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Major scale music theory

Overview

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
3. Improvising

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:

2-2-1-2-2-2-1

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,


Allan,
BellaOnline’s Musician Editor

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