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
g#major

A Major

A# (Bb) Major
a# major

B Major
b major

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48 Comments

  1. p9000 April 23rd, 2008 6:29 pm

    Holy most useful post ever, Batman!

  2. MC Safety April 23rd, 2008 10:06 pm

    Outside of some enharmonic inaccuracies that will bother me, very helpful.

  3. Woodshed April 23rd, 2008 10:43 pm

    p9000: Thanks. Glad you like it. Every time I try something a little different I wonder if people are going to say, “What’s this crap? Get back to doing theme tunes.”

    MC Safety: A bad workman blames his tools. And it’s definitely the fault of my tools.

  4. Ed April 24th, 2008 8:17 am

    This is good stuff – can you write something on the modes as well? Loads of stuff on internet about modes for guitar, but not much for uke..

  5. Woodshed April 24th, 2008 9:27 pm

    Yeah, I might go on to modes, Ed. Once I’m done with the more obvious scales.

  6. zym April 25th, 2008 10:38 am

    Scale maps = very useful :)

    But dont stop the Theme Tunes either!!
    Ive been meaning to ask this for a while…
    How about ‘Murder She Wrote?’

    /gets coat :\

  7. Joe April 25th, 2008 6:53 pm

    Great Success, Al!

    You needed them on here to make the site complete.

    Thanks a bunch, dude!

    JOE

  8. Woodshed April 25th, 2008 8:23 pm

    zym: And you had the nerve to mock me for doing Last of the Summer Wine.

    Joe: Thanks. The site is a LOOOONG way from complete.

  9. Ukulele Scales: Minor Scales | Uke Hunt May 7th, 2008 6:00 pm

    […] I’m going to stick with the natural minor scale. The big advantage is that if you know your major scales on the ukulele, you don’t have to learn anything new. The notes in the A minor scale are exactly the same as […]

  10. Jon May 8th, 2008 12:04 am

    I don’t understand the scale maps at all. Read the tabs and whipped right through them. As to the maps, what do they represent? I agree that there are plenty of notes on the fretboard and they all have names but that’s all I could figure out.

  11. Rilrod May 8th, 2008 8:00 am

    I second Jon with the not understanding of the scale maps.

  12. Woodshed May 8th, 2008 8:30 pm

    Jon and Rilrod: I’ll try to come up with a post explaining them.

  13. Rat Bastard May 18th, 2008 4:15 pm

    hey i’ve only been playing scince christmas but i have found a few things that i can play, although a bunch of stuff you’ve done is like way hard. but anyway i was wondering if you can get like pentatonic scales on a uke or is that purely a guitar thing?

  14. Woodshed May 18th, 2008 9:12 pm

    Hi Mr Bastard. Yes, pentatonic works fine on the uke. I’ve already got the pentatonics mapped out, but I need to come up with a better explanation of how to use them.

  15. Brian Devitt June 28th, 2008 8:54 pm

    I was told there would be no math involved.Theory makes us stronger.Thanks

  16. Woodshed June 29th, 2008 3:18 pm

    Sorry to make you count up to 8, Brian ;)

  17. JAFAR April 21st, 2009 12:05 pm

    can you print out the scale for the baritone uke…or how can I convert it.
    Thanks,
    Jafar

  18. Woodshed April 22nd, 2009 11:42 am

    JAFAR: I may well do it on Baritone Ukulele Hunt at some point.

  19. mikejar January 3rd, 2010 11:08 pm

    In the F major scale, the A# note is actually notated as a B flat. It’s the same note, but to be consistent with the key and standard notation, you should cal it a B flat.

    Learn the circle of fifths, it helps!

  20. ciara January 28th, 2010 8:18 am

    Great info on this site, thanks so much! I can’t figure out how to read the scale maps though. I mean, I can work my way up any of the scales once but going higher is, not harder so much, as that I don’t know if I’m taking the right route. Or I guess there are a few right routes. Anyway, when you get a chance to explain how to read the scale maps that’d be great. Thanks again for the site.

  21. Karl Kurz January 30th, 2011 8:51 pm

    Oh!!! NOW I get it!! Why the heck didn’t anyone ever tell me this before.

    I agree … holy most useful post ever batman!!

    You just changed my life.

    In one week I’m playing simple solos over the top of my favorite songs.

    Patterns are much easier to remember than the locations of all the actual notes … what the heck … brilliant.

    Thank you so much for this gem of a post. It’s gold I tell you … gold!!

  22. Woodshed January 31st, 2011 8:23 pm

    Karl: Thanks so much. You’re very kind. I’m really glad you found it helpful.

  23. Rich March 6th, 2011 8:39 pm

    I’ve searched a LOT of websites looking for this and was getting really frustrated. This is FANTASTIC. THANK YOU!

  24. simlinni March 26th, 2011 5:07 pm

    For many of the scales, is the same patarn, just move one fret down, if you start with a D scale as the one at the top of the site, next fret will be a Eb scale, thats the same as D#. and one more fret down is E.

  25. simlinni March 26th, 2011 5:12 pm

    I love you Poste, this have been a great help for me ^^ Keep up the great work Woodshed

  26. Woodshed March 31st, 2011 2:54 pm

    Rich: You’re very welcome.

    simlini: Thanks very much, I’m glad you found it useful.

  27. LDV April 13th, 2011 6:46 pm

    “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 third note, up two 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.” Is there a mistake here? “Third” is mentioned twice (“another two to the third, up one to the third note”), and according to the written instructions, the distances are actually 2,2,1,2,2,2,2,1 (one extra 2). Or am I missing something?

