Major Scales

Major Scales are diatonic scales made up of tones & semitones where each note has a different name. There are 8 notes in alphabetical order consisting of 5 tones and 2 semitones - the 8th note is the same as the first note, but is one octave higher.

Diagram 1:
Notes on a Piano / Keyboard

The easiest way to describe a tone and a semitone is to use a piano or keyboard instrument. A whole tone is to move from one given note to the 2nd next note immediately above or below it. A half-tone or semitone is to move from one given note to the very next note immediately above or below... more on tones and semitones.

The Step Method

The following diagram describes the pattern of whole and half steps used to calculate any major scale - it is through the C Maj Scale that the step method is derived. All the white keys on a piano belong to the C maj Scale, and as you move from C to C (one octave higher), the series of whole and half-steps becomes apparent. This in turn can be used to calculate all other Maj Scales.

Diagram 2:
C Major Scale
  • Whole - W represents a whole tone or whole step which is equivalent to 2 semitones
  • Half - H represents a half-tone or half step which is equivalent to 1 semitone
  • We can determine all major scales by using the step method.
  • Each whole and half step is placed between each note of any 8-note major scale in the exact order as follows: W - W - H - W - W - W - H
  • 1 - (W) - 2 - (W) - 3 - (H) - 4 - (W) - 5 - (W) - 6 - (W) - 7 - (H) - 8 (Notes represented by numbers 1-8)

Major Scales using Tones and Semitones

So how do we calculate Major Scales?

  1. All Major Scales start on the same note and finish on the same note

    • The C Maj Scale begins with the note C and ends with the note C.
    • The D Maj Scale begins with the note D and ends with the note D.
    • The F Maj Scale begins with the note F and ends with the note F.

  2. Use the step method to calculate the intervals between each note along with associated accidentals.

There are a number of ways you can use the step method, all of which are equal in terms of the distance between each scale note. Remember that each of these steps occur between each of the 8 scale notes.

  • W - W - H - W - W - W - H : This indicates Whole and Half Tones or Whole and Half Steps
  • T - T - S - T - T - T - S : Indicates Tones and Semitones
  • 2 - 2 - 1 - 2 - 2 - 2 - 1 : Indicates number of Semitones

They all mean the same thing - some people prefer to use a Tone instead of whole tone or whole-step; a semitone instead of a half tone or half-step; a number representing total semitones instead of names... the choice is yours. The important thing is that you calculate the scale correctly.

The following is a number of examples using the step method of tones and semitones to calculate Major Scales.

Table 1:
Scale Notes 1st   2nd   3rd   4th   5th   6th   7th   8th
Whole/Half Steps   W   W   H   W   W   W   S  
Tones/Semitones   T   T   S   T   T   T   S  
Semitones   2   2   1   2   2   2   1  
C Major Scale C   D   E   F   G   A   B   C
G Major Scale G   A   B   C   D   E   F#   G
D Major Scale D   E   F#   G   A   B   C#   D
F Major Scale F   G   A   B♭   C   D   E   F
B♭ Major Scale B♭   C   D   E♭   F   G   A   B
E♭ Major Scale E♭   F   G   A♭   B   C   D   E♭

Below you will find a chart of all the Major Scales along with the order of sharps and flats.

Remember that we are dealing with diatonic scales where every note must have a different name. This means on a music stave, every note has its own line or space - no 2 notes are on the same line except in cases where you have an ascending and descending scale where the first and last notes are exactly the same... C - D - E - F - G - A - B - C - B - A - G - F - E - D - C


Diagram 3:
C Major Scale

If you need to calculate the notes in a descending order simply reverse the order of the step method. We will use C Major as an example:

  • Ascending: W - W - H - W - W - W - H:
    C - (W) - D - (W) - E - (H) - F - (W) - G - (W) - A - (W) - B - (H) - C
  • Descending: H - W - W - W - H - W - W
    C - (H) - B - (W) - A - (W) - G - (W) - F - (H) - E - (W) - D - (W) - C
  • The result: C - D - E - F - G - A - B - C - B - A - G - F - E - D - C.

Remember when calculating the 'descending', order, go to the last note (end) and work backwards towards the middle....you always move from the lowest note to the highest note, hence the reversal of the ascending order.



