C Major Scale Guitar: Diagrams, Chords & Exercises

The C Major scale is one of the first scales we learn on guitar and is also a scale that accompanies us for as long as we play.

Yes, several characteristics make it a vital part of Western modern music. Moreover, it works perfectly as a structure to play many other major scales.

You’re about to take a great first leap in your guitar-playing career by learning one of music’s main building blocks. Yes, we’ll cover every aspect of this vital scale you’ll ever need from notes to chords and everything in between.

So, make the most of this information and prepare to be a better guitar player by tomorrow.

The C Major scale is the most widely used and taught major scale in the history of modern Western music. It’s the only major scale with no accidentals (sharps or flats) and the scale from which all guitar modes and the CAGED system are derived. 

The sneak peek is only a snippet of the information coming your way. 

Are you ready to understand your instrument like never before?

Well, buckle up and read on because we’re here to play, learn, and have obnoxious amounts of fun.

Table of Contents


Why is the C major scale the first one we learn on guitar? Well, the answer is very simple: it is the only major scale with no accidentals; AKA, flats or sharps.

This characteristic makes it much easier to learn especially for beginners since you only play natural notes that are easier to find on the fretboard.

Moreover, this doesn’t only happen with guitarists, piano players start the same way avoiding the black keys.

So, the notes that make the C major scale are:

C – D – E – F – G – A – B

But these notes aren’t only present in the C major scale. There is a relative minor scale for every major scale that share the same notes starting from a different root.

This is a concept you might have come across before as “the circle of fifths”.

In this case, the relative minor scale of C Major is A minor, which doesn’t have any sharps or flats either.

The biggest difference between these scales is that notes start from a different root or tonic. So, the A minor scale is made of the same notes ordered differently:

A – B – C – D – E – F – G

This order of the notes is not a minor detail, it changes the way notes behave with each other, but we’ll see more of that difference when we get to chords.

For now, let’s dive right into playing this scale. 

Go get your guitar because the fun starts right now.

Beginner Position

Now that we have introduced the notes that make the scale, it is time to see how we can place them on the guitar’s fretboard. As you might know, the notes in this scale repeat on every guitar string.

Therefore, if you keep in mind where C is, you can play the C major scale on every string. Furthermore, if you combine all of the notes in the scale in every string, you can cover the entire fretboard.

This is another major takeaway from learning the C major scale, you can use it anywhere on the fretboard and you’ll never be lost.

The C Major Scale Notes Per String

Let’s see how to form the first 12 frets of the guitar using this major scale.

C Major Notes Per String

If you analyze the notes in the chart above, you’ll realize that you can put together the scale as long as you can find the natural notes in every string.

You will also realize in the same chart that everything starts again in the 12th fret. Therefore, the same chart can be replicated from the 12th fret until the 24th fret with the same notes in the same positions.

Exercise 1

To begin with, we can practice this scale with an easy, beginner position that will only take the first three frets. Note that the C Major (and the A minor) scale includes the open strings since they are natural notes.

So, for this first exercise, you have to play the following diagram and the tab you’ll find attached. I set the tempo for 70 so you can begin slowly, but feel free to speed it up if you want to.

Excercise tab

Including the open notes on every string is a great trick that has been used and abused by many players in the history of modern music. Perhaps, the best example is Stevie Ray Vaughan.

You can see him using that technique on this incredible, incendiary live version of the classic “Scuttle Buttin’”.

He plays it at the speed of light, but you can get started slower and build your speed as you move forward in your practice.


As a pro tip, it is important to use the dot markers in your instrument because they signal, at least through portions of the fretboard, where the natural notes can be found.

For example, on the 6th and 1st strings, you can find F, G, A, and B at the 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th dot markers of your guitar respectively.

Notes and Intervals in the C Major Scale

Scales are defined by their intervals. Intervals are the spaces between the notes in each of the scales. 

These intervals define the scale, thus, if we strip the scale down to its intervals, what we get is a structure we can then use to create any other scale we need on the fretboard.

Let’s dive right into some basic concepts you’ll need to master to move freely around the neck. Yes, with these basic tools, you can navigate the entire fretboard and play over whichever song you want.

A Scale in Degrees

To begin with, let’s talk about scale degrees. We name them with roman numbers and they indicate the order of the different steps in the scale that can be used to create melodies and songs.

The degrees apply to every scale; so you can use them regardless of the key of the song.

Although we’ll see degrees more in-depth when we get to chords, we’re going to note the degrees in the C major scale right here and now. Also noted in the chart, you will find the intervals that make the scale.

They are in the last row. Bear in mind that the W stands for a whole tone (two frets on the guitar) and the H stands for half-a-tone (one fret on the guitar).

C Major Scale


So, how do you read the chart? 

Well, the first degree (I) of the C major scale is also its tonic or root; C. The second (II) is D, and so on. 

So, if you want to play the third (III) degree of the C Major Scale, you know that the note you’re looking for is E.

A Scale in Intervals

Although this is a lot of information already, there is much more than meets the eye in the chart above because with it you can create any major scale you like utilizing the same distances and replacing the notes. 

In other words, the above chart can be thought of as a formula to build major scales.

If we export this major scale formula, what we get is:

W – W – H – W – W – W – H

These are the distances between the notes (the intervals) in every major scale, and this is what we get if we change the root or tonic to D and utilize the same intervals.

D Major Scale


Furthermore, if we apply what we saw before, we can use the “relative minor” concept to find the formula to build minor scales too. All we need to do is start counting from the A and note down those intervals under every degree.

A Minor Scale


The intervals noted in the chart above are the formula to make any minor scale. You do it by changing the first degree (root or tonic) and following the intervals to find the rest of the notes.

So, the formula to create every minor scale starting from the root is:

W – H – W – W – H – W – W

Finally, to build the B minor scale, we can populate the same chart starting from B and respecting the intervals. This is what we get:

B Minor Scale


The C Major Scale across the Neck

We saw how you can find all the notes of the C major scale in the first 12 frets of your guitar laying all the notes per string horizontally. Now, we’ll take that further and cover the entire fretboard with these notes dividing them into different patterns that can be played vertically.

For this, we will put together a different fretboard diagram than the one we have seen, explore the CAGED positions, see some tab notation, and finish with some exercises so you can become more familiar with the scale and build up your speed.

Go get your favorite guitar because there’s a lot of playing to do.

Let’s get started!

Fretboard Diagram

We’ve seen (and you already practiced) the first, open position of this scale. Now, it’s time we explore some others along the fretboard before we dive into the shapes of the CAGED system.

