Summer Challenge

Now that summer is here and the jam sessions don't start again until the fall, here is a challenge to keep you learning. As always, email me with any questions.

The challenge consists of two parts. The first challenge was to learn the song "Over the Rainbow - What a Wonderful World" by Israel Kamakawiwoʻole. I sent email on this earlier.  The sheet music is found at /sheet-music. The recording is at 

The second part of the challenge is to learn patterns on the fretboard. These patterns form the basis for creating lead melodies and solos. Though you are learning chords at this time, playing lead and melody is fun and rewarding to play simple arrangements. Learning to do so gives you another tool in your toolbox.

So here we go...

Musical Scales and Scale Patterns

A musical scale is a sequence of notes that are organized by ascending or descending pitch. The musical scale represented by the familiar "do - re - me - fa - so - la - ti - do" is sung in a "major" scale. For example, the C Major scale consists of the notes C - D - E - F - G - A - B - and C, the final C being one octave higher than the first C. The starting note of a scale, in this case the C, is known as the "tonic"of  the scale.There are other types of musical scales, but let's stick with the major scale for the time being. 

Scale Patterns 

A Scale Pattern consists of the whole and half steps, also called tones and semitones that make up a particular type of scale, the major scale for instance. The neck of ukuleles and guitars are divided by "frets", the metal bars that run across the neck. Pressing on the space below, that is towards the left of a bar for right-handed players and plucking the corresponding string results in the playing the note for that fret. By the way, some sources refer to the space to the left of the metal bar as the fret and that's OK too. Each fret is a half step in the musical scale. A whole step is made up of two half steps, or two frets.

The sections for ukulele and guitar follow. Guitarists will need to read both sections regardless of the instrument you play as some of it applies to both ukulele and guitar but I included it in ukulele for the sake of brevity.


Scales and Keys

For the sake of completeness, we will talk about musical scales and their relationships to Keys. A scale starts with a tonic, that is the first note of the scale. "C" is the tonic of the C Major scale. A Key, on the other hand is based on the notes in a scale but not necessarily in that order. The tonic is used to identify both the scale and the key, for example, "C" for the "C" Major scale and the key of "C"  Major. So for example, a musical composition could be written in the key of C Major because it uses the notes in the C Major scale, but does not necessarily use the notes in the scale order. The children's song "Row, Row Your Boat" is written in the key of C major because it uses the notes of the C Major scale. However, it arranges those notes in a way that creates that children's song. 


Let's take a look at the C Major scale on the third string of a ukulele, the one that starts with "C". Ignore the other strings for now. Also, ignore the bottom diagram with the numbers on it for a moment.



In this view of the ukulele neck, the first string is the top string - the one closest to the floor when playing the instrument. The numbers below the neck, i.e. 3, 5, 7, 9 and 12 are fret numbers. You likely have dots on the neck of your ukulele that correspond to these numbered frets. Let's look at the third string which is tuned to the note "C". The notes in the C Major scale are identified by the open string, followed by the second fret, "D" then the fourth fret, "E" then the fifth fret "F" and so forth until we reach the "C" one octave above the first "C" in the scale. 

Go ahead and play these notes on your ukulele to hear the scale for yourself. Sing "do, re, me, fa, so, la, ti, do" as you play the corresponding note.

Half and Whole Steps

Let's now talk more about half and whole steps. Remember, a half step is one fret and a whole step is two half steps, or two frets. Let's "step" our way through the C Major scale on the third string. Starting with the open third string, we see the note "C". Moving up a whole step (two half steps or frets) we see the note "D". Another whole step and we find "E". One half step is "F, a whole step is "G", another whole step is "A", another whole step is "B", and one half step is "C". There is a numeric pattern here. Starting with the initial note, in this case "C", we count the half steps/frets "2-2-1-2-2-2-1" where "2" represents two frets or a whole step, and 1 represents one fret or a half step. This is the pattern for all major scales regardless of the starting note. You may also see this pattern written as "W-W-H-W-W-W-H"

Another way to visualize whole and half steps is on a piano keyboard. The distance between two keys/notes, regardless of whether they are white or black, is one half step. A whole step always has one key in between the notes.