Instructional Video:

'Musictheoryguy' strikes again with another enthralling video which you will find extremely beneficial and loaded with useful information on the use of tones and semitones to create major scales... enjoy.

Major Scales Chart

The following chart lists all the major scales, their sharps and flats and also the order of sharps and flats. This is a key signature and a very important part of music theory.

When I was learning music theory, my teacher gave me 'sayings' to help me remember the order of sharps and flats in any given key signature. The first letter of each word indicated the sharp or flat, and where the word lay in the sentence indicated its order. If you find these sayings hard to remember, make up your own and have fun with them. I use them all the time.

Order of Sharps: Few Can Gain Distinction And Escape Blame....... F - C - G - D - A - E - B

Order of Flats: By Energy And Diligence Good Children Flourish.... B - E - A - D - G - C - F

This order never changes... no matter what key you are in, the order of sharps and flats in a key signature is always the same.

Major Scale Sharps Notes in the Scale Order Of Sharps Saying
C None C - D - E - F - G - A - B    
G 1# G - A - B - C - D - E - F# F# Few
D 2# D - E - #F - G - A - B - C# F# - C# Can
A 3# A - B - #C - D - E - F# - G# F# - C# - G# Gain
E 4# E - F# - G# - A - B - C# - D# F# - C# - G# - D# Distinction
*B   5# B - C# - D# - E - F# - #G - A# F# - C# - G# - D# - A# And
*F# 6# F# - G# - A# - B - C# - D# - E# F# - C# - G# - D# - A# - E# Escape
*C# 7# C# - D# - E# - F# - G# - A# - B# F# - C# - G# - D# - A# -E# - B# Blame
         
Major Scale Flats Notes in the Scale Order Of Flats Saying
C None C - D - E - F - G - A - B    
F 1♭ F - G - A - B♭ - C - D - E B♭ By
B♭ 2♭ B♭ - C - D - E♭ - F - G - A B♭ - E♭ Energy
E♭ 3♭ E♭ - F - G - A♭ - B♭ - C - D B♭ - E♭ - A♭ And
A♭ 4♭ A♭ - B♭ - C - D♭ - E♭ - F - G B♭ - E♭ - A♭ - D♭ Diligence
*D♭   5♭ D♭ - E♭ - F - G♭ - A♭ - B♭ - C B♭ - E♭ - A♭ - D♭ - G♭ Good
*G♭   6♭ G♭ - A♭ - B♭ - C♭ - D♭ - E♭ - F B♭ - E♭ - A♭ - D♭ - G♭ - C♭ Children
*C♭   7♭ C♭ - D♭ - E♭ - F♭ - G♭ - A♭ - B♭ B♭ - E♭ - A♭ - D♭ - G♭ - C♭ - F♭ Flourish

* indicates 'enharmonic' which is a note or key signature which is equivalent to another note or key signature, but spelled differently, e.g., B Major = C♭ Major         F# Major = G♭ Major         C# Major = D♭ Major



You will need Adobe Reader (the latest version is recommended) installed on your computer in order to open and read this pdf file. You can get Adobe Reader here (a new window will open so you can download it without leaving this page).

Calculating Major Scales using the Circle of Fifths

I have found another excellent video on the net by the 'musictheoryguy'. It explains how to calculate major scales using the Circle of Fifths. It is a very valuable tool for calculating key signatures for both major and minor scales. If you are serious about music theory, you will find this very handy. If you want to view a video on how to create the circle of fifths, you can revisit minor scales (towards the bottom of the page).

Interesting...

If you already know some music theory, I’m going to throw a little spanner in the works here and tell you that you only ever really play up to 5 sharps and 5 flats in any given key signature. Consider the following...

If you look at the order of sharps, the last two are E# and B#

  • E# is the same as F
  • B# is the same as C

There is only one semitone between E and F. If you sharpen E, it moves up one semi-tone to F. There is only one semitone between B and C. If you sharpen B, it moves up one semi-tone to C.

The same applies to the last two flats C♭ and F♭

  • C♭ is the same as B
  • F♭ is the same as E

There is only one semitone between C and B. If you flatten C, it moves down one semi-tone to B There is only one semitone between F and E. If you flatten F, it moves down one semi-tone to E.

However, for the sake of theory and best practices we must include all the seven sharps and flats in any given key signature. As you delve into the world of theory, this will become more apparent.

Back to Music Scales Theory

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