Since the first one is already above, we’ll get started from the third fret. You’ll not only find the notes to play but also the fingers with which you should play each note. 

When you see “1” that’s your index finger, “2” is your middle finger, “3” is for your ring finger, and “4” is for your pinky. We’re not using our thumbs in this exercise, so don’t worry about number 5.

C Major Scale rd Cropped
C Major Scale Exercise rd
C major scale th
C Major Scale Exercise th
C Major Scale th
C Major Scale Exercise th

With these three extra positions on the fretboard, you can cover it entirely from open strings to the 13th fret. Of course, as you know, this means that if your guitar has 24 frets, you can just repeat the same patterns and play after the 12th fret as well.

The first position involves some stretching because it covers five frets instead of four. This is something that might require a little extra effort on your side, but believe me, it is a wonderful exercise to work on your hand’s flexibility.

The big difference between these patterns and the first fretboard diagram we saw above is that here, instead of moving horizontally, you go vertically. It’s not a minor detail, because being able to think of the fretboard by combining both approaches is a recipe for success; it will allow you to think out of the box.

So, master both diagrams to unleash the full power of the most-used guitar scale of all time.

CAGED Positions

To begin with, let’s say that the CAGED positions are part of a system that will help you understand the fretboard on your guitar much better. Moreover, it is a system that can help you navigate the different sections of the fretboard without ever getting lost.

The CAGED system gets its name from the chords that make it; yes, the entire system is based on the C, A, G, E, and D chords in their open positions. According to the theory behind the system, you can play most scales and chords on guitar using just those and moving them around.

Let me spoil that scoop for you. It’s all true.

But don’t just take my word for it, just follow me through the next paragraphs and experience the true power of the CAGED system.

One System, One Neck, All the Notes

We could divide the guitar’s fretboard into several regions and use each in different scenarios. For example, you will very likely play chords in frets 1 to 5 and solos in frets 7 to 14 (unless your name is Jimi or Stevie, of course).

With the CAGED system, you can memorize easy shapes and use them to navigate all the zones in your guitar. Yes, with just simple forms, you’ll pivot between chords and solos seamlessly being fully aware of where you’re at all times.

Moreover, you can use each of these shapes in any key or scale. Yes, the CAGED system works as a structure you can move around the neck and play effortlessly everything you need, from scales to chords. 

Let’s see some key characteristics of the CAGED system:

  • Open Chord Shapes – The shapes used in the CAGED system are familiar to most guitar players because they are the chords you learn how to play when you’re starting. So, you most likely already know the shapes you need to memorize by heart.
  • Chain of Chords – This sounds like an ‘80s one-hit wonder but it is not, it is a characteristic of CAGED chords; they work as a chain of consecutive shapes that cover the entire fretboard.
  • The Order is Always the Same – CAGED chords are always in order. This means that every C shape is followed by an A shape and then a G shape, an E shape, and a D shape. It all starts again with another C shape; thus, you can cover the entire fretboard and never get lost.
  • Works for Chords and Scales – The CAGED system works wonders giving us not only limitless chord options to cover the fretboard but can also be transformed into scale patterns.

Now, let’s take a look at what the fretboard looks like once we use the CAGED chords. Let’s see the original shapes first and then how they can populate the entire fretboard using them in consecutive order.

The CAGED open chords:

C Major

The little “R” you can see in each of the diagrams is used to mark the tonic or root note of the chord. In the case of A, D, and E, the root is an open string and for C and G, the root is a fretted note.

So, following our CAGED system, we can use all these shapes to cover the entire fretboard, and the result will always be a C major chord.

Let’s take a look:

CAGED Positions

I wrote down for you the name of each chord in the CAGED system. You can easily notice how the C shape is followed by the A shape in the fifth fret. Then, you go to the G shape, the E shape, and finally, the D shape gets connected with the C shape again to start all over after the 12th fret.

Another thing you’ll notice is that all the Cs are marked with a square rather than a circle. If you check the CAGED diagrams above, you’ll see that the root note for every chord is clearly a C.

What this means is that we can transform these chords into scale shapes to work our way around the fretboard.

Let’s do it shape by shape. Every example will start from the tonic or root note and will happen in the section of the fretboard marked above.

Let’s do this!

C Shape
A Shape
G Shape
E Shape
D Shape

How to apply this knowledge to a real-world scenario? Well, the answer to that question is very simple. 

As long as you know what key or scale you want to play, you can look for that root note and form the CAGED system based on that.

For example, if you are high on the fretboard playing the C major scale, you can think of the D shape and play the last position in the CAGED system.

Moreover, since the CAGED system positions happen in a specific order that repeats in every scale, the D shape is followed by the C shape, and then the A shape. 

Yes, all of the sudden, remembering 3 very simple scale positions you can now navigate the fretboard easily even in the highest frets (which are usually the most difficult to remember).

Furthermore, if you learn the 5 positions of the CAGED system you can play the same shapes all the way to the 24th fret.

Perhaps, the most important thing to bear in mind when trying to get around the fretboard is where each root note or tonic is. Knowing that you know how to form the chord and the scale around it.

What’s more, if you want to play a scale that involves lower notes in strings 5 and 6, you can gravitate toward the C, A, E, and G shapes. On the other hand, the D shape is perfect to make the most out of the first four strings.

Exercises to Build up Speed and Familiarity

Let’s do some exercises so you can build some speed and familiarity with the positions we have just seen. We’ll get started with a C shape and work our way to the D with one lick per position.

C-Shape Lick

C Shape Lick

The first exercise, the one made for the C shape, involves open strings and some hammer-on and pull-off techniques. Also, pay special attention to the half-tone bend on the third string fourth fret to go from B to C. 

Finally, the pull-off on the first two strings and the vibrato at the end give the lick the melodic touch it needs. 

Oh, and I set the tempo to 80 bpm, which I think is great to start but feel free to speed it up as you become more familiar with it.

A-Shape Lick

A Shape Lick

This second exercise is based on the A shape. This time we’ll work the speed using triplets to work the A, B, and C notes on the third string.

Also, bear in mind the half-tone bend on the second string which is, perhaps, the highest moment of the lick in terms of tension. Finally, the dual triplets and the root note end the lick at the same place it started.

Again, the tempo is set to 80 so you can work your way to mastery step by step. As a pro tip, don’t try to go for speed first but for accuracy, especially with triplets. 

Speed will come effortlessly if you practice it consistently.

G-Shape Lick

G Shape Lick

This simple lick starts being a melodic exercise that works great with a slow tempo. Then, the 3rd bar is all about building speed on a repeating pattern with 16th notes. 

