A beginner bassist's foray into the unknown

Scale Patterns – The Major Scale 1

Right now, what I’m practicing are scale patterns. I use them to warm-up.  They’re basically exercises that train your fingers to play the notes of a scale in order, both forward and backward. The pattern that I use the most for the major scale is pictured on the right. It shows the fingering positions, so (i) is index, (m) is middle, (r) is ring and (p) is pinky. These fingers are also shown as 1-2-3-4.

Basically what you want to do to play the pattern is go from lowest string (E) up to the higher strings, in order. So, if you were playing from the 1st position (with your index finger on the first fret and the other fingers each ready to play the 2nd, 3rd and 4th frets) it would look like this, in tablature:

You should begin playing the pattern with your middle finger (2). By doing this and using all 4 fingers, you don’t need to shift your hand to play all of the notes in the scale. This is called playing in a position. All of the notes can be found within 4 frets, across 3 strings. This pattern can be moved anywhere. For example, if you play starting on the 9th fret of the E string, you’ll play the same scale, but in a different key. The same thing happens if you begin on the A string, instead of the E.

You do need to have 3 strings available to play the pattern to completion, so 4-string basses can only play the entire pattern from the lowest 2 strings. 5 and 6 string basses (and the other rare ones with even more strings) have more options of where to begin. Its even possible to combine this with other major scale patterns to extend the pattern and play the scale more than once from a position. I’ll get into that later… when I’ve learned how to do it.

If you know the name of the note you’re beginning with, and have enough theory, you can name each note that you play while you’re playing it. That’s something I need to work on. By doing this, you’ll learn which notes are part of what scales (its still 7 notes + the octave) including ones that have flats and sharps.

If you write out the pattern, based on the intervals between each note (the space or number of frets) the formula for the major scale is:


In this formula R = Root, W = Whole Step and H = Half-Step. The root is whatever note you choose to begin playing the scale on. A whole step means move two frets, and a half-step means move one fret. If you want to look at it in terms of how many frets to physically move, its:


There are other patterns that can be used to play the major scale. I’ll show those later, as well as the minor scale. My understanding is that the major and minor scales make up most of Western music, so if you know those, you can find most of the notes for a lot of songs. Notes outside of the scale are also used in some basslines, to supplement the scale tones. These are called chromatic notes. I’ll get into this some more later.

[edit 10.19.2015] Here’s another major scale pattern:


18 responses

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