The C major guitar scale is a fantastic scale for the beginner guitarist. Not only will you learn notes in first position but you can practice technique, rhythm, and dynamics too. Before we get into the C major scale let’s start by understanding the major scale as a whole.

What Is a Major Scale?

A Major Scale is simply a series of whole and half steps, organized in a particular way. A “step” in music moves from one note to another. It’s easy to find a whole step on the guitar if you begin on one fret, skip a fret, and connect to the next fret on the same string. But a half step goes up from one fret to the next. The Major Scale organizes these whole and half steps in the following way:

Whole step –> Whole step –> Half Step –> Whole Step –> Whole Step –> Whole Step –> Half Step

How to Play a C Major Scale on Guitar

First, place a left-hand finger on the C on the 3rd fret of the 5th string. Now, using the above formula, begin moving up in whole and half steps. That’s a C Major scale!

However, it isn’t always practical to be moving up one string all the time, so to make playing this scale easier, we cross from one string to another. If we take the same notes we just played (C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C) and cross strings, we can play the same C Major scale all in one position without shifting.

Left-Hand Technique When Playing the C Major Guitar Scale

Lift Fingers When Crossing Strings

When we go up the C major guitar scale this is called “ascending” the scale, and when we go down “descending.” It is important when ascending the scale that we lift fingers when we cross strings (especially when crossing to an open string). If we leave fingers down when we cross to open strings we will get a dissonance that muddies the sound.

Try this: place your third finger on the C on the 3rd fret of the 5th string and play that note; leave the finger down and let the note ring and play the open 4th string D. Hear how those notes blend together to create a confusing wash of sound? To get rid of this dissonance, all you have to do is lift the 3rd finger off the C as soon as we play the D on the open 4th string. (Be careful to lift off the fifth string without allowing the open string to sound.)

Leave Fingers Down When Ascending on the Same String

When you have more than one note on one string as you ascend the scale, you can leave fingers on the strings for more efficient movement. For instance, when we play the notes E and F on the 4th string, if we place the 2 on the E and then lift it when we place the 3 on the F, we create an unnecessary extra movement in the hand. Try this instead: leave the 2 down when you place the 3 on the F. This creates a more efficient movement (removing that extra step of lifting) and stabilizes the hand.

Prepare Fingers Early When Descending on the Same String

You can do the opposite when descending: prepare fingers early when descending on the same string. For instance, on those same notes descending (F, E), instead of placing the 3 on the F, then lifting the 3, and then placing the 2 on the E, we create more efficient movements if we place both the 3 and 2 down together on the string. Now when you lift the 3 the 2 is already prepared and ready to play. Again, not only is this more efficient but it also stabilizes the left hand.

Keep Fingers over the Strings

It’s important to keep your fingers hovering over the strings as you play and not let them flail about at will. In the beginner stages it can be difficult to control extra movement in the fingers. However, if you can, place down the note you’re going to play and then bring the other strings that aren’t yet playing and let them hover over the same string. As you cross strings, keep your fingers lined up in a row over that string. The more you can control the fingers that are not in use, the easier and more efficient your playing will be.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this article on how to play a C Major guitar scale. Download your beginner’s guide to get the score to follow along below.

The C Major Guitar Scale in Repertoire

Carcassi Etude #1 op. 60 (C Major)

Matteo Carcassi wrote a famous set of studies that moves from intermediate to advanced difficulty. The very first etude is in C Major and features the C Major throughout the entire piece. This study is included in the CGC Academy Curriculum in Grade 4 and provides an excellent opportunity to not only develop fluid scales in a musical setting but also to shape them with dynamics and articulation.


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