By the end, you’ll be playing the root note at the fifth fret on the 3rd string.

The key takeaway is learning how to go back and forth from melodic and slow to fast and accurate using a metronome to gain muscle memory

E-Shape Lick

E Shape Lick

Don’t freak out about the length of this exercise, it’s a melodic passage that can help you understand how to jump strings to create contrasting dynamics. 

So, the first motif repeats until it changes at the fourth bar to give the exercise a resolution on the lowest strings. 

Therefore, the most important takeaway from this exercise is working on the dynamics going for melody and interesting note clashes rather than speed.

Yes, learning which notes convey the emotional content of the scale will help you use them to engage the emotional factor in your audience as well.

D-Shape Lick

D Shape Lick

The final lick of the series is a lick created using the D shape; therefore, it starts on the fourth string (the D string, where the root is).

The main takeaway is mixing some speed with the dual triplets in the third bar with a full-tone bend. This speed build-up channels all the energy toward the bend, which becomes the moment of highest intensity in the passage. 

As a resolution, I added some melodic bits.

This is to exemplify how to start slow and then step on the gas to generate more dynamics making your playing less predictable, and thus, more interesting.

Finally, note the vibrato on the last note which occupies half a bar; it should feel like the epic ending of the lick.

Chords in the C Major Scale

So far, we have been talking about notes, scales, and licks. Yet, that’s half the picture; the other half is made of chords.

Yes, the C major scale can also be considered the foundational stone for Western music from a harmonic point of view.

We are going to go deep into the mechanics of the chords and why they can help you convey certain emotions. By the time you end this piece, you shall have a very clear idea about the role of each chord in songwriting.

Oh, and don’t worry, this is not an abstract piece of information; we’ll see the most common chord progressions to get you started on the beautiful art of writing songs.

So, pen, paper, and guitar are all you need to get started.

Chord Quality & Function

Not every chord generates the same effect when played. Moreover, by knowing what chord does what, you can write a different story, parallel to the one told by the lyrics.

Yes, chords tell stories by generating and resolving tension.

So, firstly we’ll see chord qualities, secondly chord functions, and thirdly we’ll exercise with some chord progressions.

Chord Quality

Chord quality can be divided into four different categories. We’re going to go deep into three of them; the ones we need for the C major scale.

Chords can be:

  • Major
  • Minor
  • Diminished
  • Augmented

Bear in mind that the quality of a chord changes its sound completely, and thus, it also changes its function in a song or progression.

So, you’re about to learn a very powerful tool that will accompany you for as long as you play guitar. Furthermore, if you’re a songwriter, this tip is pure gold and it will boost your compositions drastically.

Major Chords

Major, minor, and diminished chords are triads. The distance between the notes of that triad generates a distinct sound that dyes the entire chord.

Let’s start with the happy chords. Yes, major chords convey a feeling of release, solve the tension, and add a pinch of happiness to any composition.

These are chords that are also great to make big statements because they sound full, epic, round, and beautiful.

Therefore, it is very common to find major chords when playing choruses, at the beginning of any song, and in a coda if you want your composition to resolve to the tonic.

You can build major chords utilizing the 1st, 3rd, and 5th degrees of the scale. So, for example, C major is made of the notes C (1st degree), E (3rd degree), and G (5th degree).

In the context of the C Major scale, we have several major chords. Note that because a scale is major or minor, it doesn’t mean that it contains only major or minor chords.

What it does mean is that the initial chord will be major.

Yes, do you remember scale degrees? Well, now they will have another layer of meaning. Let’s take a look at what the C major scale looks like with only the major chords.

C Major Scale


The major chords, as you can see, are the I, IV, and V degrees of the scale. This tiny detail is very important and has changed the history of music as we know it. 

Why? You might ask. Well, we’ll see it more in detail when we get to chord progressions. 

Let’s see the C major scale’s major chords.

C Major

I included a shortened version of the F major you know and love in case you don’t get along with barre chords. Nevertheless, you can play the F major that better suits your taste.

Plus, remembering these chords is important because the next time you’re in the key or scale of C major, you’ll know that C, F, and G will never be minor chords. 

Believe me, this will not only save you time but will also be a game-changer when composing or jamming because you can land on the right chord instead of going for the trial-and-error approach.

Minor Chords

Just like major chords, minor chords are made of triads. They occupy a different spot in our ears, minds, and hearts, though. 

Yes, while major chords sound happy, epic, fulfilling, and round, the minor chords in the scale add a pinch of texture, sadness, complexity, and tension to the mix.

Moreover, it is the clash between the major and minor chords in the scale that can help you build a story that will take your listeners on a journey. Indeed, the more you layer and plan the emotions you generate with the chords, the more hooked the listener will be.

Additionally, the gloomy, sad feeling of minor chords is something that you can exaggerate during verses and let the song explode in the chorus with huge major chords. 

I know that if Kurt rose from the grave, he would agree that it is a great approach to songwriting.

But legends apart, minor chords are usually found in intros, verses, and sometimes bridges. They are great to bring the listener closer and make them feel the tension that the major chords will resolve. 

This can be thought of as a formula that we’ll see later on when we see chord progressions.

But, where are minor chords located in the C major scale?

Let’s take a look.

C Major Scale


As you can see in the chart, degrees II, III, and VI are minor chords. Again, this idea of the degrees and the quality of chords is something that we’ll see more in-depth in chord progressions in just a handful of paragraphs.

Let’s see what the chords are:


The difference between minor and major chords is just one note. Yes, while major chords are built utilizing the 1st, 3rd, and 5th degree of the scale, the minor chords are built moving the 3rd degree half-a-step down.

Perhaps, the clearest example is the D chord.

To make its major form, we use D, F#, and A. What happens if we turn the F# into an F? Well, we simply get our D major turned into a D minor.

Yes, it is a single note that makes the world of difference.

Try playing these two chords one after the other and feel how the note changes and the emotion too.


That subtle difference in terms of notes changes the sound drastically. The sweet euphoria and happiness of D major are suddenly taken to a different, sadder scenario.

Diminished Chords

Diminished chords are triads too but they are the odd ones of the bunch. Yes, there’s a mild dissonance and a sense of fragility to their sound that make them unique in many ways.

This uniqueness makes them difficult to blend and hence most people just disregard them. 

Nevertheless, they can take any composition to the next level.

Yes, you will learn how to use diminished chords to embellish, add mystery, and give another layer of dynamics to your playing and songwriting.

How do I create a diminished chord? You might be asking yourself while scratching your head.

