Building A Major Scale In Any Key

You can build a major scale in any key if you know two things: the chromatic scale and the pattern necessary to pick out the right notes.

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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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    dvuksanovich
    For those of you who don't like the lesson, can you tell me why? Is it too complicated... not complicated enough? What did I do wrong here? Thanks
    dvuksanovich
    Thanks, gnomegod. I was considering putting this in the "scales" section but everything in there looked like exotic modes and stuff and this seemed too basic to go in there. Maybe I'll try over there with a lesson on how to build minor scales and see what happens. What we really need is a "theory" section.
    dvuksanovich
    Thanks, mmkat. I was looking for a way to boil the building of scales down to a few very simple concepts that might help people get off and running with scales faster. I guess I missed the mark this time. Thanks for the feedback.
    mmkat
    it is a bit more complicated than what most people assumed it would be. you explained things, that a beginner doesnt know and you mentioned intervals, without actually naming them. in my opinion, if you explain intervals, you should also explain scale degrees, which is very important when it comes to building any scale. i know some theory and what scale degrees are necessary for what scale or mode and i completely understand everything that you wrote in this lesson, but someone who's just getting started will have trouble, i guess. just my couple of cents, hope that's some feedback there! keep the lessons coming man
    gnomegod
    Honestly, everything you wrote is right on point. BUT it may be over a beginners head with terminology. I'm reading it as a senior in college as a double music major and the whole time i was nodding my head in agreement but beginners may not be able to understand it fully. but its DEF. right in every way, you have just put it under scales.