The Major Scale And Roman Numeral System

A guide to understanding the Major Scale and the Roman Numeral System.

Ultimate Guitar
Hi, this is a theory lesson for the relative novice, The Major Scale and the Roman Numeral system are very important to understand as they provide a framework of understanding to build upon as the student advances. THE OCTAVE Ok so lets start with the fact that each octave is sub-divided into 12 notes, or semi-tones that are represented on a guitar by frets : 1 note (of 12) = 1 semi-tone (of 12 ) = 1 fret ( of 12 ) so once you hit the 12th fret on any string on your guitar, the name of the note returns to the name of the same string played open , this is because the names of notes revolve and turn full circle at each octave or every 12 semitones. Now an "octave" is so called because it essentially contains 8 notes, out of the 12 notes mentioned above, these 8 notes are what make up : THE DIATONIC MAJOR SCALE The notes of the Major Scale as any scale does, start with the "ROOT" or " I " or 1st note of the scale, key of C used as example as it has no sharps or flats and is easier to observe the scale pattern. e.g. KEY OF C :
  POSITION :  1st    2nd   3rd    4th   5th   6th     7th    8th(octave)

  NUMERAL  :   I     II    III    IV     V     VI     VII    VIII

  NOTE     :   C      D     E      F     G      A      B      C
  SOUND    :  Doh    ray    me    fah    so    lah     te    doh
STEPS @ TONE OR 2 SEMITONES = 2 FRETS / OR 1 SEMITONE = 1 FRET Whats critical to understand is the " Step Pattern " of the scale, that is the spaces between the notes, and the step pattern of the major scale is :
I -tone- II -tone- III -semi- IV -tone- V -tone- VI  -tone- VII -semi- VIII
doh      ray        me        fah       so       lah        te         doh
ROMAN NUMERALS Some of the steps are Tone steps, some are semitone steps, and the Roman Numerals are used to help us understand these positions as we work in the different keys of which there are 12. The doh ray me sounds were introduced many moons ago to cut through language barriers in order to help folks understand the scale and its steps. So if C is I, D is II, E is III, F is IV etc if G is I, A is II, B is III etc The other important thing on this subject to remember is that with the exception of E-F and B-C all other notes have #s and ds (sharps and flats) between them, so with knowledge of the alphabet up to G, and this basic knowledge of The Major Scale Step pattern and roman numerals you are set up.

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    alright i guess, but when i think of modes i really try not to keep it contained like a scale. modal music is unpredictable and unstable, and should be used to it's full potential
    Thanks for your comment and I do understand but were not talking about modes tho m8, and modal music is actually a slightly different subject to "the modes" anyway. This is just a basic guide to the basic major scale and forms a foundation of music theory for the relative beginner.
    Right, while the major scale is the ionian mode, major and minor scales(aeolian mode) are used throughout tonal music. It's just basic knowledge that everyone can use.
    The idea is to learn one scale at a time, rather than fire loads of modes and expect a beginner to internalise them, my advice to the beginner is to simply start with a grasp of the diatonic major scale, then the relative natural minor (aeolian) followed by the mixolydian and dorian as they each only have one note different from the others, hey you have me talking about modes and I wanted to keep it simple.