Step Patterns

Recall that a scale is a collection of notes (and their octaves) within a given octave to be played one at a time(though you could play them in other ways).

Recall, that a particular scale can be defined in several ways:
1.) as a collection of letter-named notes (specific pitches).
2.) as a collection of relative pitches from a particular pitch (intervals from a root)
3.) as a string of pitches defined pitch to pitch (melodic intervals, step pattern).
... and other definitions exist.

So we can define a step pattern as the pattern of intervals (melodic intervals) going from pitch to closest pitch (through the octave).

So, let's look at an example...
Consider the C-pentatonic major scale
Cpent.maj. = C,D,E,G,A.

C to D is a whole step (W)
D to E is a whole step (W)
E to G is a step and a half (or a minor third, m3)
G to A is a whole step (W)
A to C is a step and a half (or a minor third, m3)

So the step pattern for the pentatonic major scale is W-W-m3-W-m3

Using a step pattern you can find the pitches (tones) in a specific scale.

The Abpent.maj. scale has the step pattern W-W-m3-W-m3. Starting at Ab,
A whole step above Ab is Bb.
A whole step above Bb is C.
A step and a half above C is Eb.
A whole step above Eb is F.
A step and a half above F is Ab.

So the pitches (tones) contained in the Ab pent.maj. scale are Ab,Bb,C,Eb,F.

Looking at other scales already encountered
Pentatonic minor = m3-W-W-m3-W
Chromatic scale = 1/2-1/2-1/2-1/2-1/2-1/2-1/2-1/2-1/2-1/2-1/2-1/2.
Major scale = W-W-1/2-W-W-W-1/2

Given a step pattern, we can define modes of a scale as being connected (or defined) by their step patterns.

Let's take the major scale which has the step pattern
Take the 1rst interval in the step pattern and placing it at the end of the step pattern we obtain W-1/2-W-W-W-1/2-W.
we continue to find all 7 modes of the major scale:
WW1/2WWW1/2 = Ionian (1rst mode)
W1/2WWW1/2W = Dorian (2nd mode)
1/2WWW1/2WW = Phrygian (3rd mode)
WWW1/2WW1/2 = Lydian (4th mode)
WW1/2WW1/2W = Mixolydian (5th mode)
W1/2WW1/2WW = Aeolian (6th mode)
1/2WW1/2WWW = Locrian(7th mode)

More info on modes can be found at

Christopher Roberts

How do I change all those numbers to letters (for notes, chords, etc.)? Here's a transposition chart

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Last updated December 24, 2002
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