MMC Lesson Two: All About The Major Scale

  1. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    This lesson is part of a Study Group for Mandolin Master Class by Brad Laird.
    To start at the beginning, go to this thread:
    To purchase a copy of the book we're using, go here:
    List of all lessons in this series can be found here:

    Lesson Two: All about the Major Scale

    In this lesson we continue our study of playing the major scales, which was barely begun in the last lesson, and we study music theory regarding major scales.


    1. Study pages 7 – 9: Twelve Major Scales, each in one octave and How can major scales be used to improvise? As you study, you will need to pay attention to the following:
    a. Each of the scales given here covers only one octave. The scales cover all twelve keys in Western music, but of course they can be played in many different places on the mandolin. We are only learning one way to play each scale in a single octave in this lesson.

    b. Think about position changes that are necessary to play these scales as written. Near the middle of page six we read, in the last lesson, about hand or finger positions on the mandolin. The scales we are learning on pages 7 & 8 are mostly in 1st position, but three of them shift to new positions. B Major and F#/Gb Major are written to be played in 2nd position, while the C#/Db Major scale is written to be played in 3rd position.

    c. Spend a few minutes each day for the next week practicing all 12 scales. (pp. 7-8) You should play these scales until each one is as smooth and easy as the open G scale.

    d. Play the altered scale patterns in the section titled How can major scales be used to improvise? And make up some patterns of your own once you’ve gotten those down smooth.

    2. Study pages 45 - 47, Self-Test #2 on Music Theory. When you have understood the material, take the self-test and check your answers. If you are unclear about anything in this part of the music theory section, ask questions below.

    3. Study the lesson on Major Scales at my website and do the homework at the end of the lesson:

    4. Watch the videos that go with this lesson, and work on finding the right notes to extend some of your scales into the next lower or higher octave.


    To get feedback, just post a comment or video here.


    “12 Major Scales”
    Basically just an introduction here.

    “Extending Your Scales”

    "The Dirty Dozen"

    I've spent a few days now learning these scales from the book, and it has been a really good exercise. Take as much time as you need to learn these. Practice them every day or whenever possible. It's good and necessary to read these from the page, but even more important to think about what you're playing. You don't need to know all the notes of each scale, but you need to know the root notes - the notes you're starting on. Also, think about the patterns you are using. Find the similarities. Finally, you need to practice these scales without looking at the book. It's OK to cheat when necessary. You are your own teacher. But keep working on learning to name the roots and play the scales without looking at the book.

    If you get frustrated, take a little time off. Maybe take a 15 minute break and listen to this podcast: Dealing With Frustration

    In this video, I play each of the scales from memory. You'll see that I flubbed some things up, and I didn't always get clean, clear notes when I played them. No one's perfect, but we all want to get better, right? Do your homework, and you'll leave me behind in no time, progress-wise.

    "More Variations"
    In this video I highlight three additional variations for playing the scales.

    Download Files for this lesson:

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  2. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    Following is an excerpt of what HonkeyHank wrote in the original lesson thread over in the Newbies Group ~

    I am still working on that dumb G# scale. I want to play it with no thumps. And all the variations of it that I practice on the open G scale. Ambitious to try to achieve in one week. I keep working on it, but I will dig into this week's exercises too.

    Mark Gunter:

    Good deal, Hank. I need feedback by those interested in order to gauge whether we're moving too fast or whether too slow. Being unable to actually meet together in person, it's not possible to see where anyone is at with it.

    One of the things that Bradley was concerned about is people being on so many different levels of skill or experience in the group, and unlike meetings in person, this kind of "anonymous" online group is such that there's no way to tell how the lessons are taking.

    No matter in the long haul, I suppose, because everyone can work at his or her own pace and the postings will always be here.

    The next section on "How to spend an hour playing 16 notes" deliberately slows things down. Maybe we should spend a couple weeks on that section alone, because the scales we're getting into in this lesson could be used over in that section as well. It would give us a few weeks of working with the scales. The next section is something that Brad calls "The big secret to playing well."

    I use the principles that Brad teaches there daily, because it works. I know that I'm not the best example skill-wise for this, but what little skill I may be gaining is due in large part to the big secret. It will probably be worthwhile to slow way down and camp there for a couple or three weeks.

