Building A Major Scale In Any Key

author: dvuksanovich date: 03/14/2011 category: the basics
rating: 6.4 / votes: 7 
The twelve notes of the chromatic scale are the building blocks of western music. It's amazing, really, to think that just twelve notes are the basis for centuries of artistry and innovation, but it's true. So without further ado... here they are... the twelve notes of the chromatic scale, starting with C (the C at the end is not counted in the twelve since the scale is repeating itself at that point): C - C#/Db - D - D#/Eb - E - F - F#/Gb - G - G#/Ab - A - A#/Bb - B - C Building a major scale is simply a matter of selecting certain notes from the chromatic scale in a specific pattern. In order to understand the pattern we need to clarify a few things. The "root" of any scale is the note on which it starts. A C Major scale's root is C because it is the first note of the scale. An "interval" describes the distance between two notes. Scales are a series of intervals. Each different type of scale (major vs. minor, for example) has its own pattern. A "half step" is the distance from one chromatic note to the next chromatic note. For example, C - C#/Db is a half step. A "whole step" is two half steps. For example, C - D is a whole step. An "octave" is twelve half steps. For example, from C to the next higher C is one octave. An "enharmonic" is when two differently notated notes have the same pitch. For example, C# and Db are two different ways of notating the exact same note. Therefore in the above chromatic scale, C#/Db is one note which can be notated either with C# or Db. This may seem a bit strange now, but it becomes very important for more advanced theory topics such as voice leading. That's pretty much everything you need to know to start building scales. As mentioned above, the major scale has a specific pattern of intervals that makes it "major." Starting on any root note, the intervals are: Whole-Whole-Half-Whole-Whole-Whole-Half. Let's see if we can build a C Major scale using this pattern: C is the root of our C Major scale, so we'll start with C The first interval we need is a whole step, which means that the second note is D (C - D = two half steps = one whole step) The next interval we need is a whole step, which means that the third note is E (D - E = two half steps = one whole step) The next interval we need is a half step, which means that the fourth note is F (E - F = one half step) The next interval we need is a whole step, which means that the fifth note is G (F - G = two half steps = one whole step) The next interval we need is a whole step, which means that the sixth note is A (G - A = two half steps = one whole step) The next interval we need is a whole step, which means that the seventh note is B (A - B = two half steps = one whole step) The final interval (which gets us back to the root one octave higher) is a half step (B - C = one half step) That's it. Many of you already know the notes of a C Major scale, but this will help you understand why the notes of C Major are what they are. The good news is that by understanding how to build a C Major scale you can now build a major scale on any root note. All you have to do is count out the intervals from whichever root you choose. Let's try an A Major scale: A is the root of our A Major scale, so we'll start with A The first interval we need is a whole step, which means that the second note is B (A - B = two half steps = one whole step) The next interval we need is also a whole step, which means that the third note is C# (B - C# = two half steps = one whole step) The next interval we need is a half step, which means that the fourth note is D (C# - D = one half step) The next interval we need is a whole step, which means that the fifth note is E (D - E = two half steps = one whole step) The next interval we need is a whole step, which means that the sixth note is F# (E - F# = two half steps = one whole step) The next interval we need is a whole step, which means that the seventh note is G# (F# - G# = two half steps = one whole step) The final interval (which gets us back to the root one octave higher) is a half step (G# - A = one half step) See how that works? All we need is the chromatic scale and the pattern necessary to build a major scale and we can now build a major scale in any key we want! In the beginning it's best to write out the chromatic scale on paper so you can count intervals accurately, but eventually you'll be able to do it in your head. Advanced tip: Many of you may be wondering why I used C#, F# and G# instead of the enharmonic values of Db, Gb and Ab. The answer is fairly simple. When we build scales we're using intervals called "seconds." A half step can also be known as a "minor second" while a whole step can also be known as a "major second." The main requirement for an interval to be some sort of "second" is that we go from one letter to the next. In other words, B - C# is a second (because we're going from a note with the letter B to a note with the letter C), but B - Db is not a second (because we're going from a note with the letter B to a note with the letter D), even though the pitches are exactly the same. Thanks for reading. For more free lessons, please visit www.whyisuckatguitar.com.
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