Building Scales on ʻUkulele: Constructing Note Patterns

Scales are the building blocks of most parts of music. But to even have a basic major scale you have to build it! This isn’t necessary information, but it’s the building blocks. I like to explain things step by step.

All scales are made out of a certain number of half, whole, and sometimes higher steps. A half step is one fret on the ukulele, a whole step is two. The two following scales are the most commonly figured out with this method, but you can apply it to any scale you wish and find their formulas.

Major Scale

A major scale is made with whole and half steps in this order (W=whole, H=half step):


If you take those steps and apply them to any starting note you will end up with a major scale. Remember, a whole step is 2 frets up, and a half step is 1 fret up. Apply the steps to figure out a C major scale and you get:

Step: - - - -  W W H W W W H
# of frets: -  2 2 1 2 2 2 1
Note: - - - - C D E F G A B C

Make sense? With that system you can figure out any major scale. Just start the “W W H W W W H” sequence on any note to figure out that scale.

Minor Scale

You can also figure out every natural minor scale using:


It’s the same pattern started on the 6th note of a major scale. Starting a major scale from its 6th note creates a relative minor scale.

Step: - - - -  W H W W H W W
# of frets: -  2 1 2 2 1 2 2
Note: - - - - A B C D E F G A

The Number System

Once you have created a major scale you can move on to making scales derived from it.

Every note of the scale has a corresponding number. The first note is 1, the second is 2, and so on… This can also be represented by Roman numerals (and less often, “do re me…”).

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8(1)
do re me fa so la ti do
C  D  E  F  G  A  B  C

Working from the major scale I usually just flat and sharp some of the numbers to end up with the scale or mode I want to play. When you “sharp” a note, you raise it up one fret. When you “flat” a note, you lower it.

For example, all you have to do to get a natural minor scale is flat the 3rd, the 6th and the 7th. Of course you can also figure this out using the aforementioned method, but it’s good to have several different ways to figure these things out.

1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 8
C D Eb F G Ab Bb C

Scales/modes to create:

Major: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Natural minor: 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 8
Dorian: 1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7 8
Phrygian: 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 8
Lydian: 1 2 3 #4 5 6 7 8
Mixolydian: 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7 8
Locrian: 1 b2 b3 4 b5 b6 b7 8
Major Pentatonic: 1 2 3 5 6 8
Minor Pentatonic: 1 b3 4 5 b7 8
Blues: 1 b3 4 #4 5 b7 8

Impatient? Here they all are in tab form – already figured out: ʻUkulele Scales.

Curious about modes?

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Brad Bordessa
brad bordessa smiling holding ukulele

I’m an ‘ukulele artist from Honokaʻa, Hawaiʻi, where I run this site from a little plantation house in the jungle. I’ve taught workshops internationally, made Herb Ohta Jr. laugh until he cried, and once jammed with HAPA onstage in my boardshorts. More about me