The major scale

Within the western tradition from which i'm writing, one of the most historically important scales (if not the most important) is the major scale.

We can define the major scale in several ways.

We can define it as the scale containing pitches at the following intervals from the root (and their octaves): root, major 2nd, major 3rd, perfect 4th, perfect 5th, major 6th, major 7th. ( we abbreviate these as 1,2,3,4,5,6, and 7 respectively).

We can define the major scale as the scale having the step pattern
W-W-1/2-W-W-W-1/2.

In solfeggio syllables, it is defined as:
Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Ti

For many beginners, the major scale is often defined in terms of letter-named pitches. With the most common 1rst example being the notes C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C (in that order).

These notes C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C are refered to as the C-major scale. Sometimes they are refered to as the natural scale (because there are no sharps or flats in the scale). And we can refer to these notes as being the key of C. If we follow from note to note (in the above notes) we can find the step pattern for the major scale W-W-1/2-W-W-W-1/2 (C to D = W, D to E = W, E to F = 1/2, etc.)We also note that for the C-major scale the intervals C=1,D=2,E=3,F=4,G=5,A=6,B=7 (major scale = 1,2,3,4,5,6,7).

Recall from the lesson on the chromatic scale, that the chromatic scale is the set of all the notes we use in the western system we are using. they are: A,A#/Bb,B,C,C#/Db,D,D#/Eb,E,F,F#/Gb,G,G#/Ab.
We can take any of these notes as our root note and build the major scale out of it.

Let's build the Eb major scale.Using the step pattern W-W-1/2-W-W-W-1/2 the chromatic scale (A,A#/Bb,B,C,C#/Db,D,D#/Eb,E,F,F#/Gb,G,G#/Ab) and a rule for choosing which enharmonic name to use, we can create any major scale we want.

ok then.

Eb = 1
Eb to ? = W.
Looking 2 spaces over in the chromatic scale, we find F so,
F = 2.
F to ? = W.
Looking 2 spaces over in the chromatic scale, we find G so,
G = 3.
G to ? = 1/2.
Looking 1 space over in the chromatic scale, we find G#/Ab.Which one should we call it? G# or Ab? Ab. The rule is that you should use each letter once and whatever accidental (#,b,x,bb,etc.) to make it the right note. (such a rule doesn't work for every scale but it will help us identify our intervals, which we can then use to name notes for other scales).
Ab = 4.
Ab to ? = W.
Looking 2 spaces over in the chromatic scale, we find A#/Bb, Which one?
Bb = 5.
Bb to ? = W.
Looking 2 spaces over in the chromatic scale, we find C so,
C = 6
C to ? = W.
Looking 2 spaces over in the chromatic scale, we find D so,
D = 7.
D to ? = 1/2.
Looking 1 space over in the chromatic scale, we find D#/Eb.

The Eb major scale contains the notes/tones Eb,F,G,Ab,Bb,C,D.

A little bit more complicated but using the same process we find the D# major scale contains the notes: D#,E#,Fx,G#,A#,B#,Cx (where x is the "double-sharp" accidental).

And we can find any major scale we want using the same method.

If we attach the numbers 1-7 to the notes in the major scale (in order), and compare that to all the notes in the chromatic scale , then we have a basis for analysis of any note (or larger structure) in the chromatic scale with a relation to a particular root note.

Taking C as the root note. C-major scale = C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C, and the chromatic scale (starting at C) is C,C#/Db,D,D#/Eb,E,F,F#/Gb,G,G#/Ab,A,A#/Bb,B,C. Assigning numbers 1-7to the notes found in C-major, we get:
C = 1 (root note, tonic)
D = 2 (major 2nd)
E = 3 (major 3rd)
F = 4 (perfect 4th)
G = 5 (perfect 5th)
A = 6 (major 6th)
B = 7 (major 7th)

What about the notes: C#/Db,D#/Eb,F#/Gb,G#/Ab,A#/Bb ?
C# = #1 (augmented tonic)
Db = b2 (minor 2nd)
D# = #2 (augmented 2nd)
Eb = b3 (minor 3rd)
F# = #4 (augmented 4th)
Gb = b5 (diminished 5th)
G# = #5 (augmented 5th)
Ab = b6 (minor 6th)
A# = #6 (augmented 6th)
Bb = b7 (minor 7th)

And we could do the same thing for any other note as the root note.