Since they are triads, they are made of a root note, a minor third, and a diminished fifth. Wait, what? Minor third, diminished fifth?

Let me explain; let’s take the B diminished chord which is the one we have in our C major scale.


You can clearly spot B as the root note (second fret, A string), D as the minor third (third fret, B string), and F# as the diminished fifth (third fret, D string).

But what sets diminished chords apart from the major and minor chords?

Well, for starters, they aren’t chords you can use extensively or everywhere. On the other hand, they are the perfect subtle touch of oddness your compositions need (unless you’re in the Flaming Lips, in which case, you should set your inner freak loose).

So, what is their main use? Well, they work fantastically well when you use them as transition chords. 

Also, they can be amazing tension-risers that resolve the tension perfectly when moving to the root note.

For example, if you play B diminished and then move to C major, you’ll definitely feel the tension-release formula happening.

Try these two chords in order:

C Major

That is the magic of diminished chords in this context. I say in this context because an entire book could be written only about diminished chords.

Yet, we’ll stick to what is useful to master the C major scale. 

Speaking of which, where can we find diminished chords on a major scale? They are always the last degree of the scale before moving to the tonic or root note (just like you played above).

C Major Scale

B Diminished

A very famous example of how a diminished chord is used is the timeless classic by George Harrison “My Sweet Lord”. In that song, George goes plays an arpeggio in E (the root or tonic of the song) and C# minor, the VI degree in the song.

He then moves to an F diminished as a transition chord to go to the F# minor, which is the second degree in the E major scale. This happens before the half-minute of the song and works great releasing the tension gathered by the diminished chord. 

Finally, this is what the entire C Major scale looks like:

C Major Scale

DmEmFGAmB Diminished

As a bonus track, this is what the A minor scale looks like as well. Notice the order of major, minor, and diminished changes.

A Minor Scale

AmB DiminishedCDmEmFG

Bonus Track: Seventh Chords

The chord quality we saw above applies to all chords and can be made using a triad. Yes, major, minor, and diminished chords are defined by three notes.

But, what happens if we extend that spectrum and add a fourth note to those triads? 

Well, one of the possible results is seventh chords.

These chords are made by the triad of our choice and a fourth note that forms an interval of a seventh above the chord’s root.

Did that sound like a keto diet recipe you didn’t understand? Don’t worry; let’s make it simpler with an example.

To begin with, let’s take our root chord C major, and transform it into C seventh.

C Major

As you can see in the example, if we take our C major triad C – E – G and add to it the 7th interval, what we get is a C 7: C – E – G – Bb. 

In this case, the quality of the chord is major. But that’s not our only choice; we can do this with a minor chord and with a diminished chord as well.

Let’s take a look:


Why is it important to see seventh chords? Well, for starters because they are very common in modern Western music and you will very likely come across them playing your favorite songs.

Secondly, it is a great way to put our tension-making chords into steroids to create the ultimate feeling of tension and release. 

Finally, in genres like blues, the seventh note becomes almost a must to add a new layer of texture to simple compositions.

Chord Functions

Now that we’ve seen the qualities of the chords that make our C major scale, it is time we address the functions of each chord within the scale.

Yes, each degree of the scale has a different duty to fulfill when it comes to compositions. We’re going to jump right into chord functions and cover them one by one so you can have a clearer idea about what chord goes where and why.

Just as a reminder, before we start; the concept of chord functions doesn’t override the chord quality, on the contrary, it makes it more evident. Therefore, what we are about to see is something that works as a complement to chord qualities and can help you make a better-informed decision when composing.

So, let’s begin by saying that there are seven functions for chords; one for each degree of the scale.

  • I – Tonic
  • II – Super tonic
  • III – Mediant
  • IV – Sub-dominant
  • V – Dominant
  • VI – Submediant
  • VII – Leading Tone

I – Tonic

The tonic or the almighty tonic is the first note of the scale, the one that gives it its name and its quality. For example, if we have a major chord in this degree, the entire scale will follow the rules we saw above for major scales.

On the other hand, if the tonic is minor, the scale will obey the rules of minor scales.

But what can we use the tonic or root note for? Well, the root note fulfills several very important tasks in a chord progression.

To begin with, the root note or tonic is the chord to which all tension can be resolved. Therefore, the tonic is very likely found as a tension-solving chord than as a tension riser making it ideal for endings, for example.

Secondly, the tonic can also be a great first chord to start a song on a high note. Moreover, think of it as the perfect chord to make a strong statement.

Finally, since major root notes sound epic, huge, and round, they make amazing chords to write choruses with. For example, if you’re playing a verse with minor chords and jump to the major root note to start a chorus, you’ll surely grab your listeners’ attention.

II – Super Tonic

In the major scales, the tonic or first degree is major but the second is always minor. In the case of the C major scale, here we’ll find Dm.

The main objective of this chord is to gather tension and be the perfect preparation for the V degree of the scale. Hence, it works wonders as a bridge between major and minor chords on a major scale.

Although we’ll see more about degree V, the fact that the super tonic works as a pivotal chord between the second and fifth degree is not a detail. On the contrary, it means that it can add a sweet/sour feeling and some tension when located next to major chords in a chorus, for example.

Another great use for this chord is to transform it into a bridge and pivot between two scales going from major to minor and vice versa.

The super tonic also plays a huge role in some of the most famous chord progressions of all time as we’ll see in the next section.

III – Mediant

We’ve made it to the middle of our countdown and that is exactly what “Mediant” means in Latin: “the middle”.

This is another minor chord for major scales, and in the case of the C major scale, we’re talking about the Em chord.

We just saw how the super tonic takes you to the V degree of the scale. Well, this chord works similarly but instead of taking you to the V degree, it tends to drive you toward the IV degree.

This could turn out to be a great map for the treasure because if you play them in order and go from Dm (II) to Em (III) and move over to F (IV), by the time you reach your G (V), your listener will be begging for the resolution to that root note.

Furthermore, the mediant is a very important chord to bear in mind because it is always among the least used in modern Western music. Therefore, if you want to really stand out for having original music that sounds nothing like the rest, try to mix it into your compositions.

We’ll include it in an example when we get to chord progressions.

IV – Subdominant

The subdominant chord can be thought of as a preparation chord. Yes, it is another tension raiser hidden in the very middle of the scale.

In a minor scale, this chord is minor, and in a major scale, it is major. In the case of our C major scale, the chord we’re talking about is F.

To begin with, this F we’re playing is major and is the 1st major chord after two minor chords. This means that if we transition from I to IV, we can keep the vibe intact, without changing the mood of the song.

