Music Scales

Major and Minor Scales

A scale is a series of notes in alphabetical order. Music Scales are divided into 2 kinds:

1. Diatonic Scales - consist of tones and semi-tones. It is a seven note 'octave-repeating' scale consisting of 5 whole-steps (tones) and 2 half-steps (semitones) e.g., The 'C Major' diatonic scale would read as follows:

C - D - E - F - G - A - B - C (octave above the first C)

C Diatoniic Scale - Ascending & Descending
C Diatonic Scale - Ascending & Descending


2. Chromatic Scales - consist of semi-tones only. It consists of 12 notes, each a semitone apart. For example, the C chromatic scale would read as follows:

C - C# - D - D# - E - F - F# - G - G# - A - A# - B - (C) ascending

C - B - Bb - A - Ab - G - Gb - F - E - Eb - D - Db - (C) descending

C Chromatic Scale - Ascending & Descending
C Chromatic Scale - Ascending & Descending


Diatonic Scales are divided into 2 kinds:

  1. Major Scales
  2. Minor Scales

Major Scales

A Major Scale is a series of 8 notes in alphabetical order, containing 5 tones and 2 semi-tones. The 8th note is the same as the first note, but is an octave higher.
  • The 5 tones occur between the 1st-2nd, 2nd-3rd, 4th-5th, 5th-6th, 6th-7th notes of the scale.
  • The 2 semi-tones occur between the 3rd-4th and 7th-8th notes of the scale
  • ie. 1 ( tone) 2 ( tone) 3 (semi- tone) 4 ( tone) 5 ( tone) 6 ( tone) 7 (semi- tone) 8
C Major Scale
Pattern of Whole and Half steps in the C major scale... W - W - H - W - W - W - H


The Step Method can be used to determine all Major Scales... here's a few examples.

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


C Major Scale

The simplest way to determine any Major Scale is to use the Step Method between each of the 8 notes in the scale. The 1st and last notes are the same except they are 1 octave apart.

Whole - Whole - Half - Whole - Whole - Whole - Half     OR     W - W - H - W - W - W - H

Remember:
1 Whole Step = 2 semitones
1 Half Step = 1 semitones


Minor Scales

1. Natural or Relative Minor Scale

The Natural Minor Scale is the sixth mode of the major scale. It is sometimes referred to as the Aeolian mode, e.g., if you are in the key of C and move up 6 notes, counting C as number 1, you reach A. Therefore, the relative minor of C Major is A Minor.

The Natural Minor Scale is represented by the formula 1 2 ♭3 4 5 ♭6 ♭7 8 where each degree of the scale is represented by a number.

 1 Unison
 2 Major 2nd
♭3 Minor 3rd
 4 Perfect 4th
 5 Perfect 5th
♭6 Minor 6th
♭7 Minor 7th
 8 Octave


If we want to use the formula for calculating our Natural Minor Scales we need to know the notes of the Major keynote scale. Consider the following example...

Natural D Minor Scale = D - E - F - G - A - B♭- C - D

EXAMPLE: D NATURAL MINOR
Use Table 1 to determine the notes of the D Major Scale: D - E - F# - G - A - B - C# - D

The formula for the Relative Minor Scale = 1 2 ♭3 4 5 ♭6 ♭7 8 (ascending and descending)

The 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th and 8th notes remain unchanged.

Flatten the 3rd note so that F# becomes F

Flatten the 6th note so that B becomes B♭

Flatten the 7th note so that C# becomes C

Presto! We have a D Natural Minor Scale: D - E - F - G - A - B♭ - C - D - C - B♭- A - G - F - E - D (asc. and desc.)


D Natural Minor Scale - Ascending & Descending
D Natural Minor Scale - Ascending & Descending

2. Harmonic Minor Scale

The Harmonic Minor Scale is the same as the Natural Minor Scale but with a chromatically raised seventh degree ascending and descending. (raised by 1 semitone)

The Harmonic Minor Scale is represented by the formula 1 2 ♭3 4 5 ♭6 7 8 where each degree of the scale is represented by a number.

