Guide to Major Scales on Saxophone. Sheet music and illustrations with instructions.

Easy guide to Major Scales on Saxophone

Written by Greger Hillman, Saxophone teacher and music educator

Learning the Major scales on Saxophone will help you develop your technique and coordination between your fingers, your mouth and your mind. I'd say it's one of the pillar stones you need to focus on in order to become a good saxophone player.

As with all saxophone scales, the Major Scales follow a precise pattern and by learning that pattern (intervals between the notes) you'll be able to play the Major scale in all 12 keys.

The Major Scale

The major scale has 8 notes, starting from the root going up to the octave. The distance between the notes are referred to as intervals. The combination between Whole step and Half step intervals is what makes the major scale unique.

Once you learn what these intervals are, you can reuse them in every key. In other words, once you've learned to play the C major scale on your saxophone, you can transpose that to D major, G major and so on.

Free Download: PDF guide to all 12 Major Scales on Saxophone

The intervals for the major scale

Interval is referring to the tonal distans between the notes within the Major Scale. It's a mixture of Whole Steps and Half Steps marked with W for Whole step and H for Half step below.

Illustration of intervals in the Major Scales on Saxophone. Music Theory explained.

The intervals of the Major Scale are:

  • Whole step › Whole step › Half Step › Whole step › Whole step › Whole Step › Half Step

or in short form:

  • W › W › H › W › W › W › H

Here's an example with the C Major Scale

C Major Scale on Saxophone illustration with note names

The notes in C Major are: C › D › E › F › G › A › B › C

The intervall between the C and D notes are a whole step. The same goes for the intervalls between D and E. However, the intervall between E and F is only a half step. Again followed by a whole step between F and G, G and A, A and B. The final interval between B and C is yet again a half step.

This can be a bit confusing as a saxophone beginner, but there's a way of looking at this more visually by bringing this over to the piano.

A visual look at the Major Scale

I often use the keys on the Piano when I explain the intervals of the Major Scale. Simply because it's visual and it's much easier to learn when you can see the correct answer infront of you.

Piano Keys marked up Major Scale intervals for Saxophone Music Theory explanation

Once you've wrapped your head around the structure of the major scale, it becomes much easier to translate that over to the saxophone. This is the exact method I've used to teach all my saxophone students over the past 20 years.

Looking at the image of the piano keys you can see how the whole step and half step applies. The good news is that these intervals translate to all instruments and all music.

That means once you've learned the music theory behind Major Scales, you can apply it to all 12 keys on your saxophone as well as other instruments.

This should be the starting point as you begin to practice Scales on your saxophone. When you've learned all Major Scales you can branch to include the 7 modes on Saxophone. This will keep building on the foundation you develop here by practicing the Major Scales.

Learning Major Scales on Saxophone

There are a total of 12 Major Scales on Saxophone that you need to learn. These scales are being used in the majority of all music. So once you've unlocked and mastered the Major scales on your sax, it will become much easier to learn new saxophone songs.

In my experience from teaching thousands of saxophone beginners, learning the major scales is a core skill to focus on when you get started playing saxophone.

Once it “clicks” and you understand how the Major scales work, it will open up a whole new world for you.

However, I also know that there can be some resistance to practicing scales as it's not the most fun thing to do. But you cannot build a house without a good foundation and that's what the Major scales are all about.

If you are a Saxophone beginner I recommend that you start with the Major Scales listed here:

These have easy fingerings and play well on your saxophone. Once you feel comfortable playing these scales you can add one more to each practice session until you've covered all 12 Major keys.

Major Scales on Saxophone PDF

I've put together a Major Scales PDF for Saxophone, so that you can learn the scales in an easy way. These come in the Major Scale Starter Pack for Saxophone which is free to download.

Feel free to use that as a reference as you work through all the major scales on your saxophone.

G Major Scale on Saxophone

The G Major scale intervals are W › W › H › W › W › W › H and the scale looks like this:

G major Scale on Saxophone explained with note names and on music staff. Easy to follow visual guide

The notes in G Major are: G › A › B › C › D › E › F Sharp › G

Playing the G major Scale on saxophone you need to learn to switch octave between the C and D notes. This can pose a bit of a challenge as a beginner.

I recommend that you “dry practice” (without playing) and focus on switching fingerings between the middle C and middle D notes on your sax. Going from just one finger to 6 in the front with the octave key on the back smoothly takes a bit of practice.

Once you've done that 5-6 times, try playing just those two notes. This will give you a head start on the “tricky notes” of the G major scale on you Saxophone.

F Major Scale on Saxophone

The F Major scale intervals are W › W › H › W › W › W › H and the scale looks like this:

F major Scale on Saxophone explained with note names and on music staff. Easy to follow visual guide

The notes in F Major are: F › G › A › B Flat › C › D › E › F

The F Major scale moves around the middle range of the saxophone. And just as with the G Major Scale, you will be moving between the middle C and middle D fingerings on your saxophone.

