A-1

C0

C1

C2

C3

C4

C5

C6

C7

Scales

When less really can be more.

soo much fruit, so hard to decide.

The word “scale” has a few different definitions, based on the context with which it is used. The most common definition might be to describe the skin of fish and lizards and such. Another definition is that of a physical device that is used to weigh things. But for our purposes we are concerned with the following definition:

Definition

Scale

noun

a graduated range of values forming a standard system for measuring or grading something.

In music the term Scale refers to the relationship in pitch between a series of notes. That series of notes in total creates a graduated range of pitches relative to the starting note. Different scales exhibit different distributions of pitch distance between notes and this gives each scale a different overal sound and feel. We want to understand them as best as possible. Even though there are hundreds upon undreds of different scales, we are going to start our journey with the most popular and most widely used scales in western music.

Scales give us direction when no direction may be descernable. They offer a curated opinion as to which notes should be used and where, and the result is a relatively easy path to compositional bliss.

There are many different types of scales, and they all offer us something a little bit different when we compose music. We can use only one scale at a time, or we can combine different scales together and create all sorts of interesting color pallettes with which to paint our emotion in sound.

Different scales can also have different amounts of notes in them. The most complete scale is called the Chromatic scale, which contains all the notes in the western musical language, which is 12.

C

D

E

F

G

A

B

C#

Db

D#

Eb

F#

Gb

G#

Ab

A#

Bb

This is the Chromatic scale. It contains every note within one octave on the keyboard. We can write music using the chromatic scale, of course, but it does not offer any opinion or curation. As we we start to remove notes from our scales we start to define our color palettes in a more precise manner. This is really the biggest benefit of most scales. They can give us a curated subset of notes that, when taken together, can elicit a particular sound and/or emotion. If we agree with and/or accept the opinions of a particular scale, then we can reap the benfits of that scale and allow it to help us compose music with impact and emotion that can potentially be understood by a wide audience.

If we remove the black keys from our chromatic scale then we end up with another type of scale. This scale has less notes, or course, but more opinion. We call this scale the Major Scale.

1

C

2

D

3

E

4

F

5

G

6

A

7

B

This is one of many Heptatonic, or seven note, scales. Not all scales contain seven notes, but the most popular scales generally seem to do so. It also happens to be the case that there are seven letters in the musical alphabet. Those letters are:

A B C D E F G

The Major Scale

The Major scale is the most popular scale in tonal music, so it makes sense for us to start here. In this example, we are starting our scale with the note C and moving up the keyboard in pitch to the right, until we get back to C again an octave above. If the concept of Notes , like the note C, and the concept of Intervals , like an octave, are a little foggy to you, then read those articles first and come back here. If not, then keep going.

1

C

2

D

3

E

4

F

5

G

6

A

7

B

You will notice that some of the notes are different colors. The notes that are red represent Perfect intervals from the starting note. Notes that are orange represent Major intervals from the starting note. As a reminder, the starting note is the left most of the scale. In this example we are starting with the note C.

Major Scale Pattern

One thing that we can do with this scale is figure out how far apart each note is from the last note, as we as how far apart each note is from the starting note. Let’s start by looking at how far apart each notes is from the previous note in the scale. We will use half steps and whole steps to count the distance in pitch from one note to the next.

  • From C to D is two half steps, or one whole step.

  • From D to E is two half steps, or one whole step.

  • From E to F is one half step.

  • From F to G is two half steps or one whole step.

  • From G to A is two half steps or one whole step.

  • From A to B is two half steps or one whole step.

  • From B to C is one half step.

That is a bit to think through, but we can take our half steps(H) and whole steps(W) and by using the abreviations, create a simple pattern out of them. And if it’s easier for you to wrap your head around, we can just count the number of half steps between notes and represent them as numbers as well, which you will see underneath the abbreviations.

Intervals
Steps
R
W
W
H
W
W
W
H
R
+2
+2
+1
+2
+2
+2
+1

This pattern by itself is not so difficult to commit to memory, but we can break it down a bit further to really help our minds internalize it:

R

W W H

W W W H

…or a Root note, then two whole steps and a half step, then three whole steps and a half step. I’m not sure if there is really any way to make this pattern any simpler than this, but in the end it will be the repeated usage of the pattern that will ultimately commit it to memory.

All Major Scales

So, it’s one thing to know how to construct a Major Scale, but it’s another thing entirely to know all of our Major Scales by heart. So, to get us started, here is an interactive component containing all 12 Major Scales. Just select different root notes to see it’s associated Major Scale.