Plus, the subdominant gets along perfectly well with the dominant and can be the perfect pivotal chord to go from I to V.

Finally, since it is another chord to raise tension and comes after two huge tension-raisers like degrees II and III (which are also minor in a major scale) it prepares the ground for what is coming next, the dominant.

V – Dominant

We’ve been talking about raising the tension to then resolve it and create a narrative. Well, there’s no other tension raiser that’s stronger than the dominant.

Moreover, just like the II begs for the V and the III begs for the IV, the V degree requires you to go back to the tonic. Yes, this is the perfect pivotal chord to resolve all that tension you have been gathering by playing all the other degrees in the scale.

Furthermore, the V is part of the best-known and most widely used chord progression in history, which is I – IV – V – I. We’ll see it more in detail when we make it to that section, but it is important to know that this is the chord progression behind most of the hit songs you know and love.

Likewise, it is the chord progression of the utterly famous 12-bar blues.

So, the dominant chord plays a key role as the chord to go for before we resolve tension to the tonic.


Remember seventh chords? Well, the dominant or fifth degree of the major scale is the perfect place to use it. 

Yes, if you transform the V degree, which is G in our case, into its seventh version, what you get is double the urgency to go back to the tonic that the V degree naturally has. 

Try this and you’ll surely notice that sense of urgency right away:

C Major

VI – Submediant

We said before that the II chord wants to go to the V chord, that the III chord wants to go to the IV chord, and that the V wants to go to the I chord.

Well, the Submediant, which is a minor chord in any major scale, Am in our C major scale specifically, wants to resolve back to the IV chord, in this case, F.

What is this useful for? Well, in many case scenarios, the use of the VI chord is to confuse the listener a bit and make him or her believe you’re ending the song.

This is because the submediant sounds like an ending chord, but it wants to resolve back to the sub-dominant (IV). The sub-dominant, or F in our case, can be the perfect pivotal chord to go to the dominant chord (V).

Hence, you can easily create a chord sequence doing VI – IV – V – I.

Translated to the C major scale, we could play: Am – F – G7 – C.

If you use this chord wisely, your progressions will stand out from the rest for being unpredictable. That quality in a composition will make your songs irresistible, even to the most seasoned players.

VII – Leading Tone

Speaking of unpredictability, oddness, and good taste, the leading tone or VII degree of a major scale is a diminished chord.

Although diminished chords are not as usual as major, minor, or seventh chords, they convey their own kind of fragile beauty that walks the line between dissonance and magic in style. 

Yes, if you can find a way to include diminished chords in your compositions, you will embellish and add a new layer of texture to any simple chord progression.

Moreover, you can play diminished chords to help your verses be more mysterious and to bring the listener closer to a composition that can explode in the chorus.

This explosion can happen because the VII degree of our major scale receives the name of “leading tone” due to its capacity of leading the composition toward the tonic or root note. 

Hence, you could easily play B diminished (or even B diminished 7) to then resolve to the tonic and enter a grandiloquent chorus in style making a big statement with your root note.

You’ve already tried how that sounds in the chord qualities section.

Common Chord Progressions

Now that we know what chord does what and why it is time to put together some chord progressions. Yes, you can take this as a map to write songs; a structure that needs your personality, talent, inspiration, and musicianship poured inside.

I – IV – V – I – The most famous progression of all time 

The 12-bar blues and most of the songs you know and love use this chord progression. Moreover, it was the secret to the rock and roll revolution and why it became so infectious around the world.

Let’s dissect it and think about why it works.

For starters, on a major scale, you’re only using major chords. This means that if you are trying to achieve an uplifting, happy mood to any song, you can keep the vibe intact by just moving between these chords.

Also, since it occupies the sub-dominant and dominant chords in the scale, it begs for resolution to the tonic creating a loop that can go on forever.

Another thing that could go on forever is the list of songs that immortalized this chord progression. Here you have some examples that go from Ozzy to The Beatles.

  • “Folsom Prison Blues” – Johnny Cash
  • “Stir it Up” – Bob Marley & The Wailers
  • “Twist and Shout” – The Beatles
  • “Rock and Roll” – Led Zeppelin
  • “I Love Rock and Roll” – Joan Jett & The Heartbreakers
  • “Like a Rolling Stone” – Bob Dylan
  • “Crazy Train” – Ozzy Osborne
  • “Fortunate Son” – Creedence Clearwater Revival

In our C major scale, this is what this chord progression will look like. I add the seventh to the dominant to make the resolution to the tonic or root even more epic.

So, our sequence will be: 

I – IV – V – I = C – F – G7 – C

First Progression

I – V – VI – IV – A Minor Touch of Emotion

The I – IV – V – I chord progression (also known as 145) is, without a doubt, the most important chord progression in modern Western music history. 

This is, as we said before, partly because they are all major chords. 

But, what would happen if we throw a couple of minor chords into the mix?

Well, what happens is that we create a monster that is half uplifting and happy and half sad and texture-rich. This combination is perfect to aim straight for the heart of your audience because you can convey a complex message and grab their attention while remaining pop-oriented and upbeat.

But don’t just take my word for it; this chord progression was the fuel to propel these mainstream megahits to fame, for example:

  • “Someone Like You” – Adele
  • “So Lonely” – The Police
  • “No Woman, No Cry” – Bob Marley & The Wailers
  • “With or Without You” – U2
  • “Let It Be” – The Beatles
  • “She Will Be Loved” – Maroon 5
  • “Under The Bridge” – Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • “You’re Beautiful” – James Blunt

Now, if we apply this formula to our C major scale, what we get is a progression that starts with a very strong statement on the root note and slowly goes into emotional territory.

I – V – VI – IV = C – G – Am – F

Let’s see what that looks like:

Second Progression

I – bVII – IV – V – It’s OK to be Odd

When rock and roll became the biggest driving force in popular music and stopped being just Rhythm and Blues’ little brother, the new rockers wanted more.

I’m talking about acts that weren’t afraid to go full-on epic as The Who, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, or The Beatles. 

So, to break that idea of simplicity that rock and roll had inherited from blues and rhythm and blues, the guitarists decided to go hunting for chords to other musical styles. In one of those chord safaris, somehow, they found this chord progression including the flat seven.

Pouring our C major scale over that structure, what we get is the following (I added the seventh to the G to make the epic go full-on Lord of the Ring levels):

I – bVII – IV – V = C – Bb – F – G7

  • “My Funny Valentine” – Tom Petty
  • “Stairway to Heaven” – Led Zeppelin
  • “Sweet child o’ mine” – Guns n’ Roses
  • “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” – Pink Floyd
  • “Something” – The Beatles
  • “Won’t get fooled again” – The Who
  • “Hush” – Deep Purple
  • “Magic Bus” – The Who

Note especially that the B diminished, which is what you would normally play as the VII chord of the C major scale has now turned into Bb major.


