Hi there,

I've just come across something I'm struggling to understand. I understand the concepts of Scales and I understand the concept of intervals. I know that an interval is the musical distance between two pitches. For example C > G in the key of C Major, is a Perfect 5th. I think haha. Tell me if i'm wrong.

But how do scales and intervals fit together in terms of song writing and improvising. I found that I didn't particular get on with scales because if one chord was out of key then I would be stuck at what to play. I thought that by learning intervals, all I had to do was find a note that was in key with that chord and then by using intervals, gives me a bank of notes to choose from that sounds good with that chord rather than just mindlessly playing scales.

I think what I've written is correct, please tell me if I'm wrong at any parts.

In short, how do Scales and intervals fit together in improvising and songwriting?

You're quite there on the theory aspect. Just one small correction: "C > G in the key of C Major, is a Perfect 5th" - The distance from C - G is always a perfect 5th, even if you're not in the key of C major.

That aside, when improvising think of scales, not intervals. If you're improvising in the A minor pentatonic, you don't need to think of every interval in the scale, just the whole pattern.

If you're songwriting on the other hand you should be focusing on chords and chord progressions.
Scales are just collections of notes that create a certain kind of sound. Scales are built of intervals.

The point is to learn the sound of the notes in the scale. Thinking in scales helps with remembering the sound. I would first suggest starting with the minor and major pentatonic scales. Once you know those, add two notes to them and you know the sound of the minor and major scales.

I would suggest learning about scale construction (and that's where you need intervals). This will help you with seeing the differences between different scales and understand the sound of them better. For example if we compare minor and major scales, the minor scale has flattened 3rd, 6th and 7th notes. All of the other notes are the same. If you know both the minor and major scales and how they sound, you can combine them, and you already have access to 10 of the 12 notes. (For example if you combine A minor and A major, you get A B C C# D E F F# G G#. The only notes you are lacking are A#/Bb and D#/Eb.)

Scales make it easier to memorize sounds. This makes it easier to play what you hear in your head. And this obviously improves your improvisation.

Don't treat scales as the only notes that you can use. Learn about accidentals too. I think the most important thing would be learning about harmony. If you know about harmony, what notes will fit becomes more clear.

Learn about keys. If you understand what a key is, all of this makes more sense. A key is what defines our tonic (ie, our "home note") - the pitch everything is centered around. This gives all of the notes their sounds. A C in the key of C sounds way different than in the key of A for example. In the key of C, C is the tonic, in the key of A it is the minor third.

So what's the point of scales? It is to make memorizing sounds easier. Certain notes played together create a "major" sound, and certain notes played together create a "minor" sound. And you can of course combine those. But I think scales only really make sense if you understand keys.

Always think in sounds. Especially when you are writing songs. Scales make it easier to find the sounds you are looking for.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.


Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
Have a look at https://www.ultimate-guitar.com/lessons/for_beginners/drastically_reduce_learning_time_with_intervals_part_2.html

A scale is collection of intervals, each one measured from the first note of the scale, the tonic, (though you could measure between any two scale members). Choose a pitch for the tonic, then the intervals dictate every other pitch in that scale. The sound flavour for a scale will differ if the interval collection differs. Using the same interval collection with different choice of pitch for the tonic will all have the same sound flavour, just higher of lower.

A chord is a collection of intervals, measured from the chord root. analogous to the above. Chords can be built out of scale members, rooted off each member (e.g. in C major, we have C, D-,E-,F,G,A-,Bo ... every one of these chords only contains members of C major scale). Of course, other chord types can be used off these same roots, or even off non-scale roots. But that's for later.

When you play some pitch over a chord, that pitch will also be forming an interval with each chord member. If it matches with a chord member, no problems. If it's not in the chord, it may clash, it may not. When it doesn't, we usually "resolve" it to a chord member ... rule of thumb: if you play a pitch one semitone higher than a chord pitch, you will get a clash, and so would follow up with ("resolve to") the chord pitch. Your ears will tell you this, but that's what's going on. If you play a pitch a semitone below a chord tone, this also clashes, but not as much.

These sorts of clashes are what add interest to the music. Depending on genre,they are used never, or sparsely, or a lot.

As an example. get someone to play C triad, and then deliberately play G#, F, C#, one at a time.

(If you're not sure of pitch names ... all we're doing is choosing pitches one semitone above each chord tone. More gtenerally, this could be any chord shape (if you know its name or not), and these pitches are one fret above any of the chord pitches)

Experiment with holding each of these for different lengths of time, and listen to the effect.

Then play G# -> G. Again experiment with duration. Also experiment with starting the G# on the beat and off the beat. Experiment with where you start the G, and its duration.

Do the same with F->E, and finally C#->C.

Repeat the above, but use pitches a semitone below each chord tone (so B, Eb, Gb)

Then try a short melody in C major (using 1,2,3,4 and 5). Then try adding in the above (C# (Db) is a b2, so it fills the gap between 1 and 2 (between C and D). Try adding an Eb ... see how that fits between the 2 and the 3 (D and E).

I've been liberal with naming the pitches, which makes zero difference to what you hear, though does have relevance when notated.

In other words ... the scale is your foundation, if you like ... it's not your prison!! If it sounds good, use it.

Last word, observe what happens if you end a phrase on a clashing note. Or start a phrase on a clashing note. Observe what happens if this clashing note is in a high register. Observe what happens it you hold it ... hopefully your conclusion is it's not a good idea. Reason being, as it either is preceded by silence, or followed by silence, this abrupt change makes that pitch stand out even more.

If you suss out what can be done to make a pitch stand out ti the listener, then do the opposite to smoothly add in these clashes. Conversely, these stand out points are good places to locate scale notes, and especially those that coincide with the chord at that time.
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at May 1, 2016,