Scales

C Major Scale

1 Select a Root Note

2 Select a Scale Type

G2

C

D

E

F

G

A

B

C4

C5

An astute observer might notice that some of the note names are decreased in opacity in the root note selector. This is not by accident, of course, as these are what are called Enharmonic Spellings of the notes in question. The note names that are de-emphasized are receiving this treatment due to the fact that the opposite note name will yeild a simpler spelling of the scale in question.

To see this in action take a look at the C Major Scale. It contains all of the white notes on the keyboard. Now click or tap on the note name directly above it, which is B#. Doing this will switch all of the note names of the scale, while keeping the same notes on the keyboard. You will notice that quite a few sharp and double sharp signs are added to the notes. This is necessary to use all of the note names in order without skipping or repeating any of them, but doing so renders a simple scale incredibly complex, as we go from 0 sharps or flats in the C Major Scale to 11! sharps in the B# Major Scale. So, even though the B# Major Scale exists in theory, I recommend that you try avoid it at all costs!

The Minor Scale

The next most common scale in western music is the minor scale. It’s honestly really a toss up between those two scales, and depending on the genre, the minor scale often comes out on top. But ultimately it is equally important to really have a firm grasp on.

F2

1

A

2

B

3

C

4

D

5

E

6

F

7

G

B3

Minor Scale Pattern

One thing that we can do with this scale is figure out how far apart each note is from the last note, as we as how far apart each note is from the starting note. Let’s start by looking at how far apart each notes is from the previous note in the scale. We will use half steps and whole steps to count the distance in pitch from one note to the next.

The Minor scale is the other most popular scales in tonal music. This is the pattern of pitches, or intervals, required to make a scale. We can also write the pattern for the scale using the exact distance from one note to the next using the number of pitches. Since a whole step is also two pitches, we can use a 2 instead of a W.

  • From C to D is two half steps, or one whole step.

  • From D to Eb is one half step.

  • From Eb to F is two half steps, or one whole step.

  • From F to G is two half steps or one whole step.

  • From G to Ab is one half step.

  • From A to Bb is two half steps or one whole step.

  • From B to C is two half steps or one whole step.

Just like with out major scale, that is a bit to think through, but we can take our half steps(H) and whole steps(W) and by using the abreviations, create a simple pattern out of them. And just like before, numbers might be easier than W’s and H’s for some people to wrap their heads around.

Intervals
Steps
R
W
H
W
W
H
W
W
R
+2
+1
+2
+2
+1
+2
+2

This pattern, like the major scale pattern, might still be a bit much to commit to memory, so let’s break it down as we did before with the major scale pattern:

R

W H W x 2

W

So, starting on a any given root note, we then find the notes a whole step above, half step above, whole step above. We then repeat that pattern, then add one more whole step to get back to the root again, an octave above our starting note.

All Minor Scales

Here is an interactive keyboard where you can select a root note and the correct Minor Scale will appear on the keyboard below. Enharmonic spellings are included for all relevant scales, but spellings that are not recommended to learn are reduced in opacity.

Scales

C Minor Scale

1 Select a Root Note

2 Select a Scale Type

G2

C

D

F

G

Eb

Ab

Bb

C4

C5

Relative Scales

The irony of these two seemingly different scale patterns is that they are, in fact, the same pattern in the end. The Major and Minor scales actually share the same pattern of intervals. The difference is in the order. In the following chart, notice how the two scales actually line up together if we move the Major scale over a couple places.

Minor Scale
Major Scale
R
W
H
W
W
H
W
W
R
W
W
H
W
W
W
H

The bottom two intervals of the minor scale pattern become the top two intervals of the major scale pattern. We can expand upon this idea of relativity to create a total of seven completely different scales that share the same basic pattern. We can do this by starting on each successive note of the scale, which will each give us a slightly different pattern which will provide a different sounding scale, or mode.

F2

1

A

2

B

3

C

4

D

5

E

6

F

7

G

C4

E4

F2

1

C

2

D

3

E

4

F

5

G

6

A

7

B

C4

E4

The notes are the same, and the bottom two notes of the A Minor scale are simply transpoed up an octave so that they become the top two notes of the C Major Scale.

We can investigate the intervals from the root as well to see how simply moving a couple notes changes the nature of the scales and how they are percieved.

F2

1

A

2

B

3

C

4

D

5

E

6

F

7

G

C4

E4

F2

1

C

2

D

3

E

4

F

5

G

6

A

7

B

C4

E4

Parallel Scales

Let’s put the two scales together and compare them with each other. You will notice that they are mostly the same, with only three notes that separate them from each other.

Minor Scale
Major Scale
R
W
H
W
W
H
W
W
R
W
W
H
W
W
W
H

The patterns are the same as before, but since the root note is the same we need to shift our scale pattern so that the root notes vertically align. We end up with different intervals in each position in the pattern relative to the other patterns.