 1 Unison
 2 Major 2nd
♭3 Minor 3rd
 4 Perfect 4th
 5 Perfect 5th
♭6 Minor 6th
 7 Major 7th
 8 Octave


If we want to use the formula for calculating our Harmonic Minor Scales we need to know the notes of the Major Keynote Scale. Consider the following example...

G Harmonic Minor Scale = G - A - B♭- C - D - E♭- F# - G

EXAMPLE: G HARMONIC MINOR

Use Table 1 (step method) to determine the notes of the G Major Scale: G - A - B - C - D - E - F# - G

Harmonic Minor Scale: 1 2 ♭3 4 5 ♭6 7 8 (ascending and descending)

Substitute the notes of the G Major Scale into the formula and make the necessary adjustments to all accidentals.

G Harmonic Minor: G - A - B♭ - C - D - E♭- F# - G - F# - E♭- D - C - B♭- A - G

If you are confused about 'descending', go to the last note (end) and work backwards towards the middle....you always move from the lowest note to the highest note. The first and last notes (D) are the tonic, while the middle note (D) is an octave above the tonic.

G Harmonic Minor Scale - Ascending & Descending
G Harmonic Minor Scale - Ascending & Descending

3. Melodic Minor Scale

The Melodic Minor Scale is the same as the natural minor scale but with a chromatically raised sixth and seventh degree ascending and restored to its normal pitch descending (natural minor).

The Melodic Minor Scale is represented by the formula 1 2 ♭3 4 5 6 7 8 ascending, and 1 2 ♭3 4 5 ♭6 ♭7 8 descending where each degree of the scale is represented by a number.

P.S. The descending Melodic Minor Scale is exactly the same as the Natural Minor Scale.

Notes Ascending Notes Descending
 1 Unison  1 Unison
 2 Major 2nd  2 Major 2nd
♭3 Minor 3rd ♭3 Minor 3rd
 4 Perfect 4th  4 Perfect 4th
 5 Perfect 5th  5 Perfect 5th
 6 Major 6th ♭6 Minor 6th
 7 Major 7th ♭7 Minor 7th
 8 Octave  8 Octave

If we want to use the formula for calculating our Melodic Minor Scales we need to know the notes of the Major Keynote Scale. Consider the following example...

A Melodic Minor = A - B - C - D - E - F# - G# - A

EXAMPLE: A MELODIC MINOR

Use Table 1 (step method) to determine the notes of the A Major Scale: A - B - C# - D - E - F# - G# - A

Melodic Minor Scale: 1 2 ♭3 4 5 6 7 8 (ascending) 1 2 ♭3 4 5 ♭6 ♭7 8 (descending)

Substitute the notes of the A Major Scale into the formula and make the necessary adjustments to all accidentals.

A Melodic Minor = A - B - C - D - E - F# - G# - A - G - F - E - D - C - B - A (ascending and descending)

A Melodic Minor Scale - Ascending & Descending
A Melodic Minor Scale - Ascending & Descending


Phew... You're doin' great!

Finding a keynote from accidentals

The TONIC is the keynote or 1st note of every music scale.

Sharps and Flats are used in the formation of scales to fix the correct position of the tones and semi-tones. This is how Key Signatures are formed.

A Key Signature consists of Sharps and Flats which are placed at the beginning of every Stave of Music to fix the correct pitch of the key.


To find the keynote from given # accidentals in the key signature
To find the keynote from given # accidentals in a Major Key, look for the last # to occur in the order of appearance of the sharps in the key signature, and ascend 1 semi-tone as that last sharp is the 7th degree or leading note of that key... 7th degree to the tonic = 1 semitone

music in g magor

In this example we see 1 sharp - F on the clef at the beginning of a piece of music (key signature). If you ascend 1 semi-tone from F#, you get G... presto! You are in the key of G Major.



