Scales, apart from being useful as skin on an alligator or snake, are some of the most useful tools in music. You can use them for:
1. Finger exercises
2. Making up chords
Scales are easier to learn if you look at their notes as a PATTERN. Any time you can see whole SHAPES, your brain can automatically learn a GROUP of things compared to one thing at a time. So what are the SHAPES of scales?
In this article we’ll look at the shape of a major scale. The notes of that scale have certain spaces between them. In western music, we measure the distance between notes by using half-steps (also called half-tones or semi-tones).
Half-steps: How we measure distances in music
A half-step on a piano is the distance between one note and the very next note beside it. It doesn’t matter what color the note is; a half-step can be from a black note to a white note, or a white note to a black note, or a white note to another white note, as long as it’s the very next note beside it. (It can’t be from a black note to another black note, because they are not next to each other; a half-step is the distance to the very next note).
On a guitar, a half-step is the distance between one fret and the very next fret.
Major Scale Patterns
A major scale has eight notes. For example a C Major scale is: C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C (the familiar DO-RE-MI-FA-SOL-LA-TI-DO)
A major scale always has the same spacing between those notes. From the first to the second note is a distance of two ½-steps (from C to D is two half-steps). From the second note to the 3rd note is another two ½-steps. From the 3rd note to the fourth note is one ½-step. Here’s the spacing for the notes of a major scale:
If you look carefully, you’ll see that there’s a PATTERN:
2-2-1 on each end, joined by a “2” in the middle:
(2-2-1) 2 (2-2-1)
With that pattern (two-twenty one) (two) (two-twenty-one), you can find the notes of ANY major scale.
Let’s find the notes of a G major scale. Starting on G, go up two ½-steps. From G up one ½-step is G#; one more ½-step is A. So the second note of a G scale is A.
From A, go up another two ½-steps – from A to A#, then to B. So the 3rd note of the scale is B.
The first three notes of the scale are: G-A-B. If you follow the 2-2-1-2-2-2-1 formula, you’ll get: G-A-B-C-D-E-F#-G. You can use that formula to find the notes of any major scale.
A major scale will sound and feel a certain way – somewhat of an “up” feeling – because of that spacing. If you change the space between the notes, it would no longer be a major scale and it would FEEL different.
It’s kind of like the spacing between events in your day. Overwhelmed? Try spacing the events differently. Perhaps your “spacing” is giving you a minor or “sad” scale and spacing or scheduling events differently will change your emotions to a major or “happier” scale.
All the best,
BellaOnline’s Musician Editor
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