The above keyboard shows the whole and half steps in the C Major scale. For those of you who understand musical scales, some sharps and flats are played in all of the major scales except for C Major.  Regardless, they are always counted in the 2-2-1-2-2-2-1 major scale pattern even if they are not played in a given scale. On the piano, the sharps and flats are found on the black keys. So this keyboard reads C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A# ( or more commonly referred to as B flat) , and C. There is a whole step between C and D because there is a black key, "C#" between them, for example. The E and F have no key/note between them so they are considered a half step apart.

Other Scales

Keep in mind that the scale diagram above is for the C Major scale. There are different ukulele neck diagrams for the major scales starting on other notes, that is, on other tonics. Because all the other major scales contain sharps and flats, this diagram does not work for them. See for the rest of the major and other scale charts. Having said this, there is a way to play the other major scales without the charts. Simply start with your tonic of choice, e.g. the "G" on the fourth open string and follow the 2-2-1-2-2-2-1 fret pattern. By doing so you will have played all the notes in that major scale without even knowing their names! So... you don't need to know all the note names, or that some are sharp and some are flat, to play the major scale, just the pattern. When you start with the note "C" and play any note in this pattern you will sound pretty good for songs written in C Major - some notes may sound better than others but they will all fit into the song.

Note Numbers

Now to the bottom chart, the one with the numbers instead of notes. The numbers simply refer to the seven notes in sequence in the C Major scale. They are also called "scale degrees". Looking at the third string you see that the number 1 refers to the note "C" on the open string with subsequent numbers moving up the scale. Compare the two diagrams, matching the note numbers in the bottom scale to the note names in the top scale. For some, it is easier to use the numbers. It may also be easier for you to write down your lead or melody compositions using the note numbers. There are other reasons for the numbers but that gets into some music theory that we will not cover that at this time. For now, just remember that all major scales have seven notes.

I said that a major scale has seven notes. We typically repeat the "C" one octave higher at the end of the scale to "resolve" it. That is, to make it sound complete. Try playing the scale or singing "do - re - me..." without the last "C" to get an idea of what I mean. It just doesn't sound right. Now do this again and add the "C" at the end. That's why we repeat the starting note. 

Working the Entire Fretboard

Perhaps you have noticed in the above diagrams that the seven notes and corresponding numbers are found in multiple places on the fretboard. That means that you don't have to be restricted to one string to play notes in a scale. Keep in mind that as you move up the neck and across the fretboard the octave for a note may change giving you the freedom to play the same notes "low" or "high" or somewhere in between. Following the top diagram, go ahead and play the C Major scale starting on the third fret of the first string, for example. Then try it starting with a "C" elsewhere on the neck, perhaps on the first string.

OK, that's the C Major scale on one string. Wouldn't it be great if you didn't have to stay on a single string? Well, you don't.

Go ahead and play the C Major scale starting on the third string but instead of playing the scale only on that string, play the "C" and "D" on that string, the "E", "F" and "G" on the second string and the "A", "B", and "C" on the first string. Play the scale forwards and backwards, from the low "C" to the high "C" and then back down to the low "C". Get used to playing and, just as importantly, hearing this scale. Humm the notes or sing "do, re, me"... as you play them. You want to build both muscle and sound memory. When playing the scale on the first three strings, use the index finger for notes on the first fret, the second finger for notes on the second fret, and the ring finger for notes on the third fret. This will improve dexterity in your fretting hand, helping you play to both chords as well as lead and melody runs. To build speed, use a metronome, speeding it up while maintaining accuracy.

I hope a lightbulb just went off in your head! Following that simple major scale pattern, i.e. "2-2-1-2-2-2-1" you can now play all of the notes in any major scale, and not just the C Major scale used in our example. You can create melodies or lead runs using any of the major scales. Also, you don't have to begin on an open string. Even better, you can begin on any of the notes in a given scale as long as you know where it is in the pattern and play the other notes accordingly. If I start my lead run or melody on "E" in the C Major scale, for example, I just have to remember that the "D" is a whole step before it and the "F" is a half-step after it, for example. Keep the chart in front of you at first but with practice you will be able to set it aside.

