Ukulele Scales: Major Scales

With all the stuff on the net about the ukulele, there’s very little about how to play scales on the ukulele. It’s a bit strange as scales are the building blocks of music in general and chords in particular. I wrote an ebook about how ukulele chords are made up, so I won’t go into it now, but the more you understand scales, the more you be able to adapt chords and add single note runs to your playing to make it more effective and interesting.

A good knowledge of scales is essential for improvising. If the chords you are playing over are in C major, you can play any of the notes in the C major scale and they will work. Of course, some will work better than others in certain places.

The most important scale is the major scale. This is the most common scale you’ll hear. It crops up in all the most well known songs from nursery rhymes to national anthems. The sound of the scale is completely natural.

The major scale is made up of eight notes with a set distance between the notes. You start on the first note of the scale (the root) and move up two frets to the second note, then another two to the third, up one to the fourth, up two to the fifth, up two to the sixth, up two to the seventh and finally up one to the octave. The distances are: 2,2,1,2,2,2,1.

You don’t have to memorise all these scales individually. It is much more important to remember patterns on the fingerboard and where the root note occurs in these patterns.

Take the D scale for example. Start on the D note at the second fret and move up the scale like this to the next D:

D Major ukulele scale

If you play this same pattern up two frets (so the E is the first note you play), you’ll have an E major scale.

E major scale ukulele tab

The same goes for any other pattern you can spot in these scale maps.

C Major
c major

C# (Db) Major
c# major

D Major
d major

D# (Eb) Major
d# major

E Major
e major

F Major
f major

F# (Gb) Major
f# major

G Major
g major

G# (Ab) Major

A Major

A# (Bb) Major
a# major

B Major
b major

View Comments


  1. Woodshed September 5th, 2015 8:14 pm

    Mia’s Musings: Glad it helped! I think it’s just James Hill!

  2. Paul Redfern September 8th, 2015 8:09 am

    Mia’s Musings: Not only James Hill, but most Canadians and Scandinavians use D tuning.
    D tuning was standard tuning for sopranos (for which read ‘ukuleles’ – as virtually all ukes were sopranos) for decades. If you ever run across May Singhi Breen’s or Roy Smeck’s guides to the uke, they’re all written for ukes tuned to D.
    I read someone somewhere claiming that it was the rise of the internet that caused the convergence of tenor, concert and soprano tuning to C. Personally I prefer D tuning for my sops, and Bb tuning for my tenor.
    Why would you want different tunings on different sized ukuleles? The short answer is that you want the string tension and pitch best matched to the scale and construction of the instrument you’re playing. The long answer is provided by Dirk Wormhoudt of Southcoast Ukes: long, but well worth reading, really opened my eyes to the benefits/possibilities of tuning to different pitches for different scale lengths/body sizes: The Southcoast Guide To Tunings & Strings

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