Minor
Major
A
R
B
W
C
H
D
W
E
W
F
H
G
W
A
W
C
R
D
W
E
W
F
H
G
W
A
W
B
W
C
H

F2

1

C

2

D

3

E

4

F

5

G

6

A

7

B

C4

E4

F2

1

C

2

D

4

F

5

G

b3

Eb

b6

Ab

b7

Bb

C4

E4

Since the root note is the same for both the C Major and C Minor scales and the patterns, while ultimately coming from the same pattern, have been shifted so that the root notes align with each other, we end up having different scales that actually contain different notes. You will notice in this example that the 3rd, 6th, and 7th notes are different by one half step between the scales.

Scales

C

1 Select a Root Note

2 Select a Scale Type

G2

C3

C4

C5

Principles

When figuring out scales and their note names, there are a few fundamental principles to adhere to:

  • Use every letter once

  • Do not repeat any letters

  • Do not skip any letters

We should not consider these rules, but rather principles. The difference is subtle, but important. When one thikns of a rule, one often thinks of the phrase “Rules were meant to be broken”. Many will feel that rules are sometimes illogical, constricting, fustrating, and invite disagreement. This is not always the case, but it seems especially prevalent in the minds of artists. In this case, when we swtich our thinking to view these ideas as princicples, we look at them differently. They are designed around usage, and will generally help us create the easiest ans simplest possible group of scales. We can deviate from these principles if we want to, but the result will be more confusing and less useful than if we do in fact adhere to them. This will become clear to us over time.

Finger Patterns

To properly play these scale you need to know the correct finger patterns in each hand for every scale…of which there are many…and are different in each hand…For almost every scale.

Or are they?

Sooooooooo…

Turns out, this is actually not quite correct. There is really only one pattern for every single minor and major scale.

It’s true.

I promise!

But!!!!!…

There are a couple caveats to this. Because if you’ve been paying attention so far then you will probably be saying to the screen something along the lines of: “Maybe that’s true for white key scales, but all the black key scales start on a different finger dood!” And this is true as well!

BUT!!!!…(again)…

What is really happening here is that you are still using the same pattern, but simply starting on different fingers.

Here is the pattern:

The Pattern
1
2
3
1
2
3
4

So if you want to play a C major scale, then you would start your finger pattern with your first finger on the note C. But if you wanted to play the Db Major Scale then you would start your finger pattern with your second finger on the note Db, then play through the same pattern as for the C Major Scale.

Major Scale

Major Right Hand

End with
5
if on last octave
1
2
3
1
2
3
4
1
2
3
1
2
3
4
C
D
E
G
A
B
Db
Eb
F
F#
Gb
Ab
Bb

Scales

C Major Scale

1 Select a Root Note

2 Select a Scale Type

F2

1

C

2

D

3

E

1

F

2

G

3

A

4

B

C4

C5

C6

For all the scales that start with finger number 1, if the scale pattern you are playing is ending then you would want to end with finger number 5. Otherwise if you are playing more than one octave then you would use finger number 1 again when you reach the root note. If you play the scale descending then you would want to start with finger number 5, but that is the only time that you would use it.

Major Left Hand

Start with
5
if playing the scale ascending
4
3
2
1
3
2
1
4
3
2
1
3
2
1
C
D
E
G
A
B
Db
Eb
F
F#
Gb
Ab
Bb

Scales

C Major Scale

1 Select a Root Note

2 Select a Scale Type

F2

5

C

4

D

3

E

2

F

1

G

3

A

2

B

C4

C5

C6

Minor Scale

Minor Right Hand

End with
5
if on last octave
1
2
3
1
2
3
4
1
2
3
1
2
3
4
C
D
E
G
A
B
C#
D#
Eb
F
F#
G#
Bb

Scales

C Minor Scale

1 Select a Root Note

2 Select a Scale Type

F2

1

C

2

D

1

F

2

G

3

Eb

3

Ab

4

Bb

C4

C5

C6

Minor Left Hand

Start with
5
if playing the scale ascending
4
3
2
1
3
2
1
4
3
2
1
3
2
1
C
D
E
F
G
A
B
C#
D#
Eb
F#
G#
Bb

Scales

C Minor Scale

1 Select a Root Note

2 Select a Scale Type

F2

5

C

4

D

2

F

1

G

3

Eb

3

Ab

2

Bb

C4

C5

C6

The basic fundamental finger pattern in actually the same for all versions of the minor and major scales and the only things that change are where you start and possible alternate fingers for finishing a scale.

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