The Major Scale: Part 3: The Tonic Position

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Here we continue onward and upward. Basic theory recap and positions explained with playing examples.

To recap, we get the major scale from using the major scale formula to filter or extract the scale from the chromatic scale. Every scale has a formula and each formula is basically a special combination of half-steps (one fret) and whole-steps (two frets). Remember, each note in the chromatic scale is a half-step apart in distance. Again the chromatic scale contains all the available notes that we can use. 

Figure 1: C Major Scale “filtered" from the C Chromatic Scale

Now we have our major scale (C Major in this case) and we need to make it practical. If we only played it on one string it would be very challenging and difficult. You can do this if you want. Its a good thing to do in certain circumstances. Like when you are trying to put together a chord melody (more on that some other time). In general however, you will find that it’s not the most practical approach.

So, how do we make it practical? Well, we can take all those notes and rearrange them into something more usable. We can call them scale positions/fingerings. We can get their names from the major scale note positions. Note positions? What do you mean? Well, the major scale can be analyzed by describing each note as occuping a position relative to each other. We can denotate this through the use of numbers. This is important for a variety of reasons. One, this is where we will get the names of the left hand fingering positions. Two, we also use this numbering system to analyse chords, songs, and comunicate better with other musicians. The thind thing that comes to mind is that when we get into modes you will have a better understanding of their structure when it comes to the higherarchy of the modes themselves. Lastly, we will be able to describe intervals and show how they have formulas too.

Figure 2: Analyzing The Major Scale by assigning numbers

You may have noticed that there is a “T” in place of the “1” that should be there. The “T” stands for tonic. The word tonic will basically mean that this particular note is the starting note of the major scale. The word tonic and 1 are interchangeable when talking about scales.

Now that we have our C major scale analyzed, let’s look at how we get our first position or what we will call the tonic position. First, we take the C major scale spelling and move it to the 6th string. This is where each of the left hand fingering positions will start.

Figure 3: Rearranging the C major scale into the tonic/1st position

The tonic position like all the other positions will have fingerings that go with it. These fingerings are represented by numbers that correspond to the left hand fingers as shown below in figure 4. This particular fingering is just a generic one. You don’t have to use it. Using the reference in figure 4 we can assign to each string where the left hand fingering will go.

Figure 4: Left Hand Finger Reference

Here is the fingering chart for the tonic position:

fingering tonic postion

Music Theory: F Major Scale: Tonic/1st Degree Position

Practicing the Tonic Position

Now that we know what the tonic position is and the fingering that goes along with it, how do we go about practicing it? In the following video, I’ll do a quick review and introduce to you one way on how to practice this position and a few other things by playing the scale/position ascending and descending.

Review Questions & Answers

Here are the answers for the previous week:

1. What is a Tonic? 

The tonic is the start of the scale. It is the first note in the scale.

2. What is a half-step?

A half-step is the distance of 1 fret.

3. What is a whole-step?

A whole-step is a distance of 2 frets.

4. What is the formula for the major scale?


5. When refering to the major scale what is a degree?

A degree refers to the positon of the notes in the scale. They are represented by numbers.

6. What is the third degree of the F major scale?

The third degree of the F major scale is A.

7. Each degree has two basic things associated with it. What are they?

A mode and a chord.

8. A fingering position is a rearrangement of the major scale n______ across the strings of the guitar.


9. Each note of the chromatic scale can be used as a t______ for a different major scale.


10. How many different sounding major scales are there?

There are 12.

© John Culjak 2016-2017