This is what the whole sequence looks like:

Third Progression

I – V – II – V – Half a Cadence (or Incomplete Cadence)

Have you ever heard a song that seemed like a continuous loop? Moreover, have you ever heard a tune with a happy, uplifting flavor that seems to keep you hooked in this never-ending circle with a smile?

Chances are you were enjoying the continuous, hypnotic quality of a song written with half a (or an incomplete) cadence.

Perhaps, the song that became the emblem of a generation, “Winds of Change” by Scorpions can be the perfect example. Have you ever noticed the number of choruses in that song and how you’re not tired of singing them?

Well, that force propelling you forward all the time is the power of this chord progression.

But wait; is it a magic trick to keep listeners engaged? 

Well, you can think of it as some kind of magic, but it’s a very easy-to-learn trick: all you have to do is to create a structure that generates the idea of tension never resolving.

In this case, let’s pour our C major scale into that structure:

I – V – II – V = C – G – Dm – G

Notice that I abstained from turning our V chord into a seventh chord so the tension can be contained within the loop.

Let’s see what that looks like:

Fourth Progression

II – V – I – IV – Mixing Emotions and Playing Guitar God

So far we’ve seen chord progressions that start with our root chord, the tonic of our scale. This is not a minor detail since it turned every chord progression into a strong statement.

But, what happens if we move from that gravitational center and start our statements with a minor chord instead? Well, that is nothing short of a game-changer.

Indeed, you might remember from our previous section that the super-tonic (II) always wants to go to the dominant (V). You also saw how the dominant (V) always wants to resolve to the tonic (I).

Well, this chord progression utilizes all those natural forces to create songs that have somewhat of a somber aura to them but hide a nice quote of happiness and still sound upbeat.

This is because three-quarters of the chord progression is occupied by major chords. Yet, that sour, sad chord of the beginning sets the overall mood of the composition.

A great example of this is Gary Moore’s explosive ballad “Still got the Blues” and its mixed emotions. In case you haven’t heard of it before, this is the man himself playing it at the top of his skills.

Here are other examples of hit songs made with this progression:

  • “From Me to You” – The Beatles
  • “You’ve Got a Friend” – Carole King
  • “Europa” – Santana
  • “You Are My Sunshine” – Stevie Wonder
  • “Satin Doll” – Duke Ellington
  • “Still Got the Blues” – Gary Moore
  • “Giant Steps” – John Coltrane
  • “Sunday Morning” – Maroon 5
  • “I Will Survive” – Gloria Gaynor

But let’s pour our C major scale inside this structure to see what we get:

II – V – I – IV = Dm – G – C – F

Let’s see what the entire sequence looks like:

Fifth Progression

I can’t promise you’ll sound like Gary, but I can assure you a lot of fun playing Guitar God with this chord progression.

VI – I – V – II – …And the Arenas Sang Along

Perhaps, “Wonderwall” is the “Imagine”, “Yesterday”, or “Let it Be” of my generation. Moreover, perhaps, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” is the anthem of the generation that came after mine.

Regardless of what generation we belong to, arena sing-alongs share the same powerful recipe. Yes, this chord progression that starts (oddly) on the VI degree has been the secret sauce that made these tunes the favorite of millions of people.

  • “Wonderwall” – Oasis 
  • “Radioactive” – Imagine Dragons
  • “Pumped Up Kicks” – Foster the People
  • “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” – Green Day
  • “Detroit Rock City” – Kiss

The list could go on forever, but I guess you get the idea. 

But why does this chord progression work? Well, there is a logic behind the magic.

To begin with, the submediant is the chord we used to create that motion between the VI and the V and trick our listener’s ears. But what happens if we effectively go for the tonic and from there to the dominant? 

Moreover, what if we reverse-engineer the II – V tandem and turn it into a V – II one? We create tension by going from major to minor.

Therefore, the entire chord progression turns into this emotional rollercoaster that starts with a minor chord and ends with a minor chord but hides two major chords in the middle.

These are the choices that make this chord progression irresistible to the ears.

Let’s pour our C major scale on that structure and see what we can get:

VI – I – V – II = Am – C – G – Dm

The whole sequence looks like this:

Sixth Progression

VI – IV – I – V – The Almighty Mainstream Hit-Maker

If you’ve ever spent hours being a passive music listener (maybe sitting at a café, or during a night out) you might have noticed that most mainstream mega hits sound kind of similar.

Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you need to spend a season in the nuthouse; on the contrary, it means your brain has started to solve part of the puzzle.

Yes, those songs sound similar because they are very likely based on this chord progression or a very similar one. 

But don’t just take my word for it; take a look at this small list of bigger-than-life hits that have been made using the chord progression above:

  • “A Sky Full of Stars” – Coldplay 
  • “Electrical Storm” – U2 
  • “Love the Way You Lie” – Eminem & Rihanna
  • “Little Talks” – Of Monsters and Men
  • “Zombie” – The Cranberries
  • “Numb” – Linkin Park
  • “Don’t Forget” – Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • “Poker Face” – Lady Gaga
  • “The Kids Aren’t Alright” – The Offspring

But why does this chord progression work so perfectly well? 

Several factors contribute to that achievement. 

To begin with, it is another case of a chord progression starting on a minor chord. Yes, that initial minor chord sets the mood and is instantly followed by some of the most-used scale degrees in history.

Moreover, by rotating these degrees and going from IV to I and then to V, what you get is an emotional rollercoaster of major chords. 

Furthermore, the clash between the sad mood of the first chord and the major chords that follow keeps the progression interesting enough for the audience to be hooked.

Pouring the C major scale over this structure what we get is:

VI – IV – I – V = Am – F – C – G

Let’s see what this looks like on a pentagram:

Seventh Progression

VI – V – IV – V – Descending Effortlessly on a Sad Note

I saved you something for the grand finale that’s going to change the way you see a descending progression from now on.

This is another chord progression that starts with a minor chord, as is the VI degree of every major scale, and then descends to two consecutive major chords to end on a repeated V degree.

This has been the recipe for songs like: 

  • “All Along the Watchtower” – Bob Dylan
  • “Under My Thumb” – The Rolling Stones
  • “Stop In The Name of Love” – The Supremes 
  • “Dream On” – Aerosmith 
  • “Octopus’s Garden” – The Beatles

So, what is the effect of this chord progression on your listener’s ears? Well, the sad mood of the initial chord gives room to three consecutive major chords that are played on a descending line.