  28. mas June 12th, 2011 5:51 pm

    lvd:
    i agree i dont get it as it is written but it sounds right when i play it. i just gave up trying to quantise it for now.

  29. mas June 12th, 2011 5:53 pm

    dont get me wrong though, this post is very helpful. THANKS

  30. martin November 12th, 2011 1:43 am

    playing a scale on the examples you showed, leaving out the 4th string and starting from the 3rd works for me. but when playing from the 4th string to the 3rd doesnt work cos the 3rd string is an octave lower.

  31. Paul April 11th, 2012 8:04 am

    @LDV – spotted. “Third” being mentioned twice is a misprint.
    The distances really are: 2,2,1,2,2,2,1.
    For “You start … then another two to the third, up one to the third note, up two to the fourth, up two to the fifth, up two to the sixth…”,
    you need to read “You start … then another two to the third, up one to the _fourth_ note, up two to the _fifth_, up two to the sixth…”.
    If you’re still not sure, remember that there are 12 notes in an octave and 2+2+1+2+2+2+1=12.

  32. Paul April 11th, 2012 4:07 pm

    Al, there’s still a misprint in §4, I’m afraid: ‘two up to the fourth’, should read ‘_one_ up to the fourth.’ P

  33. Woodshed April 13th, 2012 1:38 pm

    Paul: Hopefully I’ve got it right this time! Thanks for the corrections.

  34. AlyWynter June 3rd, 2012 3:58 am

    Erm…I feel really stupid, but whaaaat are all those red note names on the strings under all the major chords for? I’m so confused. I got everything up to “The same goes for any other pattern you can spot in these scale maps”, then you listed scales and I don’t understand how I’m supposed to read them. Did i miss something in another post? I’m just a beginner (like started 8 days ago) so don’t be hard on me, please! :O :)

  35. Woodshed June 3rd, 2012 11:31 am

    AlyWynter: Not at all. This post isn’t really aimed at beginners. This is a better place to start with scales. The red note names are the notes that are in that particular scale.

  36. MIke G September 30th, 2012 2:17 pm

    Im new to the Uke and id like to sit and strum scales. How do you play these?? I am looking at the C scale and i’m not sure where to start? Can you elaborate please?

  37. Cheryl November 10th, 2012 8:51 pm

    Thanks, Woodshed! What a great explanation. You’ve given us the missing link. Until now, my mind would just glaze over and freeze whenever I came across these kind of charts. I’d look at them and see nothing but random dots.

  38. Woodshed November 12th, 2012 2:20 pm

    Cheryl: Thanks so much! I’m really glad you found it helpful.

  39. SJ November 15th, 2012 8:13 am

    I’m a new (2 month) uke player with absolutely zero musical knowledge/talent. I’m like the proverbial “cow with a musket.” I’ve always been envious of those who are musically inclined.
    You’ve achieved the near impossible; you’ve got me on my way to understanding what scales are and why I should learn them. I’ve now pretty well memorized the C scale and plan to keep slowly moving forward as I’m able.
    I can’t believe I’m even talking about scales. You’ve opened up a whole new path for me. Hmm….Maybe I should give algebra another try too.

    Thank you!

  40. Woodshed November 15th, 2012 9:59 am

    SJ: That’s great! I’m really glad it helped. Good luck with the algebra!

  41. Damien December 10th, 2012 9:05 am

    Great job, it help a lot !
    Just a question. To use it in a solo, on a C/G/Dm/Fm rythmic for instead, my scale will be choosed about the first chord of the rytmic ? Here the C ?
    Thanks again !

  42. Woodshed December 10th, 2012 11:23 am

    Damien: Yeah, C major (or C major pentatonic) should work with that progression. You could throw in a G# when the Fm is playing if you want to be fancy.

  43. Dave February 7th, 2013 5:39 pm

    That has been SO helpful you have no idea. Many many thanks Woody.

  44. Rob January 31st, 2014 1:51 am

    Hi Al. Any thoughts on a Baritone Ukulele for Dummies? I find very little info on the DGBE CAGED system for chords and scales. I’m trying to apply my guitar knowledge but am not sure it translates so well, plus it’s kinda limited. Any help would be great. Thanks!

  45. Woodshed January 31st, 2014 11:09 am

    Rob: That’s not my call. And I don’t do much baritoning so I probably wouldn’t write it.

  46. charlie August 17th, 2014 1:09 am

    Hi I used to play the guitar so I’m lucky in that I know some of these scale shapes already and how they can be moved to get different keys. But the thing with the uke is that you can only get one octave out of any one of these shapes.
    So I’ve been looking around for scale patterns that i could use on the uke that cover more than one octave. Last night I looked at 3note per string guitar scales, 4nps scales, Segovia scales etc. But I dunno, there’s a lot of them. And theyre all guitar patterns so I’m not sure which would work best on a uke
    So I was wondering if you knew of any extended scale patterns that are used on the uke.
    Cheers
    Charlie

  47. Woodshed August 17th, 2014 10:47 am

    charlie: Thanks for the suggestion. I’ll keep it in mind.

  48. Kurk September 26th, 2014 5:24 am

    So I am brand new to stringed instruments. I seem to recall something about scales from my middle school woodwind band days, but that was 35 years ago. I am attempting to learn uke “properly”, but I am sorry, where do I begin with these scales? Where is a good place to start as an utter novice? I know about 7 chords, but ultimately I have to understand scales. Am I putting the cart before the horse here?

    Sincerely,
    Kurk

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