To find the keynote from given ♭ accidentals in the key signature
To find the keynote from given ♭ accidentals in a Major Key, look for the last ♭ to occur in the order of appearance of the flats in the key signature, and ascend 7 semitones, as that last flat is the 4th degree or Sub-dominant of the key... 4th degree to the tonic = 7 semitones.

music in Ab magor

In this example we see 4 flats - B♭, E♭, A♭, and D♭ on the clef at the beginning of a piece of music (key signature). If you ascend 7 semitones from D♭(the last flat), you get A♭... You are in the key of A♭ Major.


If you see no sharps or flats in the key signature, you are in the key of C Major or A Minor.

Rules for Music Scales

  • Music Scales are related by their key signatures: Major to Minor and Minor to Major.
  • Every Major Scale has a relative Natural Minor Scale and every Minor Scale has a relative Major Scale
  • The Major scale and its relative Minor Scale share the same Key Signature. This means they share the same notes, but because they start at different places, they have a different step pattern and therefore a different sound.
  • To find a Relative Minor from a given Major, descend (count down) 3 semi-tones from the major, e.g., if you are in the key of A Major, count down 3 semitones from A - G# - G - F# ... you are in the key of F#minor.
  • To find a Relative Major from a given Minor, ascend (count up) 3 semi-tones from the minor, e.g., if you are in the key of Am, count up 3 semitones from A - A# - B - C ... you are in the key of C Major.

Technical Names of Scale Degrees

Each note in a given music scale is given a technical name: A scale degree is the name given to each note of the scale in relation to the tonic or root note which is the first degree of a diatonic scale. The illustration below shows the names of the scale degrees in C Major.

scale degrees

Each scale degree can be described in several ways:

  • First, second, major or minor third, fourth, fifth, major or minor sixth, major or minor seventh
  • Roman Numerals, i.e., I - II - III - IV - V - VI - VII - VIII
  • Arabic Numerals, i.e., 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
  • Names and their function, i.e., Tonic, Supertonic, Mediant, Subdominant, Dominant, Submediant, Leading Tone, Tonic (Octave / Upper Tonic).
Scale Degrees
Degree Name Meaning Notes in C
1st Tonic Tonal center / note of final resolution C
2nd Supertonic One whole step above the tonic D
3rd (Maj/Min) Mediant Half-way between the tonic and dominant E/E♭
4th Subdominant Lower dominant / same interval below tonic dominant is above tonic F
5th Dominant 2nd most important note to the tonic G
6th (Maj/Min) Submediant Lower mediant / mid-way between the tonic and subdominant A/A♭
7th (Maj/Min) Leading Tone / Subtonic Melodically strong affinity for the tonic / leads to the tonic / Subtonic-one whole step below the tonic B/B♭
8th Octave/Upper Tonic Octave above the tonic / tonal center / note of final resolution C

Subtonic is used when the interval between it and the tonic in the upper octave is a whole step, e.g., 7 or dom7 (B♭)
Leading Tone is used when the interval is a half step, e.g., maj7 (B)

In Summary:
  • Supertonic and Subtonic are, one step above and one step below the tonic
  • Mediant and Submediant are each a third above and below the tonic
  • Dominant and Subdominant are a fifth above and below the tonic
I hope you enjoyed this session on Music Scales. For some of you, it may seem a little daunting. Don't give up. As you continue on this sometimes rugged journey they call Theory, things start to make sense after a while. When you practice next, ask yourself a few questions about the key you're in; how many sharps or flats are there; does the piece sound happy or sad, and if so, why? Major Scales tend to sound pretty happy whereas a minor scale has a certain 'sadness' about it. Try it for yourself. The same applies to Major & Minor chords. Play an A chord, then play an Am chord... this is what makes music so wonderful. You can create a certain mood, by just choosing a certain key.
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