Here it is with C# as root.
C#-major scale = C#,D#,E#,F#,G#,A#,B#,C#
Chromatic scale (starting at C#) is
C#,Cx/D,D#/Eb,E,E#/F,F#/Gb,Fx/G,G#/Ab,Gx/A,A#/Bb,B,B#/C,C#.

Here
C#=1,Cx=#1,D=b2,D#=2,Dx=#2,Eb=bb3,E=b3,E#=3,F=b4,F#=4,Gb=bb5,Fx=#4,G=b5,G#=5,Ab=bb6,Gx=#5,A=b6,A#=6,Bb=bb7,B=b7,B#=7,C=b8(b1).

This shows how messy it can get, luckily C# major and D# major are not commonly used (as such).

Let's get practical. Some keys are more common than others. we would like to know where these notes are in open/1rst position (frets 1-4 and open strings). We'll look at the C-major, G-major, D-major, A-major, E-major, and F-major scales in 1rst position,

Open position

E|-F-|---|-G-|---|
B|-C-|---|-D-|---|
G|---|-A-|---|---|
D|---|-E-|-F-|---|
A|---|-B-|-C-|---|
E|-F-|---|-G-|---|

C-Major scale contains the notes: C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C. In first position, these notes appear:

E|-F-|---|-G-|---|
B|-C-|---|-D-|---|
G|---|-A-|---|---|
D|---|-E-|-F-|---|
A|---|-B-|-C-|---|
E|-F-|---|-G-|---|

We can play an octave of the scale up and down like this:

|---------------------------------|
|--------------0-1-0--------------|
|----------0-2-------2-0----------|
|----0-2-3---------------3-2-0----|
|--3---------------------------3--|
|---------------------------------|

The position also extends above one octave

|------0-1-3--|
|--1-3--------|
|-------------|
|-------------|
|-------------|
|-------------|

and below

|--------------|
|--------------|
|--------------|
|--------------|
|-3-2-0--------|
|-------3-1-0--|

Sing every note you play !

Playing through such patterns will help develop finger memory for where the scale is, but will not tell you how to make melodies/music. Having a palette of notes is a first step to creating music (which is the purpose of scales/chords, etc.) Learning where the notes are does not constitute mastering the scale.

So it helps to use some patterns to mix and match the notes to get deeper into the scale (and closer to melodies).

Here is one one for the C-major scale (above).

|---------------------------------|
|--------------------0---1-0-3-1--|
|------------0---2-0---2----------|
|----2-0-3-2---3------------------|
|--3------------------------------|
|---------------------------------|

Looking at the G-major scale (G-major = G,A,B,C,D,E,F#,G) in 1rst position, we have 2 octaves.

E|---|F#-|-G-|---|
B|-C-|---|-D-|---|
G|---|-A-|---|---|
D|---|-E-|---|F#-|
A|---|-B-|-C-|---|
E|---|F#-|-G-|---|


|--------------------------0-2-3--|
|--------------------0-1-3--------|
|----------------0-2--------------|
|----------0-2-4------------------|
|----0-2-3------------------------|
|--3------------------------------|

Play forward and backward. Sing every note. Practice until you can play without mistakes, and without looking at you fingers.

To get deeper into it, try:

|---------|---------|---------|---------|---------|
|---------|---------|---------|---------|---------|
|---------|---------|---------|---------|-------0-|
|---------|-------0-|-----0-2-|---0-2-4-|-0-2-4---|
|---0-2-3-|-0-2-3---|-2-3-----|-3-------|---------|
|-3-------|---------|---------|---------|---------|


|---------|---------|---------|---------|-------0-|
|---------|-------0-|-----0-1-|---0-1-3-|-0-1-3---|
|-----0-2-|---0-2---|-0-2-----|-2-------|---------|
|-2-4-----|-4-------|---------|---------|---------|
|---------|---------|---------|---------|---------|
|---------|---------|---------|---------|---------|


|-----0-2-|---0-2-3-|-0-2-3-5-|-3-------|
|-1-3-----|-3-------|---------|---------|
|---------|---------|---------|---------|
|---------|---------|---------|---------|
|---------|---------|---------|---------|
|---------|---------|---------|---------|

The D major scale contains the notes D,E,F#,G,A,B,C#. and in open position can be found at :