In addition to that, you also have the B flat fingering that you need to work out. I'll link to the 3 different fingerings for the B flat note here, so that you can look closer into that.

However, I recommend that you start with the basic fingering for B flat which include the B and A keys, on the front of your saxophone with your left hand, together with the B flat side key in your right hand.

[Download the Major Scale Starter Pack for Saxophone]

D Major Scale on Saxophone

The D Major scale intervals are W › W › H › W › W › W › H and the scale looks like this:

D major Scale on Saxophone explained with note names and on music staff. Easy to follow visual guide

The notes in D Major are: D › E › F Sharp › G › A › B › C Sharp › D

The D major Scale can be played over two octaves on the saxophone. I do however recommend that you focus on the D major Scale in the first octave. That's where you start on the low D on your saxophone.

Moving up the scale you have 2 sharps. It's the F sharp and C sharp.

Similar to the previous Scales you need to work out the switch between the first and second octave. Here it's going to be between the C sharp (not pressing any keys) to middle D which include six keys on the front together with the octave key on the back of your saxophone.

I recommend that you “dry practice” (without playing) and focus on switching fingerings between the middle C sharp and middle D on your sax. When you feel comfortable changing between the fingerings play them a few times before putting it all together playing the entire D major Scale.

C Major Scale on Saxophone

The C Major scale intervals are W › W › H › W › W › W › H and the scale looks like this:

C major Scale on Saxophone explained with note names and on music staff. Easy to follow visual guide

The notes in C Major are: C › D › E › F › G › A › B › C

The C Major scale has no sharps or flats. Going back to the piano keys that I showed before, it's “just the white keys” on the piano. Starting from C moving seven steps up until you land on the octave which is also the C note eight steps away.

You can play the C major Scale in three octaves on your saxophone. However, I do recommend that you start learning the Scale starting from middle C. That will help you expand your range a bit to the upper register of the saxophone.

While doing so, keep in mind that you should not be biting down on your mouthpiece as you move up to higher notes. In fact, playing with the correct saxophone embouchure, you should keep your mouth relaxed and throat open in order to play with a full saxophone sound.

Going beyond the first Major Scales on Saxophone

When you've worked through and learned the major scales above it's time to expand this to all 12 Major Keys on your saxophone. I've put together instructions for the remaing 8 scales below, so that you can continue work through all of them.

To keep the practice sessions fun I recommend that you make Scales part of your warmup routine on the Saxophone. So, every time you practice saxophone start the session with 5-10 minutes of scales to get your mouth, fingers, air and mind centered on playing the saxophone.

Download the Major Scale Starter Pack for Saxophone and keep it with your instrument to make it easier to practice the scales.

A Major Scale on Saxophone

The A Major scale intervals are W › W › H › W › W › W › H and the scale looks like this:

A major Scale on Saxophone explained with note names and on music staff. Easy to follow visual guide

The notes i A Major are: A › B › C# › D › E › F# › G# › A

The A Major scale has 3 sharps. Starting on middle A moving through the scale with C sharp, F sharp and G sharp to finally land on the octave A note.

If you've been working through the first four major scales I recommend (see above) you have much for free as you've already been practicing the jump between the C sharp and middle D prior.

However, if you just got here and want to focus on the A Major Scale I recommend that you “dry practice” (without playing) to learn switching fingerings between the middle C sharp and middle D on your sax.

That will make it much easier when you start practicing the entire A Major scale.

B Flat Major Scale on Saxophone

The B Flat Major scale intervals are W › W › H › W › W › W › H and the scale looks like this:

B Flat major Scale on Saxophone explained with note names and on music staff. Easy to follow visual guide

The notes in B Flat Major are: Bb › C › D › Eb › F › G › A › Bb

The B flat Major scale has 2 flats and I recommend that you start practicing the scale form the middle B flat on your saxophone. That will make it easier to learn the scale and once comfortable with it you can expand it down and start on the low B flat on your saxophone.

However, if you are a saxophone beginner, starting from low B flat is no easy task. That is why I recommend that you begin with the middle B Flat Major Key on your sax.

Play the scale you will start on B flat which makes it fairly easy to play all the way up to the next octave. Just make sure to add the E Flat instead of the E note and you'll be playing the scale in no time.

From experience I do know that some beginners find it hard to switch between the middle D and middle E flat on saxophone. So, in order to fix that I recommend that you “dry practice” (without playing) the fingerings to get comfortable with them.

This method of breaking down a “difficult fingering” applies to everything on your saxophone. If you run into any issues with fingerings remember and use this method to work it through. It helps a lot!

E Flat Major Scale on Saxophone

The E Flat Major scale intervals are W › W › H › W › W › W › H and the scale looks like this:

E Flat major Scale on Saxophone explained with note names and on music staff. Easy to follow visual guide

The notes in E Flat Major are: Eb › F › G › Ab › Bb › C › D › Eb

The E Flat Major scale has 3 flats and I recommend that you start with the low E Flat Major Scale. Moving through the lower register you will learn to combine the fingerings with air support and embouchure, which are all fundamentals to becoming a better sax player.

