The E Major Scale is a fairly common scale you’ll see used on a lot of popular songs. It may not be as common as E Minor (G Major), but it’s a good scale to learn on guitar.
This guide covers open chords, note positions on a fretboard diagram, popular songs in E Major, and everything else you might want to know about the scale.
These resources are based on having your guitar in standard tuning. Read this guide on Alternate Guitar Tunings if you want to try something different.
I suggest learning the E Major scale after you memorize the A Major scale, because changing from A Major to E Major only needs you to change one note.
Note: I suggest only using these resources as a basic reference to help you learn the scale. The best way to truly memorize a scale is to follow the advice in my guide on memorizing the notes on the fretboard here. Once you follow the advice in that guide, memorizing a scale becomes much easier.
E Major Scale = C# Minor Scale
For every Major scale in music, there is what we call a ‘relative’ minor. A ‘relative’ scale is one that uses the same notes but is used in different ways. This means for every Major scale, there is a minor scale using the same notes.
The E Major scale and the C# minor scale both use the exact same notes. The main difference between the two (to keep things simple) is the root note of each scale. In the E Major scale, the root note is ‘E’. In the C# minor scale, the root note is ‘C#’.
Once you learn some basic music theory you will understand how two different scales can use the same notes, but for now, all you need to do is remember that both E Major and C# minor scales use the same notes.
This means you can use all the diagrams, exercises, and chords covered in this guide for both the E Major scale and the C# minor scale.
Notes in the E Major Scale
The E Major scale uses four sharp notes. The notes in the E Major Scale are: E F# G# A B C# D#
This is what the key signature for E Major looks like:
Even if you don’t know how to read music, if you see a key signature with four sharp symbols, it means the music is in E Major (or C# minor). Find out how to read standard notation in this guide.
The notes in the C# minor scale are: C# D# E F# G# A B.
As you can see, it’s the exact same notes as the E Major scale. The C# minor scale starts on ‘C#’ (called the root note) and the E Major scale starts on ‘E’, but both scales contain the same seven notes.
If you compare the notes in the A Major scale (A B C# D E F# G#) and the E Major scale, you’ll notice that the only difference is the note D#.
This is why I suggest learning the A Major scale before you learn the E Major scale (learn the A Major scale in this guide). Once you memorize the A Major scale, all you need to do to change from A Major to E Major is remember to change D to D#.
Circle of Fifths
You may have heard about the circle of fifths. The circle of fifths makes use of patterns to help you move from one scale to the next.
If you know the basics of intervals (learn about intervals in this lesson), you’ll start to see the patterns as we move from C Major to G Major to D Major to A Major to E Major.
If we start from the C and move up a fifth, we end up on G. If we move up a fifth from G, we end up on D. A fifth up from D is A. A fifth up from A is E.
That’s the same order I suggest memorizing scales. Start with learning the C Major scale (no sharps or flats), then learn the G Major scale (one sharp), then the D Major scale (two sharps), then the A Major scale (three sharps), then the E Major scale (four sharps), and so on.
Notice the jump in fifths between each scale root note? If you can, you can probably already figure out what the next scale in the series might be (hint: what’s a fifth up from E?).
You’ll also notice that we add one more sharp note to the scale each time.
Hopefully, this short description gives you a glimpse of how useful music theory can be. With some basic music theory, you can easily memorize the notes in all scales without having to look anything up.
To learn more about this basic theory, read this lesson on intervals.
Answer: if you’re wondering what the next scale is after E Major using the circle of fifths, it’s B Major (learn the B Major scale here).
E Major Scale Fretboard Diagram
Here are the notes of the E Major scale across the entire fretboard:
When memorizing this scale, try to pay extra attention to all of the ‘E’ positions. You want to focus on all of the positions where you play E because that’s the root note of the scale. Memorizing those positions first helps you when writing riffs, licks, or improvising.
As I mentioned earlier, I highly recommend you start by memorizing the C Major scale, then work your way through the circle of fifths.
