Major scales

It would not be an overstatement to say that the major scale is the most important scale in western music.

Let's keep this lesson short though.

We'll start by connecting the scale to the intervals it contains. the major scale contains only perfect and major intervals.

So we can define the major scale as:
major scale = Tonic,M2,M3,P4,P5,M6,M7,P8 or
major scale = 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8.

(if you are unsure about these notations, see the 2 previous lessons)

From this definition, we could find the step pattern for the scale to be the following:
Major scale = W-W-1/2-W-W-W-1/2.

From here we could spell out the 12 major scales. How do we spell out the major scales? recall, the chromatic scale is all 1/2 step apartand is the tones:

Let's start at C and using the step pattern W-W-1/2-W-W-W-1/2.
From C, a whole step is D, and a Wholestep from D is E. A 1/2-step from E is F. So far we have:

C  D  E   F
 W  W  1/2

A wholestep from F is G, a wholestep from G is A, and a whole step from A is B, and now we have:

C  D  E   F  G  A  B
 W  W  1/2 W  W  W

Going the final 1/2step from B brings us back to C.
C-major scale = C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C.

Repeating the process we find the other 11 major scales . We note that each of the 12 scales uses each letter name once, and accidentals (if needed) to provide all the tones of the scales.

Key of C: C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C
Key of D: D,E,F#,G,A,B,C#,D
Key of E: E,F#,G#,A,B,C#,D#,E
Key of F: F,G,A,Bb,C,D,E,F
Key of G: G,A,B,C,D,E,F#,G
Key of A: A,B,C#,D,E,F#,G#,A
Key of B: B,C#,D#,E,F#,G#,A#,B
Key of Bb: Bb,C,D,Eb,F,G,A,Bb
Key of Db: Db,Eb,F,Gb,Ab,Bb,C,Db
Key of Eb: Eb,F,G,Ab,Bb,C,D,Eb
Key of Gb: Gb,Ab,Bb,Cb,Db,Eb,F,Gb
Key of Ab: Ab,Bb,C,Db,Eb,F,G,Ab

Connection to Solfeggio
A system of classification used in many countries is solfeggio syllables. the connection to the major scale is clear.
We can equate the definition in numbers:
major scale = 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8
with the definition in solfeggio syllables:
major scale = Do,Re,Mi,Fa,Sol,La,Ti,Do.
(this assumes a moveable do, and not a fixed do system)
We will not be using the solfeggio system but we acknowledge it existence.

Roman Numeral System
We can talk about the functionality of chords using the roman Numeral System. It is tied to the major scale in the following way:
* the root note is referred to as the Tonic. It is the note in the scale which the other notes resolve back to.
* The 5th degree ascending (the perfect 5th) is the next most common note (and chord) and is called the Dominant.
* Inverting the dominant (going down a P5). We call this the sub-dominant.
* Halfway to the dominant is the mediant.
* The inverse of the mediant is the sub-maediant.
* the octave (halfway to the octave is the tritone)
* The step above the tonic is called the supertonic (a wholestep below the tonic is the sub-tonic).
* The 7th degree which is a halfstep from the octave and leads to it is called the leading-note.

To summarize, the names of the degrees of the major scale in the roman numeral system are the following:

1     Tonic  (PU)
2     Super-tonic (M2,m2)
3     Mediant (M3,m3)
4     sub-Dominant  (P4)
((#4/b5)Tritone  (a4/d5))
5     Dominant  (P5)
6     Sub-Mediant (M6,m6)
(b7   Sub-tonic  (m7))
7     Leading-tone (M7)
8     Tonic  (P8)

* note: the tritone and subtonic are not found in the major scale.

Use in Analysis
Along with the chromatic scale, the ajor scale is used to analyze music. the major scale is used as the standard against which all scales or chords are measured.

To summarize, we define the major scale as :
major scale = 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8
major scale = Tonic,M2,M3,P4,P5,M6,M7,P8
Major scale = W-W-1/2-W-W-W-1/2
major scale = Do,Re,Mi,Fa,Sol,La,Ti,Do
major scale = Tonic,supertonic, mediant,sub-dominant, dominant, sub-mediant, leading tone
major scale = C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C (in key of C)

and written in standard notation:

|                         |
|                      O  |
|                O        |
|          O              |
   W  W  1/2 W  W  W 1/2 

Next lesson is on the minor scale.

Christopher Roberts

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Next lesson - Minor Scales
Previous lesson - Intro to scales

Last updated March 27, 2003
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