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Lesson Eight: Reading Sheet Music - Understanding the Scale

Overview of this lesson: We play our first scale on the guitar and see how it relates to the sheet music notes on the staff.


Before we go any further with learning the notes on the guitar you have to first understand what a scale is. Now you are no doubt familiar with a scale in that you could sing do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do. But what is this? It is an eight note progression that goes from do to do. The last note is the same as the first note except that it is an octave higher.

Now there are many different types of scales and we will review some of them but for now we are going to examine the major scale. And we will be looking at the scale of C.

The major scale of is composed of these notes: C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C.

I have recorded this scale for you to listen to:

listen to the C scale as I play it on the guitar

Every fret on your guitar is a different note. That's an obvious statement but if you want to play a scale from 'do' to 'do' you dont just move up one fret at a time. That is because the frets represent half and whole notes. Lets do an example.

Here are these 8 notes of the C scale on the guitar as I have played them in the sound clip.The D, G, and B notes shown above the white nut in the picture are open strings. This makes this scale pretty easy. Try it. Start with the First C then progress your way through the scale. Then go backwards. Don't worry, if you are new to this it will be difficult, but as you get better and practice more you will whip right through these scales.

Now is a good time for us to go back to understanding the scale. Lets look at the notes we played on the D string. We play D open and that's easy enough. We move onto the E note and that is two frets down the fingerboard. But when we move on to the F note we only go 1 fret. See this difference. But it still sounds right as a scale. We do the same thing when moving from B to C - we only move a half note.

This is because a major scale is composed of half and whole notes. Here is the progression along the scale.



step between notes:

  • 1 to 2 whole note (C to D)
  • 2 to 3 whole note (D to E)
  • 3 to 4 half note (E to F)
  • 4 to 5 whole note (F to G)
  • 5 to 6 whole note (G to A)
  • 6 to 7 whole note (A to B)
  • 7 to 8 half note (B to C)


What does this scale look like on the staff?

Practice looking at the scale and trying to play the notes. Mix it up. Go for different variations of notes. Do the scale up and down, try the notes in the middle. This is hard but you will get good at it!

continue with tutorial


A Modern Approach to Classical Guitar -

Now Available With CDs! This multi-volume method was developed to allow students to study the art of classical guitar within a new, more con-temporary framework. For private, class or self-instruction. Book One features an all-new format that incorporates chord frames and symbols, as well as a record to assist in tuning and to provide accompaniments for at-home practice. Book One also introduces beginning fingerboard technique and music theory. Book Two and Three build upon the techniques learned in Book One.

(I have a full page review of this method of learning guitar. The review is right here