. Pentatonic scale 

We can find Pentatonic (5 notes) scale from the Major scale (7 notes) we found out in the previous section.


So, if we get rid of the 4th and the 7th note in the E Major scale, we get the notes in the E Major Pentatonic scale.
E, F#, G#, B, C#, E

A Major pentatonic scale:

C Major pentatonic Scale:
C, D, E, G, A, C



I’m an engineer and an educator. In 2012, I co-founded Karkhana, an education company that designs learning experiences for middle school students. I play guitar and enjoy writing both computer programs and my own songs. I also like illustrating my friends as South Park cartoon characters using Inkscape.

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