Familiarising yourself with your first scales is a good way to begin moving up frets and across strings. Whilst they might not seem that interesting at first, getting used to playing scales is a crucial way of training your fingers to get used to patterns that feature regularly in tunes and melodies. Plenty of fiddle tunes are essentially made up of rearranged scales that fit melodic ideas, but we'll come back to this.

There are seven notes in a scale. The starting note can be called the tonic/root/key note, and the other notes follow a pattern of frets that move up the neck and across the strings. When you reach the eighth note you arrive back at the tonic note an 'octave' above; this simply means it is eight notes higher than the original tonic note. Below is tablature for a G Major Scale:

G Major Scale:

G Scale Basic

When playing the mandolin it's important to use correct fingering on the frets; otherwise it can get confusing knowing which finger to use where. As a rule of thumb (no pun intended) the first finger covers frets 1 and 2, the second finger frets 3 and 4, the third finger frets 5 and 6, and the little finger/pinky frets 7 and...8; which you might find a bit of a stretch:

1            1              2             2           3          3        4        4


It can be useful to have some guidance on this when playing. Often tablature will indicate the correct fingers to use. You'll see that an open string is represented by '0', so no finger needed there!

G Major Scale with fingering:

Basic Scale G Fingering.jpg

Now let's look at three major scales starting with our G Major Scale, and include the stave notation:

G Major Scale with fingering and notation:

G Scale.jpg

D Major Scale:

D Scale.jpg

A Major Scale:

A Scale.jpg

Notice any similarities? What's enjoyable about the mandolin is so many of the patterns that you'll play around the neck repeat themselves. So for these three different scales we can use exactly the same pattern of notes, just starting and ending on different strings. Even our fingering stays exactly the same.

Before you get too comfortable let's add one final scale to these, the C Major Scale. The principle of moving up the notes is exactly the same here, with the difference being that we start on a different string. When we play a C Scale our tonic note is on the fifth fret of the G string, and ends on the third fret of the A string. Whilst not as straightforward as our previous three scales this is a really handy shape to get the hang of:

C Major Scale:

C Scale.jpg

Head over to the next lesson to learn more about understanding how to read sheet music as it relates to the mandolin, and tips on playing with the right hand. Then we'll delve a little deeper into more ways of playing scales.


You may have spotted the key signature at the beginning of each set of notes; this is a quick and easy way of identifying the key you're playing in, so keep an eye out for it. It's important to pay attention to the key signature as it lets you know which notes you're able to use in the piece you're playing. For example a piece of music with one sharp (#) on the E string means you're playing in G, two sharps on A and E means you're playing in G. This will be covered later, but a quick overview can be found here.