If you wish to master any instrument that you decide to play, you are bound to come across scales and methods to study them.
Practicing and mastering scales isn’t the most fulfilling part of playing an instrument, especially if you’re just going back and forth with a metronome click for hours. It is definitely not a fun activity when compared to other things you can do with your instrument.
However, if you’re disciplined and motivated, learning scales and building a strong muscle memory with them will yield amazing results both in short and long term. You just need to know how to study them and be consistent in your practice routine.
This article focuses on the E Major scale, its notes, scale shapes, chords, and other useful facts about it. E is one of the favorite keys for guitarists, so this is definitely one to absorb!
The E Major Scale: Notes and its Relative Minor Scale
For guitarists, E is a key that comes up a lot when writing or just jamming. This is mostly because of the low E string (6th string), which makes it more convenient to play certain things, while having that low note available right there.
The E Major scale has some accidentals (sharpened notes). If you check the Circle of Fifths, you’ll see that if you’re starting from C Major at the top (no accidentals), you need to move 4 times to the right until you reach E Major.
This means it has 4 sharps, giving us the following scale notes:
- E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, D#
In spite of this, the E Major scale isn’t the only scale that uses these notes displayed above. If you’ve already studied a bit of music theory, you might be familiar with the concept called relative scales.
This concept explains how every major scale has what we call its “relative minor scale”. It simply means that there is also a minor scale that has the same accidentals (in this case, F#, G#, C# and D#), but as a minor scale instead of major.
For E Major, we have C# minor as its relative minor scale. This means that C# minor has the following notes:
- C#, D#, E, F#, G#, A, B
If you’re looking at a major scale, you must know that it’s relative minor scale is always going to be one major sixth above it (9 semitones away), or a minor third below it (3 semitones away), which is the same distance in terms of intervals.
E Major Fretboard Diagram
In this section, you’ll find a diagram that will pinpoint the location of every note that belongs to the E Major scale on the guitar’s fretboard, from the open strings to the 12th fret.
You should use it to make sure that you’re aware of the location of each note. It is a good exercise to play each one and try to listen to how it feels when played against E, which is the root note of the scale.
This way you’ll start to feel the “color” of each note of the major scale against its root note.
By now, you have probably realized that memorizing the fretboard is a great skill to have, and you can do it little by little if you practice your scales consistently, while trying to name and memorize the notes that you’re playing.
With this diagram, you can practice these skills in a variety of ways, such as:
- Playing the scale on one string only;
- Start playing the scale on a note that isn’t the root (E);
- Try to connect the scale between different regions of the neck;
- Associating scale shapes with their corresponding chord shapes;
- Memorizing the location of important notes such as the root, third and fifth throughout the neck.
E Major in TABs and Standard Notation
This section will show you some examples of how you can play the E Major scale in different sections of your fretboard.
It is important to be aware of where the notes are regardless of where you’re playing, so that you can avoid having to jump in between different parts of the neck in an awkward and unnecessary way.
Don’t forget that these are just a few demonstrations, there are plenty more ways to play this scale!
In this first example, you can learn how to play the E Major scale in the lowest available position on the neck, using the open sixth string to take full advantage of the guitar’s range.
It covers two octaves of the scale – the first one is completed by the second fret of the fourth string, and the second one by the open first string. There is an added F# on the tab, which also belongs to the scale.
Play this example and the next ones at a slow tempo (around 60bpm), and gradually increase it after you can play through them ascending and descending without any mistakes.
The second example moves a little bit further down the neck, as it doesn’t use any of the open strings anymore.
This one only covers one octave, but you can easily connect the previous example to this one and start moving through the neck more fluently!
The third example is played in the middle region of the fretboard, a place where it is great to feel comfortable while playing, as you can find every note without having to move your fretting hand more than a fret higher or lower.
It is written in a way that goes from E to E, then up to the fifth (B, on the 7th fret of the first string), and then back down until it reaches E again.
