Term 1 Theory Lessons & Quiz

4 The Major Scale

What is a scale?

scale is a selection of certain notes within one octave. There are many different kinds of scales. Western music scales are a pattern of tones and semitones based on the 12 tone model. Scales in non-Western music often include quarter tones Click on the scale to hear it play.

Aeolian Mode (also known as natural minor scale)

Pentatonic Scale

Blues Scale

In Grade 8, we will only be learning about major scales.

The Major Scale

Writing a major scale is easy if you know the right formula. It can be written by following a certain pattern of tones and semitones - or whole steps and half steps, if you prefer. This is something that you need to memorize. The pattern is:

Tone - Tone - Semitone - Tone - Tone - Tone - Semitone

Knowing the layout of a piano keyboard and how to follow it to find tones and semitones will be really helpful when writing scales. Even if you do not play the piano, the visual reference is handy.

C Major Scale

Scales are named by the note that they start on. The C major scale starts on the note C. To build a C major scale we start on C and write down our patterns of tones and semitones. The following images use Whole and half steps, but it means the same thing.

Tone - Tone - Semitone - Tone - Tone - Tone - Semitone

Whole - Whole - Half - Whole - Whole - Whole - Half

Our second note is a whole step away. A whole step up from C is D.

The third note is another whole step. From D, the next whole step is E.

The fourth note is a half step up. Remember that a half step (semitone) is the closest distance between two notes. From E, the closest note is F.

The fifth note is a whole step up from F to G.

The sixth note is a whole step up from G to A.

The seventh note the last whole step from A to B.

To finish off, we have a half step. From B to C is a half step and that is the end of our major scale. You will know that the scale is complete when every line and space is filled in from the lower C to the upper C.

Other Major Scales

There are 12 major scales in Western music. C major is the easiest one to remember because it is only the white keys on the keyboard. It does not contain any sharp or flat accidentals. If following the pattern of white keys on the piano does not create the correct pattern of tones and semitones, you can add a sharp to a note to make a semitone into a tone, or add a flat to a note to make a tone into a semitone.

A proper major scale needs to include every letter name within that octave. The notes can be altered with sharps or flats, but the letter names need to stay consistent. For example, this G major scale below has the notes G - A - B - C - D - E - F# - G. The F has been altered with a sharp, but you can see that it follows the musical alphabet as you go up. The note F# and Gb are enharmonic equivalents for the exact same note. However, you can not write a G major scale with a Gb in it. You would end up with a scale that looks like this: G - A - B - C - D - E - Gb - G. You can see that we skipped F entirely and have G written twice. Be careful of which spelling of a note you need to use to correctly write your scale!

The G major scale contains one sharp: F#. When you start on G and just follow up the white keys of the keyboard, they all line up with the correct tones and semitones until you get to F. The distance required for that note is a tone, but from E to F is only a semitone. To increase the distance, a sharp is added. The distance between E and F# is a tone and then the scale can be finished correctly.

The F major scale contains one flat: Bb. Just like in the G scale, we have one of the notes that does not match up with the pattern. The distance required for the third note of a major scale is a semitone, but from A to B the distance is a tone. To shorten the distance, a flat is added. Now we can measure A to Bb as a semitone and continue the scale.


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