Whether you’re just studying music theory or learning how to play a certain instrument, you are definitely going to come across scales at some point.
Learning scales and practicing them to a point where you can use them freely in improvisation or composing takes its fair share of time, and it isn’t the most pleasurable thing to do when practicing, as it can get a bit dull sometimes.
In any case, this is something that is worth a big slice of your time and devotion, for it will bring you many advantages later on, making you a much more complete musician.
This article is going to focus on the F Major scale, its notes, how to play it on the guitar, and a few other important details that you should be well aware of.
The F Major Scale: Notes and its Relative Minor Scale
F Major is a great scale to learn if you haven’t spent much time on this topic yet. The reason for this is that F Major only has one difference when compared to C Major – it only has one accidental, which is B flat.
This means that if you were to play the F Major scale on a piano, you’d play from F to F, only on white keys, except for B, which would be flattened (a semitone lower than usual).
If you check the Circle of Fifths, you’ll easily spot F Major immediately to the left of C Major, meaning it only has one accidental (B flat).
This gives us the following notes for this scale:
- F, G, A, B♭, C, D, E
However, this is not the only scale that uses this set of notes. In music theory, there’s something that we call “relative scales”.
There are relative major and minor scales. These share the exact same notes, but they start on a different notes, meaning they have a different tonal center (a different key).
Every major scale has its relative minor scale, and every minor scale has its relative major scale too.
F Major’s relative minor scale is D minor. This automatically tells us that the notes in D minor are:
- D, E, F, G, A, B♭, C
If you are working with a major scale, you should be aware that its relative minor is going to be one major sixth above it (9 semitone interval), or a minor third below (3 semitones interval), which will lead you to the same note.
F Major Fretboard Diagram
This section contains a fretboard diagram that illustrates the location of every single note that belongs to the F Major scale, starting on the open strings and going up to the 12th fret.
Use this diagram to develop more awareness of where each note is, what kind of intervals you can find, and which frets you should avoid when playing in F Major (or D minor).
Try to play all of the notes in the scale against the F, so you can get a better idea of how those notes sound in the context of F Major.
You have most likely realized already that memorizing the fretboard is a skill that you can’t skip if you aspire to become a complete musician – you should constantly be aware of the location of the notes that are useful to you at any point. This diagram can help you with that!
With the help of the diagram above, you can practice these exercises:
- Memorize the location of important notes such as the root, third and fifth of the scale (F, A, C in this case);
- Associate scale shapes with their corresponding chords;
- Connect the various scale shapes throughout the fretboard;
- Play the scale on one string only;
- Play the scale starting on a note that isn’t F.
F Major in TABs and Standard Notation
On this section, you’ll find examples of how you can play the F Major scale on the guitar, in several positions of the fretboard, so you can feel comfortable playing it regardless of where you are on the neck.
Developing this kind of awareness is completely essential for you as a musician, so you can avoid having to make awkward jumps while playing or improvising. You should be able to play your favorite licks and phrases on different neck regions.
Remember, these are only a few examples, there are many possible ways of playing this scale!
The first example shows you how you can play the F Major scale in the lowest available position on the guitar’s fretboard, which corresponds to the open strings up until the third fret.
In this tab, you have two octaves of the scale, going up to the ninth (G on the third fret of the first string).
Don’t forget to play all of these examples both ascending and descending!
The example above is played just a little higher on the neck than the previous one. There are no open strings in this F Major shape.
With this one, you are only covering one full octave of the scale, but it is easily connected to other shapes available throughout the neck.
Play through these examples at a slow tempo (about 60bpm, playing one note per beat) until you can play them very easily, without making any mistakes, and then start increasing the tempo 10bpm at a time.
This example teaches you how to play the F Major scale in the middle region of the fretboard, going up to its fifth (the C on the eight fret of the first string), before descending again to the tonic.
Although this example starts on the exact same note as the previous one, its direction is different.
This F Major shape allows you to move up the neck, just before the 12th fret.