Therefore, although major chords are happy and uplifting, the descending character of the progression makes them enter the same gloomy atmosphere. 

Hence, these songs feed on a mix of emotions that seems to happen effortlessly in that descending sequence. Nevertheless, the inclusion of the V degree at the end changes the cadence to end in an uplifting mood.

Let’s see what we get if we pour our C major scale into this formula and then put it on the pentagram:

VI – V – IV – V = Am – G – F – G

Eight Progression
VI – V – IV – III – The Alternative Version

Ending this chord progression in an uplifting mood is not the only way to do it. You can also play the third degree and make it a four-chord descending pattern.

Yes, adding the III degree, Em in the case of the C major scale, we can get a completely different mood. 

Hey, don’t look at me like that; it wasn’t me who came up with this variation. On the contrary, it’s been known for centuries under the name of Andalusian Cadence.

Moreover, it has been used to create hits such as these:

  • “China Girl” – David Bowie
  • “Sultans of Swing” – Dire Straits
  • “Hit the Road, Jack” – Ray Charles
  • “Like a Hurricane” – Neil Young
  • “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” – Led Zeppelin

Let’s see what the C major scale looks like poured into this structure:

VI – V – IV – III = Am – G – F – Em

Nineth Progression

Parallel Scale

I know that chord progressions are a lot of fun, but now let’s get into another technical aspect of our C major scale: the notion of parallel scales.

Every scale has got a parallel scale with which it shares the same tonic or root note. In the case of our C major scale, of course, the parallel scale is our C minor scale.

This notion is not to be confused with the relative minor scale. As we saw at the beginning of this piece, a relative minor scale for C major would be A minor because they share the same notes in a different order.

This case is different, as we saw at the beginning, major and minor scales follow different patterns or formulas. Therefore, what we get when we pour the C scale into the major and minor formulas will be, not completely, but somewhat different.

Let’s take a look:

C Major Scale

DmEmFGAmB Diminished

C Minor Scale

CmD DiminishedEbFmGmAbBb

The big difference between these scales is that the minor version of the C scale offers flat III, VI, and VII degrees.

Moreover, the location of major, minor, and diminished chords is also different and obeys the major or minor scale formula respectively.

So, why is this important you might ask? Well, the answer is very simple, you can go from one scale to another very easily and create minor verses and major choruses, for example.

Furthermore, it can be a killer resource to write a mellow-sounding bridge to an upbeat tune and bring the listeners closer before the song explodes.

For example, a song like “Synchronicity II” by The Police goes from A major to A minor creating exquisite sonic landscapes. 

Another example using the same two keys could be The Beatles hit “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. You can hear verses in minor and the bridge in major.


The C Major scale is a particular case because it has no accidents (sharps or flats). The other natural accident-free scale is A minor, its relative minor.

But these are just two of the many possibilities the guitar allows for players.

Yes, we have seven distinct modes, of which, the above-mentioned scales are just a pair.

We’ll demonstrate each with their perfect version. This means building every mode with no accidents (sharps or flats). 

For example, while we’ll demonstrate Ionian in C, Dorian will be on D, Phrygian in E, etcetera.

That being said, I’ll teach you how to form each mode with its formula and also the chord quality. That way, you’ll be able to form each of the modes in whichever key you need.

Let’s go from the beginning, mode by mode so you can understand them better and start using them today.

Ionian Mode

The Ionian Mode is a fancy name for the major scale. Therefore, if someone asks you to play something “easy and chill in C Ionian” you have no reason to freak out and leave the room in tears, they’re just asking you to use the C major scale we’ve been practicing so far.

We’ll define each of the modes with the intervals you need to play it. For that, we’ll use the same notation as before in which “W” means a whole tone (two frets on the guitar) and “H” stands for half-a-tone (one fret of the guitar).

The interval for the Ionian mode is one you already know and it gives us the following chords:

C Ionian Mode

DmEmFGAmB Diminished

Dorian Mode

The second mode is Dorian and, contrary to the Ionian mode, it is a minor mode. Minor modes, just like minor chords give us a gloomy, sad, and textured atmosphere to work with. 

Therefore, if you are seeking heartfelt melodies, the Dorian mode is a great place to look for them.

Let’s see the formula and the chords you can get from the Dorian mode in D.

D Dorian Mode

DmEmFGAmB DiminishedC

Phrygian Mode

The Phrygian is another minor mode that we can start from E to get its perfect, no-accidents version. Just like with Dorian, this mode can add texture and depth to your compositions on a sad note. 

Moreover, starting on such an iconic chord as E minor you can also make it rocking and use the major chords to give it an uplifting touch.

These are the chords and the formula:

E Phrygian Mode

EmFGAmB DiminishedCDm

Lydian Mode

Lydian is a major mode. In contrast to the previous two modes, this one sounds round, full, and has an upbeat feeling to it. 

For example, finding a pivotal chord between a major and a minor mode, and playing it to modulate from one to another is a great use of modes. 

Since the E Phrygian and D Dorian share the Em, you can have a minor mode for verses and a major mode for choruses.

Let’s see what the formula and the chords look like:

F Lydian Mode

FGAmB DiminishedCDmEm

Mixolydian Mode

Moving to the next mode, we find it is another major one, so what we can expect is another full, round-sounding mode that works great for big statements and choruses.

Moreover, when talking about modes, you can put Mixolydian on the podium of the most-used modes in history right behind the Ionian mode (the major scale). 

Why is this mode so popular? Well, it just sounds pleasant to the ear and can accommodate players in all styles from jazz to pop.

Finally, the Mixolydian mode is the fifth mode of the scale which gives it that “dominant” feel that has been so important in the history of modern Western music.

Let’s see what this mode is made of with the formula and the chords chart.

G Mixolydian Mode

GAmB DiminishedCDmEmF

Aeolian Mode

If the modes podium already had the Ionian mode and the Mixolydian mode, the one we’re missing is the Aeolian mode. 

But, what makes this mode so popular? Well, just like the Ionian mode is exactly the same as the C major scale, the Aeolian mode is the same as the A minor scale.

Yes, every single rule that applies to the A minor scale (including being the relative minor of the C major scale) applies to the Aeolian mode.

Needless to say, it is a minor mode full of that epic sadness and texture minor chords and scales can bring to any song. 

Finally, it is a great mode to use if you want to pivot from minor to major because you can do that with any chord and move to C major in a heartbeat for that epic chorus.

Let’s see the formula and the chords.

