Despite having a more complicated key signature, the E major scale is one of the first and most common guitar scales you learn as a beginner.
This is mainly because we learn an E chord early on and use that same chord shape with barre chords across the entire fretboard.
But, as I mentioned — the E major scale is no walk in the park. With four sharps — F#, C#, D#, and G# — you need to bone up on your music theory, scale diagrams, and musical notation.
You’re in luck, though. As a longtime player with plenty of experience practicing scales, I’m here to help you not only master the E major scale on guitar but also learn all of the notes on your fretboard. Let’s get started!
Notes of the E Major Scale
An E major scale comprises the following notes: E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, D#, and E (octave).
You’ll likely practice this scale from the root note — E — to the octave, but I recommend running it from bottom to top from each of the notes. When you treat those notes like roots, you practice alternative scales to E major, including several minor keys.
For example, the relative minor of the E major scale is C# minor — C#, D#, E, F#, G#, A, B, and C#. Knowing that, you can deduct that a C# minor chord comprises C#, E, and G#. (And if you didn’t figure that out — don’t worry! I’ll explain.)
Intervals of the E Major Scale
How did I know the three notes that make up a C# minor chord by looking at the scale? It’s because I think in terms of the major scale in intervals.
Intervals essentially turn the notes of a scale into numbers. The root note — in this case, an E note — is the one (1). And then each of the next notes are the two, three, four, and so on and so on.
- Root (R): E
- Major 2nd (∆2): F#
- Major 3rd (∆3): G#
- Perfect 4th (p4): A
- Perfect 5th (p5): B
- Major 6th (∆6): C#
- Major 7th (∆7): D#
- Octave (R): E
As you learn chords, you understand that a major and minor chord is made up of the first, third, and fifth intervals. Or take a chord like Emaj7, which is an E major chord with the addition of the major 7th, or D#.
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The E Major Scale On Guitar: How To Play It
So, how EXACTLY do you play an E major scale? As you’re going to learn there’s more than one way.
The first — and best — way to learn this scale is by starting at the bottom of the fretboard and using a combination of fretted and open strings, where you shape an open E chord.
Start with the open low E string (sixth string), then fret the second fret of that string with your index finger for the F#. Next is the G#, which you’ll play by fretting the fourth fret of the low E string with your ringer finger. You’ll then play the open A string, then fret the second fret of that string (B), and then the 4th fret (C#) with either your ring finger or pinky finger. Finish the scale by pressing down on the first fret of the 4th string (D string) to create the D#, and then finish the scale with the octave by using your middle finger to fret the second fret of the 4th string.
If you want to take the scale to the next octave, play the F# next (4th fret; 4th string); G# (1st fret; 3rd string); A (2nd fret; 3rd string); B (open 2nd string); C# (2nd fret; 2nd string); D# (4th fret; 2nd string); and E (either open 1st string or fifth fret of the 2nd string).
Now, if you only practice the E major scale on that part of the fretboard, you’re only really going to know that part of the fretboard. To fully understand your instrument, you need to know how to play across all of the fretboard.
To do that, you need to learn all the E major scale positions.
E Major Scale Positions On Guitar
Like all major scales, the E major scale can be best played across five main positions, which is known as the CAGED system. The acronym refers to each of the five different positions of the scale across the fretboard.
Open Position (E Position)
While the E in the CAGED is the fourth letter, it’s the open position for the E major scale.
To play this position, start by forming an E major chord in the open position near the bottom of your fretboard. It’s probably one of the first chords you learned as a beginner guitar player. By playing the scale between the root notes in this position, you’ll fret notes on all of the strings — and you can even run it up two whole octaves.
Here are the intervals of the open position:
And here’s the tab for the open position:
Position 1 (D Position)
One of the best ways to think of the first position, or the D Position, is to form an open D chord and simply move it up two frets.
Remember, a fret represents a half tone. You would have a D# (or Eb) chord by moving up one fret, and by moving it up two frets, you’re playing an E chord.
To make this work, you need to press the second fret, as shown in the fretboard diagram below.
Check out the intervals of the D position:
And the tab for this position:
Position 2 (C Position)
Just like when you move a D chord up two frets, it forms an E chord, if you move a C chord up four frets, it creates an E chord, and the C position for an E major scale will be around that C-shaped chord.
The C position tends to be one of the trickier positions to shape, but it’s very helpful for improving your overall speed and dexterity.
