The A major scale is one of the first you want to learn on your guitar journey because it’s a common key and can help you understand other major and even minor scales.
For one reason or another, A major, which includes three sharp symbols, has always been a tricky key signature for me to learn and master. Of course, that can be solved with some good old-fashioned practice and potentially some online guitar lessons.
In this article, I’ll explain the notes of this important scale and relative scales, pattern exercises, and common chords built on that key signature.
When it’s all said and done, you’ll have mastered another major scale.
Notes of the A Major Scale
The seven notes of the A scale are: A, B, C#, D, E, F#, and G#. You’ll finish the scale with an A, one octave above the root note.
I always recommend practicing the scale at the lowest part of the fretboard, where we typically learn open chords. Start with the open fifth string (low A) and work your way up to the second fret of the third string. I’ll explain this open pattern a little later in this article.
In addition to learning the order of the A major scale as outlined above, I always recommend practicing this scale starting from each of the seven notes. So, make sure to also practice the scale from B, C#, D, E, F#, G#, A, B, and so on.
That exercise also teaches you about intervals.
Intervals of the A Major Scale
Learning the intervals of the A scale can give you a better grasp of variations of the A chord and relative chords.
Intervals is a music theory concept that turns the notes of a scale into numbers one through seven. The root note — in this case, A — is the one (1); the B is two (2), and the C# is the three (3).
- Root Note (R): A
- Major 2nd (∆2): B
- Major 3rd (∆3): C#
- Perfect 4th (p4): D
- Perfect 5th (p5): E
- Major 6th (∆6): F#
- Major 7th (∆7): G#
- Octave (R): A
If you’ve ever seen a chord symbol for Amaj7, you now know that it’s referring to an interval of the A major scale. Go to the major 7th in the list above, and you’ll know that an Amaj7 chord includes a G#.
• • •
The A Major Scale On Guitar: How To Play It
Now that you know all the notes of this scale, how exactly do you play the A major scale on guitar?
I recommend starting by shaping an open A chord at the bottom of the fretboard, which gives you a general idea of the scale’s direction. Strum the open fifth string, which is the scale’s root note (A).
Next, press the second fret of the fifth string for the B and the fourth fret for the C#. Then, strum the open fourth string (D), second fret (E), and fourth fret (F#). Finally, play the first fret of the third string for the G# and the second fret of the A.
Of course, you can master the scale by playing it exactly as I described above, and you will technically know how to play the A major scale. But if you don’t learn the scale across the rest of the fretboard, you’re locking yourself into only one part of the guitar and limiting your overall playing capabilities.
That’s why learning the A major scale positions is important for mastering the fretboard.
A Major Scale Positions On Guitar
You can play the A major scale across five main positions, known as the CAGED positions. If you master them all, you can play the scale from anywhere on your guitar’s fretboard.
Each position features the same notes of the scale, but they use various suggested fingerings. Below you will find the diagrams, guitar tabs, and sheet music notation for each one of them.
Open Position (A Position)
We’ve already gone over the open position, also known as the A position above.
Form an A chord and then start with the open fifth string (low A) and follow the diagrams above up to the next octave.
The numbers in the circle refer to your fingers. One (1) is your index finger, (2) is your middle finger, (3) is your ring finger, and (4) is your pinky finger.
Here are the intervals of the open position:
And the tab:
Position 1 (G Position)
Shape a G major chord and move up your fingerings by two frets — or two half steps — creating an A chord.
This position is tricky because you must barre all the strings with your index and then use your remaining fingers to shape an open G chord. Follow along with the diagrams above to master the exact fingerings.
Here are the intervals of this position:
And here’s what the tab for Position 1 looks like:
Position 2 (E Position)
The main fingering of this position is shaped around a traditional A barre chord. As you can see in the diagrams, you’ll barre the fifth fret and create an E chord.
Here are the intervals for this position:
And the tab:
Position 3 (D Position)
The third position starts at the seventh fret. When you shape a D chord at this part of the fretboard, you’re actually forming the notes of an A chord.
The intervals for the D position look like this:
And the D position’s tab:
Position 4 (C Position)
The fourth position of the A major scale starts nearly halfway up the fretboard on the ninth fret. The fourth position is tricky because the frets are smaller, and the fingers are a bit more complex.
Here you have the intervals for the C position:
And here’s the tab:
Position 5 (A Position)
Finally is the A position, an entire octave above the open A position.
• • •
Single Octave A Major Scale Patterns
Mastering the positions above may look easy on paper, but in practice, it’s significantly more complex — especially because you want to play these scales on time.
A good first step towards mastering them is practicing single-octave scale patterns.
How To Play The A Major Scale Starting From The 6th String
You can play a single octave A major scale from three different positions, each starting from the fifth fret of the sixth string (low E string). As you can see in the diagrams, each is slightly different but feature the same root notes and scale notes.
How To Play A Major Scale Starting From The 5th String
Starting a single-octave pattern from the fifth string features slightly different patterns than from the sixth string. The first diagram shown is a great position for learning the notes for solos in the middle of the fretboard.
The second and third diagrams are great warm-ups for your practice sessions.
How To Play The A Major Scale Starting From The 4th String
When you start a single-octave pattern from the fourth string, you’ll actually stretch all the way to the first string, as shown in the first diagram.
The second and third diagrams are similar to the other patterns mentioned above.
How To Play The A Major Scale Starting From The 3rd String
The first diagram is how many people first learn to play the A scale. You can play a similar pattern one octave up on the fretboard (diagram 2) or from the bottom-middle of the fretboard, starting on the second fret of the third string and working your way up to the fifth fret of the first string.
• • •
A Major Scale Chords
You can find a handful of useful chords using the notes of the A scale.
The root chord is made up of A, C#, and E, which are the first, third, and fifth degrees of the scale.
B minor is the first relative minor chord. It’s made up of a B, D, and F#.
The other relative minor is the C# minor chord, which is made up of a C#, E, and G#.
You’ll commonly see pop songs using D chords in songs written in the key of A. It’s made up D, F#, and A, which are the fourth, sixth, and root of the A major scale.
Similar to D, the E chord is also commonly used in the key of A. It’s made up of E, G#, and B.
The final relative minor of the scale is F# minor, made up of F#, A, and C#.
The G# diminished chord is made up of G#, B, and D.
• • •
A Major Scale Songs
Some of my favorite songs are written in the key of A:
Tears in Heaven by Eric Clapton
Alive by Pearl Jam
• • •