A Aeolian Mode

AmB DiminishedCDmEmFG

Locrian Mode

The Locrian mode is often regarded as the odd one out. This is because the tonic or root chord of the mode is a diminished chord.

We’ve talked about diminished chords and saw that they are a distinct flavor that can keep the audience engaged. Well, the Locrian mode works quite the same way and its darkness can be a pulling force to bring your listeners close to your music.

That being said, the Locrian mode is like perfume: you only need a few drops to cause a sensation. Too much would ruin the effect and too little will make it imperceptible.

So, what do we use the Locrian mode for? Well, there are similarities between the Locrian mode and the Mixolydian mode in the sense that you can replace the Dominant V for a Diminished VII and the need to resolve to the tonic will be intact.

Here’s the chart with the formula and the chords. Give this odd mode a try and dare to step into music’s most interesting territories.

B Locrian Mode

B DiminishedCDmEmFGAm

Similar Scales

The C major scale is, you could say, the most important scale in music. 

Firstly, because all the guitar modes we’ve seen are based on it. 

Secondly, there is a myriad of songs and solos based on the only major scale with no accidents.

Finally, it is also the scale that contains all the CAGED chords, making it one of the most widely used ones in history whether people knew they were using it or not.

So, let’s take this a little further. What you’re about to see is also known as “the circle of fifths” and it is a chart that gives you every major scale and its relative minor. With the information above, you can very easily generate every major and minor scale.

Moreover, it would do a terrific exercise to write them down. It might very well help you memorize all the scales.

Major KeyRelative Minor Key
C MajorA minor
D MajorB minor
E MajorC# minor
F MajorD minor
G MajorE minor
A MajorF# minor
B MajorG# minor
Db MajorBb minor
Eb MajorC minor
Gb MajorEb minor
Ab MajorF minor
Bb MajorG minor

But that’s not all, because we love going the extra mile for you. So, what I’m going to share are the scales in the CAGED system.

Why would you want to learn that? Well, these scales make up 85% of the notes, scale positions, and chords you’ll ever need. 

Furthermore, if you’re not venturing anywhere close to jazz or far from modern Western music, they might even make 100% of the notes you’ll ever need. 

These are the major and minor scales in the major CAGED system. Yes, we can’t help it to be generous with your development as a guitar player, so we also included the minor CAGED scales for your enjoyment and growth.

C MajorC MajorD minorE minorF MajorG MajorA minorB diminished
A MajorA MajorB minorC# minorD MajorE MajorF# minorG# diminished
G MajorG MajorA minorB minorC MajorD MajorE minorF# diminished
E MajorE MajorF# minorG# minorA MajorB MajorC# minorD# diminished
D MajorD MajorE minorF# minorG MajorA MajorB minorC# diminished
C minorC minorD diminishedEb MajorF minorG minorAb MajorBb Major
A minorA minorB diminishedC MajorD minorE minorF MajorG Major
G minorG minorA diminished Bb MajorC minorD minorEb MajorF Major
E minorE minorF# diminishedG MajorA minorB minorC MajorD Major
D minorD minorE diminishedF MajorG minorA minorBb MajorC Major

Songs that Use the C Major Scale

To make a list of the songs in the most famous and widely used scale of all time in modern Western music would take me months to write and it will take you weeks to read. 

So, instead of slaving you into that chair to see one song after another, I condensed some of the most famous songs from several decades and different styles to give you a glance at the versatility of this scale.

Here we go!

  • “Imagine” – John Lennon
  • “Let It Be” – The Beatles
  • “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” – Wham
  • “Hallelujah” – Leonard Cohen
  • “Bad Romance” – Lady Gaga
  • “Stay” – Rihanna
  • “Use Somebody” – Kings of Leon
  • “Lost Cause” – Beck
  • “Roxanne” – The Police
  • “Run to the Hills” – Iron Maiden
  • “Last Kiss” – Taylor Swift
  • “Another Brick In The Wall” – Pink Floyd
  • “Ain’t No Sunshine” – Bill Withers
  • “Tiny Dancer” – Elton John
  • “Jump” – Van Halen
  • “Stairway to Heaven” – Led Zeppelin
  • “Californication” – Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • “Miss You” – The Rolling Stones
  • “The Pretender” – Foo Fighters
  • “Wanted Dead Or Alive” – Bon Jovi

…And the list could go on forever, but you get the idea.

Can you play any Songs in the C Major Scale?

I know we’re guitar players, but let me answer this question using the piano keyboard as an example.

If you’ve ever seen a piano keyboard, you’ll know it has large white keys and smaller black keys.

Well, the large white keys are the natural notes and the black keys are the accidents (and an amazing band you should definitely check out). Natural notes are the ones we find in the key of C major and A minor scales and accidents are sharps and flats.

Can you play any song on the piano using only the white keys in it?

Well, the answer depends on the kind of music you’re trying to play. 

For example, in modern pop and rock, arguably 60% of the compositions can be played using only the white keys. On the other hand, jazz, bossa nova, tango, and many other styles are closer to 0% being played only with the white keys.

Furthermore, many songs modulate from one key to another. Therefore, you might be able to play the chorus and not the verses or vice versa.

So, what’s the answer to the question? Well, if you go back to the chord progression section, you’ll see that each chord progression works with intervals. 

These empty structures can be moved around, and as long as you respect the harmonic distances, the song will be recognizable. This phenomenon is called “transposing”.

In a nutshell, as long as you can transpose a song to the C major scale, you can play it. On the other hand, when a song uses off-key chords or modulates, you’ll very likely have to step outside the C major scale to play it.

Backing Tracks to Practice the C Major Scale

To finish our lesson, what we’re going to do is practice what we’ve just learned. 

For that, I have listed some of the best backing tracks for the C major scale I found. These are tested-and-true practicing spaces for you to go absolutely bananas with all the information you just received.

John Mayer Style Bluesy Funk

Acoustic Rock Backing Track

Slow Blues Backing Track

Pop-Oriented Backing Track

Rock Guitar Backing Track


Because of the “circle of fifths” principles and the concept of “relative minor” we’ve already seen, you could also practice the A minor scale over the same backing tracks. Furthermore, you could try going back and forth between the scales.


We’ve just seen everything there is to know about the most important major scale in the history of modern Western music. We went deep and covered every aspect with examples and exercises.

Now, it’s your turn. 

Play the licks, learn the songs, create new music, and push the boundaries as much as you can while learning a scale that might cover, at least, 50% of your playing needs.

Be bold, practice hard, and let this scale make you a better guitarist.

Happy playing!