a music theory blog

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Major Scale - From the beginning

This is the first part in a series that will take a person from the basics of music theory all the way into the mysterious void that is modes. This installment will cover the most fundamental parts of music theory and end with a practical application of the major scale and some practice exercises to get your fingers in shape for playing the major scale in a box mode.

From the beginning...

In western music there are 12 chromatic notes. These notes are all a semitone apart (semitone = 1/2 step a = 1 fret = 1 key for piano). These semitones are all labeled (arbitrarily I think, but I am looking for a reason why) as the letters A through G. The entire 12 note chromatic scale looks like this:
A - A# - B - C - C# - D - D# - E - F - F# - G - G#

The pattern begins again at A an octave higher than the original A. The # is called a sharp. A# can also be represented as Bb (B flat). Notice that there are no sharps or flats between B - C or E - F. Again, I am pretty sure that this labeling system is arbitrary, but check back with; if I find anything on why the chromatic scale is named this way I'll post it.

The 12 chromatic steps are very easy to find on a piano.
All of the white keys are: A - B - C - D - E - F - G
The black keys are the accidentals (sharps/flats).

Ok... now that we have an understanding of the basic chromatic notes of western music, how do we make it musical? This is where the major scale comes in. If you have ever heard someone say "the song is in the key of C," and thought to yourself "what does that mean to anyone?" this will make the former statement make alot more sense.

The major scale is the basis of all music theory... it allows a musician to form melodies and chords by using its intervals to define patterns on the fretboard (or keys). The major scale itself is a pattern that will work the same in any key. The pattern for the major scale is:
W - W - H - W - W - W - H

Remember when I said that a semitone is equal to a 1/2 step (or 1 fret/1 key)? In the pattern above W = 1 whole step and the H = 1/2 step. So, to find the notes of the C major scale you would start at C and apply the pattern:
C - D - E - F - G - A - B - C

It's that simple. These are all notes that can be played in the key of C major without sounding like they don't belong.
Another example, F major:
F - G - A - Bb - C - D - E - F
(A# is not used to show A#/Bb because major scales are spelled diatonically - no two letters can appear in the scale's spelling - thanks to NoteBoat @ the guitarnoise.com forums for pointing it out)

Try to find the major scale notes for the key of G and A.

The next part of this lesson will include a box diagram of the major scale for guitar players and a key diagram for piano players along with real actual sheet music. I'll also throw a couple of patterns to try out and a practical example of the major scale in action (as a melody line).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good stuff here. Keep up the good work.

4:13 AM

Anonymous Matt said...

Good post. Some great points on modes.

11:22 AM


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