Here’s the C position of the E major scale with its intervals:
And the tab for the C position:
Position 3 (A Position)
The third position continues to move up the fretboard. Also referred to as the A position, you’ll barre across the seventh fret and shape an A chord to run the seven notes of the E major scale.
Learning this position is also helpful as you learn pentatonic scales, which are handy for soloing.
And these are the intervals of the A position:
And the tab for this position:
Position 4 (G Position)
The fourth position calls for a G chord shape barred across the ninth fret.
If you follow the diagrams below, you’ll fret notes on the 12th fret, which is one octave above the open E root note.
These are the intervals of the G position:
Position 5 (E Position)
Finally, we’ve made it to the top of the fretboard. The fifth position is shaped like an open E chord, but you’re barring the 12th fret, meaning it’s an entire octave higher than the open position.
And this is how the intervals of the E position look like:
And the tab:
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Single Octave E Major Scale Patterns
If you can perfect all positions of the CAGED system, you’re well on your guitar journey.
But I admit that those diagrams above can be daunting. That’s why I recommend starting with single-octave patterns. Think of them like little appetizers of the CAGED system.
How To Play The E Major Scale Starting From The 6th String
You can start with the open low E, before fretting the F# on the second fret of the sixth string, and the G# on the 4th fret. Next, play the open A on the fifth string, followed by the B (2nd fret) and C# (4th fret). Finish the scale with the D# on the 1st fret of the fourth string and the E — root note — on the second fret of that same string.
How To Play The E Major Scale Starting From The 5th String
To play the root E, you’ll start on the seventh fret of the fifth string and work your way up to the third string’s ninth fret. Reference the diagrams below.
How To Play The E Major Scale Starting From The 4th String
When playing the E major scale from the fourth string, you get to start on the second fret. This is probably one of the more comfortable and familiar configurations of the scale, but get ready to use your ring finger a lot.
How To Play The E Major Scale Starting From The 3rd String
From the third string, you’ll move all the way up to the ninth fret, as shown below. This is a common position for soloing in the key of E.
E Major Scale Chords
The E major scale comprises several common chords — and some not-so-common chords.
Of course, the root chord is made up of E, G#, and B, which is the first, third, and fifth of the scale.
F# minor chord is made up of F#, A, and C#. Those are the same notes as the second, fourth, and sixth degrees of the E major scale.
A G# minor chord comprises G#, B, and D#. It’s one of the three minor keys inside the E major scale.
You’ll commonly see A chords played in songs alongside E chords because it’s made up of an A, C#, and E.
Additionally, the B major chord, which is the fifth of the E major scale, is also commonly used in this key. It’s made up of B, D#, and F#.
C# minor, which is the relative minor of the scale, is made up of C#, E, and G#.
Finally, the D# diminished chord is made up of D#, F#, and A.
E Major Scale Exercises On Guitar
There are a handful of YouTube guitar lessons I recommend you check out to master the E major scale.
The first is from Shawn Staples, who is a great teacher. He might be a little fast for some beginners, but if you watch it a few times, you’ll get the hang of his exercises.
Additionally, I always recommend checking out Justin Guitar’s exercises, which are applicable across all major scales.
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E Major Scale Songs
Of course, we learn these scales, from E major to the C major scale in order to play and write songs.
Here are some of my favorite pieces for guitar written in E major, along with a YouTube guitar lesson on how to play it. If you can master the scale positions and exercises mentioned above, you’ll have a much easier time learning these songs.
Peaceful, Easy Feeling by The Eagles
Don’t Stop Believin by Journey
Slow Dancing in a Burning Room by John Mayer
I particularly like this lesson by guitar legend John Mayer because he addresses the music theory behind the song. This one is in C# minor, the relative key of E major, which uses the same notes.
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Still have questions about the E major scale? Here are some of the more frequently asked.
Why doesn’t the E major scale on guitar have an A#?
A major scale follows a Whole-Whole-Half-Whole-Whole-Whole-Half pattern. Whatever the root note is, if you follow that whole-half pattern, you’ll play a major scale.
So, for an E major scale, you go up a half from the G# in the scale, which is an A and not an A#.
What scales does an E major chord fit in?
An E major chord can fit into the A major scale and B major scale, but also the F# minor scale and G# minor scale.
Is E major a happy key?
Typically, any major key could be considered a happy key. Your fingers may not be happy, though, as it tends to feature chords that are difficult to shape.
Why don’t you use the third fret in the E major scale?
The third fret of the low E (sixth string) is a G. The E major scale uses a G#. If you played a G in the scale, it would be closer to an E minor scale.