The C Major Scale is the first scale you should learn on the guitar. It’s the starting point for all other scales and the easiest to learn. Once you learn how to find the notes of the C Major scale on your fretboard, you can easily learn scales like the G Major or F Major scale by simply changing one note.
This guide covers everything you might want to know about the C Major scale including common open chords, note positions on a fretboard diagram, and more.
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.
Note: the resources here are helpful, but they should only be a starting point for your practice. Once you memorize these notes on your fretboard, you won’t need to use the resources found in this guide. Find out how to memorize the notes on the fretboard here using effective methods that don’t require much time or effort.
C Major Scale = A 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 C Major scale and the A 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 C Major scale, the root note is ‘C’. In the A minor scale, the root note is ‘A’.
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 C Major and A minor scales use the same notes.
This means you can use all the diagrams, exercises and chords covered in this guide for both the C Major scale and the A minor scale.
Notes in the C Major Scale
The C Major scale is the easiest scale to remember because it doesn’t have any sharps or flats. The notes are: C D E F G A B
The main reason why the C Major scale is usually the first scale to learn is that it has no sharps or flats. It makes it easier to read on sheet music and easier to find the notes on the guitar.
If you’re ever at a piano and want to noodle around, you can play the C Major scale if you only play the white keys. On a piano, the black keys are the sharps and flats.
The notes in the A minor scale are: A B C D E F G. As you can see, it’s the exact same notes as the C Major scale. The A minor scale starts on ‘A’ (called the root note) and the C Major scale starts on ‘C’, but both scales contain the same seven notes.
C Major Scale Fretboard Diagram
Here are the notes of the C Major scale across the entire fretboard:
Pay extra attention to all the ‘C’ positions as C is the root note of the scale. If you don’t know how to use the above diagram, keep reading as we will look at some basic exercises to get you playing the C Major scale.
How to use the above fretboard diagram:
- Improvise over a C Major 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
- Memorize the notes on the fretboard one string at a time
The C Major scale is the most important scale to learn so it’s worth spending the time to memorize the above notes.
To memorize the above notes, read through this guide on memorizing the fretboard. The guide will show you how to break the fretboard down into easy parts to memorize.
C Major Scale in Guitar TAB and Standard Notation
The below Guitar TAB and standard notation show four examples of the C Major scale:
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 your progress.
Try playing the four examples to get a feel for how C Major sounds and where the correct notes are on the fretboard.
The first two examples play the exact same notes in different positions. Learning to find different positions for the same notes is a good way to get to know the fretboard. The last two examples also use the same notes as each other, only these examples are an octave higher than the first two examples.
Then use the fretboard diagram and try finding different scale positions. Play the scale runs up and down as an exercise to get you used to the positions.
C Major Scale Chords
There are certain chords that work with the C Major scale. This is handy to know if you want to write a song or jam in the ‘key of C’.
In music theory, we can ‘harmonize’ the scale to figure out what those chords are. To make things easy for you, here are the seven main chords of the C Major scale:
You might already know most of these chords as they are some of the most common open chords on the guitar.
Try making up some chord progressions using the above chords and listen to how they sound when played together. A lot of songs use the above chords so you may find you accidentally play a progression from a well-known song.
Don’t worry about the last chord (Bdim) as you’re unlikely to use it. When we harmonize a Major scale, the last chord in the scale is always a diminished chord. While diminished chords are used in music, as a beginner or intermediate guitarist you may not have much use for them yet.
Note: remember that the A minor scale uses the exact same notes as the C Major scale. This means the above chords also fit in the key of A 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 C Major Scale
There are countless songs written on guitar using the C Major scale. The first chords you learn as a beginner on guitar (or piano) perfectly fit in the key of C, which is why so many songs were written using the C Major scale.
Here are some popular guitar songs using the C Major scale:
- Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin
- While My Guitar Gently Weeps by The Beatles
- Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley
- Californication by Red Hot Chili Peppers
- The Pretender by Foo Fighters
- House of the Rising Sun by The Animals
- Smooth by Santana
- La Grange by ZZ Top
- Hurt by Johnny Cash
Don’t forget that the C Major scale and the A minor scale both use the same notes, so some of the above songs are in the key of C and others are in the key of A minor.
Also keep in mind that while a song might be based on a scale, it doesn’t mean the song will perfectly stick to a scale the whole way through.
Once you learn the C Major scale, I recommend learning the G Major scale next. The G Major scale only changes one note, so you can learn a full new scale really quickly.
Here are some other resources for guitar scales worth learning:
- G Major Scale – learn after C Major
- D Major Scale – learn after G Major
- A Major Scale – learn after D Major
- F Major Scale – learn anytime after C Major