What Scale Is This?

author: AlanHB date: 07/23/2012 category: music theory
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What Scale Is This?
Wassup kids,

I'm Alan, and I'm a moderator of the Musician's Talk forum. You mayn't have been there before, but we talk about one thing, and one thing only, Music Theory.

I've written this article to address one of our our most common questions - what scale is this?. I'm going to show you how a little bit of knowledge has lead you to some ridiculous named scale, but it's really just the major or minor scale.

Let's just start with a C major scale. The notes are C D E F G A B C. You've probably heard that a million times. For the purposes of this article we'll put an initial diagram here.


FretEADGBE
7xxxxx
8xxxx
9xx 
10xxxxxx

Did you know that in a major or minor key you can use any note you want? Well you can. Notes that are played outside the scale are called accidentals. They have little to no bearing on the harmonic context of a song, not so much as a dog barking while you listen to your favourite song.

One of the most common pattern of accidentals used are a b3, b5 and b7, and these are commonly referred to as the Blues Scale. It is used in the vast majority of blues, rock, metal etc.

So lets throw those notes in too. For assistance I have added these accidentals with the o symbol.


FretEADGBE
6oooo
7xxxxox
8xxooxx
9oxx 
10xxxxxx
11oooo

Gee whiz, that's a lot of notes! Guess what, it's every note except two. They are the b2 (C#) and b6 (Bb). You can play these too if you want, I don't really care mate.

But the point is, in a song in the key of C major, if you ask this question:

What scale is this?


E|------------8-6-7-----------------------
B|------------------8-7-------------------
G|----------------------11-10-9-8-7-------
D|----------------------------------8-9-10
A|------6-8-9-----------------------------
E|--7-8-----------------------------------

You can see that it's simply the C major scale with b3, b5 and b7 accidentals.

Alternatively you could say it's a combination of the C major scale and the C blues scale.

However if you feel that you need a special name for it, I've used an anagram generator using the words major and blues to create some names for you to tell your friends.

- Maulers Job Scale - Real Jumbos Scale - Soar Jumble Scale

I hear you screaming but I'm metal and I play minor. Ok, let's do this one again kids. Let's do A minor.


FretEADGBE
4x 
5xxxxxX
6x 
7xxxxX
8xxxX

What are common accidentals in the minor? We have the b5 from the blues scale above, and we also have the major 7th, derived from the harmonic minor. The major 6th is quite common as well, especially in blues. Let's throw them in.


FretEADGBE
4ooxoO
5xxxxxX
6oox 
7xxxxoX
8xxoxX

That's quite a few notes again. Ten. Two aren't used, the b2 and the major 3rd. And you can still play them, once again I don't care. I'm simply illustrating that what you're looking for is most likely what you already know.

The scale above is the minor scale with major 6th, major 7th and b5 accidentals.

Again I can see that you don't feel this is exotic enough so I used a random word generator for this one:

- Cryptobranchidae Scale - Millenarist Scale - Keftab Scale

So there you go, I've just given you some crazy scales with names to go with them. And now you can answer your own question what scale is this?.

As for your forthcoming questions:

Huh, wait, err, what?

Just remember these three points:

1. In a major or minor key, you are always playing some variation of the major or minor scale.

2. If you play notes outside a scale they are called accidentals.

3. 99.9999999% of songs are in major or minor keys.

My favourite band Mr Deathface always play the other notes not in your diagram.

In major and minor keys you can play any note you want. They're called accidentals. They have no bearing on the harmonic context, about as much as a dog barking whilst you play. Mr Deathface probably realised this at some point, and instead of finding some wanky name chose to play whatever notes he felt like.

Alternatively in an interview he referred to it as the Graghie Scale because he thought it sounded cool. Either way he was really just using the minor scale with accidentals.

But my song is modal.

The pure truth is that 99.999999% of songs are not modal. They are in a major or minor keys. A song is either in a mode, or in a key. They can never be in both at the same time. They are two different things.

Scales can be derived from modes, but they cease to function as modes once they are played in a key. Does this statement make you go huh?. That's cool, stick to major and minor scales and keys for now.

And more to the point, if you really had a firm grasp on modes, you'd have a firm grasp on scales, harmonisation, chord construction, keys, accidentals and everything else that goes along with this. You wouldn't be asking "what scale is this?", you'd already know.

My friend told me that that's a multospagian scale.

Yep that's all good dude, tell him the correct name is actually the Millenarist Scale. Either way it doesn't change it being a major or minor scale with accidentals.

Err but what about all the other notes on the fretboard.

The notes repeat through the fretboard. Learn the fretboard.

Why do people use all these names for scales then?

Because it's shorter. And that's about it. A blues scale in a major key could be called the major scale with b3, b5 and b7 accidentals. But it's just easier to say blues scale. A harmonic minor could be called a minor scale with a major 7th accidental, but harmonic minor is shorter.

I found a solo which sortof matches those diagrams but it doesn't play all the notes there.

You don't have to play all the notes. Someone didn't come along and put a gun to your head and say play all the notes or die. Likewise, you don't have to sacrifice your first born kitten if you play them out of order.

How do I know if the song is major or minor? I don't even know what a key is.

Mate, you're going to have to learn. No matter what I tell you, it won't help. It could literally be any scale in the world, because as I've stated many times here, you can use any note you want. Yes I could tell you that B minor is the way to go, and you'd look up a pattern of notes of the B minor scale and you'd follow that for the song, but what happens with the next song? I'm not going to be here with you forever mate.

If this is something you'd really like to learn about, Josh Urban has a great set of articles which will teach you all that stuff, start with part 1.

What scale is this?

You tell me mate. I've shown you some simple diagrams of major and minor scales with accidentals. Do I need to add more? Should I say well Mr Deathface uses the b2 accidental and Mr Ug Ug uses the major 3rd so I'll add them in? The answer is you can use every note you want in a major or minor key.

To find the scale:

1. Identify if song is in a major or minor key. 2. Identify if accidentals are used. 3. If accidentals are present, use random word generator to create the name.

And now you know.
More AlanHB columns:
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