By the time you get to the E Major scale, you won’t even need to spend time memorizing it. You’ll be able to instinctively change D to D# as needed.
Here is the E Major scale diagram up to the 12th fret with the root notes highlighted on each string:
Something you might notice about this scale is that it doesn’t use the open G string or the open D string. The most common guitar scales make use of the open strings, so it might feel a bit strange playing a scale that doesn’t use these two strings.
This is why the E Major scale isn’t as popular in standard tuning as other scales that make full use of all open strings.
Read my lesson on how to memorize the fretboard to get the most out of this diagram.
How to use the above fretboard diagram:
- Improvise over an E Major or C# minor backing track by playing any of the above notes
- Learn to find chord shapes that fit with the highlighted notes
- Practice scale runs between any two points on the fretboard (don’t just stick to scale shapes you’ve already memorized)
- Memorize the notes on the fretboard one string at a time
If you’ve already spent time memorizing the A Major scale, you might be surprised by how quickly you can fully memorize the E Major scale.
The more scales you learn using the method covered in the above guide, the faster it is to learn any new scales.
E Major Scale in Guitar TAB and Standard Notation
The below Guitar TAB and standard notation show three examples of the E Major scale starting on different root note positions:
If you don’t know how to read the above example, find out how to read Standard Notation in this guide and how to read Guitar TAB in this guide. Knowing at least one of these methods can significantly speed up how fast you can learn new songs.
Try playing the examples to get a feel for how E Major sounds and where the correct notes are on the fretboard. Then I suggest trying to come up with your own examples of scale runs in different positions on the fretboard.
But as a general rule, I don’t recommend practicing scale runs like this. Playing up and down scale shapes is how a lot of guitarists get stuck in a rut.
E Major Scale Open Chords on Guitar
The more sharps and flats a guitar scale uses, the fewer simple open chords you’ll find perfectly match the scale.
Because the E Major scale uses four sharp notes and it doesn’t use the open D or G strings, you may need to use some barre chords if you want to create chord progressions in the key of E.
Here are the seven main chords of the E Major scale:
When you compare these chords with chords in the C Major, G Major, or F Major scales, you’ll see why I suggest starting with these scales.
If you feel comfortable with barre chord shapes, try creating some chord progressions using all of these chords (except D#dim). Get a feel for how the key sounds before you go on to learning some songs in the key of E.
Don’t worry about the last chord (D#dim) as you’re unlikely to use it. If you learn the theory behind harmonizing a scale (which is how you figure out what chords fit in a scale), you’ll understand why every Major scale includes a diminished chord.
Note: remember that the C# minor scale uses the exact same notes as the E Major scale. This means the above chords also fit in the key of C# minor.
As mentioned earlier, you shouldn’t rely on these resources. Learn how to memorize the notes on the fretboard. It might be easier to use a chart like the ones above to find your way across the fretboard, but you’ll become a far better guitarist if you properly memorize the fretboard notes.
Guitar Songs Using the E Major Scale
While the E Major scale contains fewer open chord shapes than other scales, there are still a lot of popular songs that were written in E you might want to check out.
Here are some iconic guitar songs using the E Major scale:
- Pride and Joy by Stevie Ray Vaughan
- Slow Dancing in a Burning Room by John Mayer
- Thunderstruck by AC DC
- Best of You by Foo Fighters
- The Cave by Mumford & Sons
- Under the Bridge by Red Hot Chili Peppers
- Levels by Avicii
- Echoes by Pink Floyd
- New Born by Muse
Keep in mind that the E Major and C# minor scales use the same notes, so some of the above songs are in the key of E, while others are in the key of C# minor.
Here are some other resources for guitar scales worth learning:
- C Major Scale – learn first
- G Major Scale – learn after C Major
- D Major Scale – learn after G Major
- A Major Scale – learn after D Major
- B Major Scale – learn after E Major
- F Major Scale – learn after C Major