When I teach sax students this scale it's quite common that they run into problems switching between the A Flat and B Flat notes. This is normal but there is also an easy fix.

Once you are comfortable with the E Flat Major Scale in the first octave you can expand into the second octave.

A Flat Major Scale on Saxophone

The A Flat Major scale intervals are W › W › H › W › W › W › H and the scale looks like this:

A Flat major Scale on Saxophone explained with note names and on music staff. Easy to follow visual guide

The notes in A Flat Major are: Ab › Bb › C › Db › Eb › F › G › Ab

The A Flat Major scale has 4 flats starting with A Flat going through B Flat, D Flat and E Flat on the way up to the octave note. This scale gives you an opportunity to explore the alternate fingerings for B flat which makes it easier to play the scale fluently from middle A Flat up to high A Flat on your Saxophone.

A weak spot for beginners is usually going between D Flat and E Flat on the saxophone. I recommend that you “dry practice” (without playing) these fingerings in particular in order to get comfortable with switching between no fingers and 8 fingers smoothly.

E Major Scale on Saxophone

The E Major scale intervals are W › W › H › W › W › W › H and the scale looks like this:

E major Scale on Saxophone explained with note names and on music staff. Easy to follow visual guide

The notes in E major are: E › F# › G# › A › B › C# › D# › E

The E Major scale has 4 sharps. Starting on low E moving up through F Sharp, G Sharp, C Sharp, D Sharp to finally land on the octave note.

You can play the E Major Scale in two octaves on the saxophone. I recommend that you start from low E and work on that scale first. It will help you gain control over your tone, fingerings and moving between the first and second octave.

Once you feel comfortable playing the E Major scale fluently in the first octave you can continue practice the scale in the second octave. Starting from middle E all the way up to high E on Saxophone.

In the higher register you have to focus both on the notes and fingerings as well as your embouchure and air support.

The number one mistake I see beginners make over and over again is biting down to hard on the mouthpiece and letting go of the proper air support, which results in a thin and harsh tone in the upper register.

To combat that issue you should always keep the air flowing and your throat wide and open as it will open up your saxophone sound.

B Major Scale on Saxophone

The B Major scale intervals are W › W › H › W › W › W › H and the scale looks like this:

B major Scale on Saxophone explained with note names and on music staff. Easy to follow visual guide
  • The notes in B Major are: B › C# › D# › E › F# › G# › A# › B

The B Major scale has 5 sharps and is one of the harder Major scales to master on saxophone. However, starting from middle B moving your way up through the Scale slowly you will get used to the fingerings.

This is one of those Major scales on Saxophone that have two challenges. First, you need to wrap your mind around the actual notes and the theory behind them and dealing with the 5 sharps. On top of that you have new fingering combinations that takes a bit of practice to work through.

I recommend that you start slowly and pay extra attention to the intervall between G Sharp and A Sharp. Moving from G Sharp to A sharp landing on B is the most challenging part from a fingering point of view.

Use the basic A sharp fingering (same as B flat basic fingering). It will help you play more fluently throughout the entire B Major Scales.

Alternate Major Scales on Saxophone

There are some naming conventions of Major Scales that you need to know about as you will run into them sooner or later. So here's a summarize of the scales and names you should learn:

  1. C Major Scale: (No sharps, no flats)
  2. D Flat Major Scale: sounds exactly the same way as the C Sharp Major Scale. The only difference is how it's notated (5 flats)
  3. D Major Scale: (2 sharps)
  4. E Flat Major Scale: sounds exactly the same way as the D Sharp Major Scale. The only difference is how it's notated (3 flats)
  5. E Major Scale: (4 sharps)
  6. F Major Scale: (1 flat)
  7. G flat Major Scale: sounds exactly the same way as the F sharp (♯) Major Scale. The only difference is how it's notated (6 flats)
  8. G Major Scale: (1 sharp)
  9. A Flat Major Scale: sounds exactly the same way as the G Sharp Major Scale. The only difference is how it's notated (4 flats)
  10. A Major Scale: (3 sharps)
  11. B Flat Major Scale: sounds exactly the same way as the A Sharp Major Scale. The only difference is how it's notated (2 flats)
  12. B Major Scale: (6 sharps)

Going beyond the Major Scales:

The Major Scales is also referred to as the Ionian Scale which is the 1st of 7 Modes in Music based on the notes of the Major Scale.

After you've been practicing the Major Scales on Saxophone enough to feel comfortable playing the scales from the root to the octave (for example going from C – C in the C Major Scale) you can expand by learning the Modes on Saxophone and Major Scale Triads. It will give you a chance to expand your perception of the major scales as well as it improves your saxophone technique.

And then there's plenty of other Saxophone Scales. to learn as well, but in order to become a better sax player you need to focus on one thing at a time.

Saxophone teacher online Greger Hillman

Written by Greger Hillman

Greger Hillman is a saxophone teacher with +36 years of experience playing saxophone. 

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