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Bass Guitar Lessons – Scales – The Major Scale

The Most Common Scale

Bass Guitar Lessons – The Major Scale – > The major scale is one of the most widely used and well-known scales in all of music. In fact, you probably already know how it sounds. Here’s the Von Trapp family singing “Do-Re-Mi” in the film, The Sound of Music. They are singing a C major scale (do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do)

The Importance of the Major Scale

Most of what you play on the bass is built on and/or revolves around the major scale. It serves as a reference point for so many other things that you learn. You will most likely use it – in some shape or form – every time you play. To understand the construction of bass lines, and other bass scales, you first need to understand the major scale.

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The Major Scale in Steps

Scales can be understood by how they are constructed in steps (intervals). Steps are the number of frets between notes in a scale. The major scale is comprised of 2 types of steps:

  1. Whole Step – 2 frets up or down a scale – abbreviated with a “W”
  2. Half Step – 1 fret up or down a scale – abbreviated with an “H”

The diagram below shows a whole step and half step on a bass fretboard:

whole step half step bass

The major scale is constructed using this pattern of steps: W-W-H-W-W-W-H. A half-step occurs between the 3rd and 4th notes of the scale, and again between the 7th and 8th (root) of the scale. All other notes are a whole-step apart.

Below is a diagram of the C Major Scale showing the steps taken after each note:

major scale with steps

4 Fret Major Scale Pattern and Fingering

The major scale can be played a number of ways on the bass. The first way you should learn to play it is using the 4 fret span pattern. Below is a diagram that shows the major scale in the four span pattern. Each note is numbered indicating the finger you should use on each note. As a reminder, this is how your fingers are numbered:

  1. index
  2. middle
  3. ring
  4. pinkie

Start with your 2 (middle) finger on the root note and shift it down as you get to the 4th note.

major scale with finger numbers

This pattern can be used to play a major scale anywhere on the bass if starting with root notes on the E string or A string. Commit this pattern to memory and practice it often. Once you know it, you will be able to play the major scale all over the fretboard in any key.

Here is a video of me playing the a A major scale, and then C major scale using the 4 fret pattern. You can play this pattern all over the fretboard for any scale and it works:

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Applying the W-W-H-W-W-W-H Major Scale Pattern

Again, the major scale is constructed using these steps between notes: W-W-H-W-W-W-H

In some cases it’s easier to remember this pattern rather than to use the 4 fret span pattern. For example, when I’m playing a major scale starting on the open strings, I remember this step pattern.

Below is a diagram of an E Major scale starting on the open E using the W-W-H-W-W-W-H pattern:

bass guitar lessons major scale E major steps

I also like to use the W-W-H-W-W-W-H pattern when I start a scale on the 2nd (D) String. Here is a diagram of G Major scale that starts on the higher octave G – 5th fret – D string

bass guitar lessons major scale g major steps

Applying the Major Scale

The major scale is the most commonly played scale on the bass. It is used in every style and genre of music. In general, the major scale is applied to give songs a happy, cheerful sound. However, variations and modes of the scale can be played to create just about any type of desired feeling and/or sound of a song.

Songs that Use the Major Scale

Here’s a video of me playing “ABC” by the Jackson 5. The bass line is comprised entirely of the Ab (G#) major scale. Notice also how I am using the 4 fret span fingering pattern:

ABC - Jackson 5 - Bass Lesson

“You Shook Me All Night Long” by AC/DC – the bass line is constructed using G major:

AC/DC - You Shook Me All Night Long (Official Video)

“Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival – This bassline is constructed with an E major scale:

Creedence Clearwater Revival: Fortunate Son

Click here for our “Bass Guitar Major Scales Notes – Fretboard Diagrams”

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Bass Guitar Lessons – The Major Scale

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