    Any feedback on the first two lessons would be helpful. Not looking for pats on the back here, just some reports on how y'all are doing and whether we're moving too fast or too slow right out of the gate here.
  3. HonketyHank
    This is where I am. Most of my scales work out pretty smoothly even though I stumbled a bit on the Eb scale. I am cranking out that G# scale a lot better this week than last.

    I can do some nice patterns with the G scale but they are extremely ragged, if not unrecognizable, in most other keys. Am working on that, but it will take time. I am actually finding it easier to do the patterns if I avoid use of open strings (except for the G scale), but I still have to think about what I am doing or trying to do.

    The three headed dragon is supposed to be a pun and also it came with the mandolin. Dragons have scales, right?
  4. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    Good work, Henry!
  5. HonketyHank
    Thanks Mark.

    I tried a different camera angle, but it seems to highlight my picking posture (right out of Mike Marshall's Don't Sit Like This admonition) and excess abdominal baggage more than anything else. To think I used to be so skinny I could climb through a wire coat-hanger.
  6. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    It was interesting to me that the place that's been giving me the most trouble in playing these scales is the same place that seems to have fooled you for a moment in that video - the D#/Eb closed position scale at D string first fret.

    I know the closed position figure there, but for some unknown reason my brain keeps prodding me *not* to play it when I get to that one! I have to try a bunch of wrong notes almost every time, before I realize what I'm supposed to do there. In the "Dirty Dozen" video I posted there's a big ugly bump in the playback where I cut out a bunch of fumbling right at that point.
  7. bradlaird
    Just a quick thought. It is easy to be absorbed by THE NOTES. Play musically to the extent you can. Don't think of scales as a technical series of calculations to be executed. Figure them out and then... (drum roll)... PLAY them. Can you make them sound like music? They are, after all, music. Kinda.

    And here is a video I did to try to give you some ideas about how to make them more musical. Forgive my shaky hands in the video... I still remember that gigantic coffee (thanks, Andy) I just chugged as the session started and it's was pretty weird. Bill Monroe chugged a lot of coffee with more sugar than coffee, but it just doesn't work for me. Water is better for me... Luckily for me it only has a hundred and somethin' thousand views. (Rats!) Anyway, take a peek at these scale variations.

  8. HonketyHank
    One take. No cuts. No edits. Coulda done better, but it is what it is.

    I actually can stumble my way through all 12. Some less bad than others.
  9. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    That was great Hank, especially the look of enjoyment on your face. Priceless!
  10. HonketyHank
    Thanks Mark. Well, my goal is to conform to the directives in the first paragraph of Brad's most recent post (above). In the mean time, I am still calculating each note for all except the G scale. The good news is that I used to have to calculate the G scale notes too. Time and practice. Repeat as necessary. Somewhere over the rainbow, bluebirds sing.
  11. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    Mark, I read your major scales writeup today. You amaze me with your contributions to the Cafe, especially to those of us who are trying to learn to play the mandolin. At the risk of embarrassing you, I just must say you surely get the prize for giving the most and taking the least.
  12. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    Sherry, you are very kind, thank you.

    By the way, I've been in the metroplex fora week! I'd hoped to contact you, but I've been pretty ill with a nasty cough, so I didn't. I've been doing some problem solving for a client at the new Liberty Mutual building they're constructing at 121 & North Tollway in Plano/Cisco area. Leaving for Abilene later today, hope to meet with y'all next time if possible.
  13. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    Sorry I missed you this trip, Mark. I've had a bit of a cold and cough myself, so it's probably just as well. I do hope you can make one of our Wednesday jam sessions. It would be fun.

    On another note, I've just been looking for an arpeggio scales PDF you posted recently. My notes show it was posted in General Mandolin Discussions. I can't figure out my abbreviations after that.

    Can you please direct me to that PDF or post it again?
  14. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
  15. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    Got it! Thanks.
  16. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    Chris Henry's four ways to practice each major scale for speed and clarity - consistency rules.

  17. Guitfiddle Mike
    Guitfiddle Mike
    He stole my practice method!!! Kind of.... And he does it much better than me and makes it look really easy.
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