The tab tells you to play from F to F (one octave), up to the fifth, and then back down to F.
The fifth and last example of the F Major scale starts past the 12th fret, borrowing a few notes (one octave above) from the first example of this section.
Make sure to play the first note with your pinky in order to have your other fingers ready to play the remaining notes!
E Major “Scale Enclosures”
When it comes to memorizing the fretboard, there is a ton of methods and strategies available to make this task easier to process over time. There isn’t one that is proven to be the absolute best, some people simply prefer one method over another.
One of the most common methods consists of dividing the fretboard in a few sections, mapping out the notes from the scale within that enclosure, and learning the fretboard in smaller pieces at a time, so you can connect them later.
Practicing this way is going to make you more comfortable when playing through the neck, once again avoiding having to do awkward jumps that would be unnecessary if you knew your way around the entire neck.
The diagrams below are a suggestion of how you could split your fretboard in five different regions. They’re based on the well-known CAGED system, which stands on the open chord shapes that exist on the guitar (C, A, G, E, D).
You should start by memorizing the tonic (the note F wherever it appears), and then build your fretboard knowledge from there.
The first enclosure of the F Major scale can be found from the open strings up to the third fret.
You can cover two octaves of the scale without having to leave the enclosure itself.
You can play the notes on the first and third frets with your index and ring fingers, respectively, and the notes on the second fret with your middle finger.
The second enclosure goes from the second to the sixth fret.
You cannot cover two full octaves within this box like you could in the first one, but there’s one full octave between the fourth and second strings.
The third enclosure ranges from the fifth fret up to the eight fret.
It is based on the C chord shape, when played in its open position.
Play the F on the fifth string with you pinky finger – this will make it easier for you to have your fingers correctly positioned to play the rest of the notes in this enclosure.
The fourth enclosure can be found between the seventh and the eleventh frets.
There is only one full octave of the F Major scale inside this box, however, it is easily connected to the third or fifth enclosure while playing.
The fifth and last enclosure can be found from the ninth fret to the thirteenth.
Start playing this shape on the F that you have on the sixth fret, and play it with your pinky finger, as that will position the rest of your fingers appropriately for the next notes.
Remember to practice these ascending and descending, since you should be comfortable playing regardless of the direction!
Chords in the key of F Major
Knowing which chords fit within a key is one of the best ways to know what kind of options and resources you have when composing or improvising. To do this, we need to build the harmonic field of the key we’re in.
In order to do that, we must harmonize each degree (each note) of the corresponding scale (in this case, F Major), and we’re left with the seven chords that make up the harmonic field of that key.
The diagrams you’ll find below illustrate how you can play the chords that belong to the key of F Major!
Obviously, there are other ways to play the same chords, these are only here to get you started.
Songs that use the F Major Scale
While F Major is not the key that guitarists gravitate towards the most, it is still a very popular key between other musicians, like saxophonists, for example.
Because of this, there are many songs that have their main melodies written in F Major.
Here are a few examples of songs that use the F Major scale:
- Charlie Parker – Billie’s Bounce
- D’Angelo – Send it On
- John Mayer – Half of My Heart
- Jimi Hendrix – The Wind Cries Mary
- Louis Armstrong – What A Wonderful World
- The Who – Baba O’ Riley
- Stevie Wonder – For Once In My Life
- Avenged Sevenfold – Dear God
- Alt-J – Breezeblocks
- Pat Benatar – Promises in the Dark
Keep in mind that since F Major is the relative scale of D minor, they use the same notes. Because of that, it is possible that both scales might come up in the same song.
In summary, understanding and learning the F Major scale is definitely going to be one of your stepping stones to become a fully-fledged musician.
Learning it in different regions of the neck and getting used to connecting those enclosures will improve your improvisation skills, and being aware of the chords that belong to the key of F Major will also augment your awareness in that key.
Learn this scale after C Major since all the notes are the same except for B, which is B♭ instead!