Memorizing Notes 

Here is a secret. You don't need to memorize the notes on every fret of every string. Just memorize the notes of each open strings, 4th "G", 3rd "C", 2nd "E" and 1st "A" and the notes of the C Major scale on the third string all the way up the neck. These will be your starting places. On the ukulele, unlike the guitar which uses the 6th string as its reference, I suggest memorizing the notes on the third string because the third, second and first strings are tuned in ascending order. The fourth string is tuned an octave higher in the sequence making it less melodious when used in conjunction with the other strings unless you are playing chords.

Watch these videos to see a demonstration of playing the C Major scale on the third string, then on the first three strings on the ukulele.


The C Major scale, C - D - E - F - G - A - B - and C and the major scale fret pattern, "2-2-1-2-2-2-1" as described above are the same for any musical instrument. Reread the material until you fully understand it. What changes is how the scale and scale pattern map to the particular type of instrument. A guitar has six strings and they are tuned differently from a ukulele. So the major scale is played on the guitar on different strings and frets than on the ukulele. Below is the C Major scale as it is applied on a guitar. The top of each diagram is the 1st, or high "E" string, i.e. the one closest to the floor when playing the guitar. The bottom diagram contains the note numbers/scale degrees. The "R" in red refers to the "root" note, "C". The "C" in the top diagram and the "R" in the bottom diagram are in red for that reason. In both diagrams the note names on the far left refer to the open string tunings.

As with the ukulele, you can play the C Major scale on the guitar any one string. You need to memorize the scale notes on the 6th string, however as well as the notes of the open strings as reference points. Go ahead and practice playing the scale on the 6th string, but start with the open E string to memorize the notes in the order they are found  on the neck. Even though you will begin by playing the open "E" string, you are still playing the C Major scale because you will be staying in the "2-2-1-2-2-2-1" fret pattern with the root of "C". You're just starting in a different place. At this point, you should be able to recognize the pattern on each string by counting the frets of each note. Say or sing the note names in pitch as you play them to build both motor/finger and tonal memories.

If you start playing the scale on the "C" on the 7th fret of the 6th string you will, if you have a full size guitar neck have to work your way all the way up the neck to the last fret. It is very unlikely that you will ever play that high on the neck so let's take a more convenient approach.

Start by playing the "C" in the top diagram on the third fret of the 5th string. Then play the open 4th string for the "D" note, followed by the "E" and "F" on the same string. Next, play the open 3rd string for the "G" and the second fret for the "A". Now move to the open 2nd string for the "B" and finally to the first fret on that string for the "C". Use your index finger for notes on the first fret, your second finger for notes on the second fret and your ring finger for notes on the third fret. I encourage you to practice playing the scale this way to build dexterity in your fretting hand. This will help in playing both chords as well as lead and melody runs. To build speed, use a metronome, speeding it up while maintaining accuracy.

Here are two videos that demonstrate playing the C Major scale. Enjoy!

Summer Challenge Part Two

Which leads to the second part of the Summer Challenge...

When you return in October I would like you to be able to play one of the following. They are all in C Major: 

Option 1

The melody of an existing song such as the ones found at where you will also find the notes for each song. Here are some examples.

  • Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star
  • Row, Row, Row your Boat
  • Mary Had a Little Lamb 

Option 2

Create your a melody or lead part. You don't need to have a song in mind. Just create a pleasing run of notes in any major scale. It could be as long as you would like. 

Option 3

Want more of a challenge? Try playing melodies or lead runs using a backing track. We sang Hallelujah in choir so you already know the tune. Play the melody or make up your own lead to Leonard Cohen's masterful performance found at All the notes are in the C Major scale, though the melody starts on "E", the open second string. If you are playing along with the melody, use the first through third strings. If you are creating your own lead, I encourage you to use all the strings. 

As always, email me at with questions. 

Happy summer!