The fourth example starts on the same string and fret as the last one, but it takes advantage of higher frets, instead of moving lower on the neck.
Once again, try to connect the shape of the previous example to this one to boost your fretboard awareness!
The fifth and last example goes up to the 12th fret, which also corresponds to the octave of the open strings.
Start playing it with your pinky finger on the first note, as it will position your other fingers better for the next notes.
From here, all the shapes repeat themselves once more.
E Major “Scale Enclosures”
There are countless available methods and tricks that make memorizing the fretboard an easier task.
One of the most used consists in dividing the neck in different sections, and mapping out the notes that belong to the scale you’re studying.
By breaking it down in smaller pieces that are easier to memorize individually, you will then be able to focus on connecting them to one another, while making progress all the time.
Practicing this will allow you to navigate the fretboard more fluently and in a way that makes more sense, since you’ll work towards being comfortable in every region of it.
The diagrams you’ll find below are based on the CAGED system, which divides the fretboard in sections that relate the shapes of the open chords (C, A, G, E and D) to the notes of the corresponding scale found within that enclosure.
Try to focus on finding the root notes first (E), and then move on to other important notes of the scale, such as the third, fifth and seventh.
The first enclosure we can find goes from the open strings to the fourth fret.
Within this box, you can play the E Major scale in two octaves without having to leave this region of your fretboard.
Notice that you have a B on the fourth fret of the third string, and another one on the open second string. The one on the third string might be a little better because of the positioning of your fingers on your fretting hand.
The second enclosure encompasses frets from the second to the sixth.
It can be a bit of a stretch to play the notes on some of these strings, such as the fifth, fourth and third strings.
You can always try to play the same licks on a different region of the fretboard that makes them more comfortable to play!
The third enclosure can be found between the fourth and the seventh frets.
This one is based on the C Major open chord shape, but it has been moved up the neck so that It outlines E Major instead.
The fourth enclosure is found between the sixth and tenth frets.
It doesn’t cover two full octaves, since it only has one whole octave and a few notes on the lower and higher strings.
The fifth and last enclosure of the E Major scale is found between the eighth and twelfth frets. After this one, they all repeat themselves again, one octave higher.
You should play the E on the sixth string with your pinky finger, as that will position your remaining fingers more appropriately to play the rest of the notes.
Chords in the key of E Major
If you take a little time to know exactly which chords exist within the key of E Major, you’re already halfway through to knowing your way around any song in that key. These chords come from the corresponding major scale (E Major).
Harmonizing each note of the major scale gives you the harmonic field, which is the group of chords that is built upon each degree, from I to VII.
The following diagrams show you how you can play the chords that belong to the key of E Major. Remember that there are more ways to play these chords, this is just to get you started!
Songs that use the E Major Scale
Since E is one of the keys that works best on the guitar, there are many songs that have been written in this key.
In any case, that doesn’t mean that the E Major or minor scales are your only options to improvise or compose.
If you develop a good awareness of the options you’ve got in a given context, you’ll be able to compose and improvise in a much more interesting way.
Here you can check a few songs that use the E Major scale:
- The Beatles – Helter Skelter
- AC/DC – Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
- Stevie Ray Vaughan – Mary Had a Little Lamb
- Eric Clapton – Before You Accuse Me
- Cream – Outside Woman Blues
- Dick Dale – Misirlou
- Jimi Hendrix – Voodoo Chile (tuned in Eb)
- Boston – Peace of Mind
- Journey – Don’t Stop Believing
- Michael Jackson – Black or White
Don’t forget that C# minor is the relative minor scale of E Major, which means that it is likely that you find it in some of these songs too.
If you’re a guitarist, you have no time to waste, this is one of the scales that you should invest some time on. E minor is also a great choice, since many songs use the minor scale and the blues scale too!
E Major has a few more accidentals than keys such as C Major or G Major, but if you learn it little by little across the fretboard with the help of the enclosures that you have above, you should have no problems whatsoever!