E|---|F#-|-G-|---|
B|---|C#-|-D-|---|
G|---|-A-|---|---|
D|---|-E-|---|F#-|
A|---|-B-|---|C#-|
E|---|F#-|-G-|---|

one octave

|---------------------------------|
|------------0-2-3-2-0------------|
|--------0-2-----------2-0--------|
|--0-2-4-------------------4-2-0--|
|---------------------------------|
|---------------------------------|

You could play each note against the root.

|---------------------------------------------------------|
|--------------------0---2---3---2---0--------------------|
|------------0---2-----------------------2---0------------|
|--0-2-0-4-0---0---0---0---0----0--0---0---0---0-4-0-2-0--|
|---------------------------------------------------------|
|---------------------------------------------------------|

The A-major scale contains the notes: A,B,C#,D,E,F#,G#, and in open position can be found at:

E|---|F#-|---|G#-|
B|---|C#-|-D-|---|
 |G#-|-A-|---|---|
D|---|-E-|---|F#-|
A|---|-B-|---|C#-|
E|---|F#-|---|G#-|

2 octaves


|------------------------0-2-4-5-4-2-0------------------------|
|------------------0-2-3---------------3-2-0------------------|
|--------------1-2---------------------------2-1--------------|
|--------0-2-4-----------------------------------4-2-0--------|
|--0-2-4-----------------------------------------------4-2-0--|
|-------------------------------------------------------------|

In triad arpeggios:

|-------|-------|-------|-------|-------|-------|-------|-----0---|
|-------|-------|-------|-------|-----0-|-----2-|---0-3-|---2-----|
|-------|-------|-----1-|-----2-|---1---|---2---|-1-----|-2-------|
|-----2-|---0-2-|---2---|-0-4---|-2-----|-4-----|-------|---------|
|-0-4---|-2-----|-4-----|-------|-------|-------|-------|-------0-|
|-------|-------|-------|-------|-------|-------|-------|---------|

The E-major scale contains the notes:
E,F#,G#,A,B,C#,D# and in open position can be found at:

E|---|F#-|---|G#-|
B|---|C#-|---|D#-|
 |G#-|-A-|---|---|
 |D#-|-E-|---|F#-|
A|---|-B-|---|C#-|
E|---|F#-|---|G#-|

2 octaves

|------------------------------0--|
|------------------------0-2-4----|
|--------------------1-2----------|
|--------------1-2-4--------------|
|--------0-2-4--------------------|
|--0-2-4--------------------------|

In a pattern of down 1 step, up 4 steps (by skipping steps).

|-------|-------|-------|-------|-------|-----0-|-----2-|-0-----|
|-------|-------|-----0-|-----2-|-0---4-|-2-0---|-4-2---|-------|
|-----1-|-----2-|-1-----|-2-1---|---2---|-------|-------|-------|
|-2-1---|-4-2---|---4---|-------|-------|-------|-------|-------|
|-------|-------|-------|-------|-------|-------|-------|-------|
|-------|-------|-------|-------|-------|-------|-------|-0-----|

The F major scale contains the notes F,G,A,Bb,C,D,E, and in open position can be found at:

E|-F-|---|-G-|---|
 |-C-|---|-D-|---|
G|---|-A-|Bb-|---|
D|---|-E-|-F-|---|
A|Bb-|---|-C-|---|
E|-F-|---|-G-|---|

2 octaves

|---------------------------0-1--|
|-----------------------1-3------|
|-----------------0-2-3----------|
|-----------0-2-3----------------|
|-----0-1-3----------------------|
|-1-2----------------------------|

down 1 step, up 4 steps (through the notes).

|---|---------|---------|---------|---------|---------|
|---|---------|---------|---------|---------|-------1-|
|---|---------|---------|---------|-----0-2-|-0-2-3---|
|---|---------|-------0-|---0-2-3-|-2-3-----|---------|
|---|-----0-1-|-0-1-3---|-3-------|---------|---------|
|-1-|-0-1-----|---------|---------|---------|---------|


|-------0-|---0-1-3-|-1-|
|---1-3---|-3-------|---|
|-3-------|---------|---|
|---------|---------|---|
|---------|---------|---|
|---------|---------|---|

More information on the major scale can be found at http://simianmoon.com/snglstringtheory/scales/major.html

Peace,
Christopher Roberts
snglstringtheory@aol.com


How do I change all those numbers to letters (for notes, chords, etc.)? Here's a transposition chart simianmoon.com/snglstringtheory/guitar/8theory3.html

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Last updated December 30, 2002
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