Scales

Warning: You must have read the articles “Reading music” 1-3 before you read this page. The topics discussed in this article are closely related to those found in the “Reading music” articles, and an understanding of the information in those articles is crucial to the success you will have with “Scales.” You can find all “Reading music” articles on the “Theory” section of the site.

A scale is a stepwise movement of notes reaching an octave. To get from any one note to that same note, but higher/lower pitched, it takes eight notes, hence the name octave. Lets see examples of this theory:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
C D E F G A B C
scales c

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
D E F G A B C D
scales d

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
E F G A B C D E etc…
scales e

This also works going backwards:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
C B A G F E D C etc…
scales c backwards

Thus, a scale is the progression of eight notes to get from one note to that same note an octave higher/lower. A scale can start on any note, and must end on that same note. There are two main scale types in classical music, major and minor.

Major scales

A major scale is characterized by it’s “happy” nature. In order to make a scale into a major scale, a pattern of whole steps and half steps must be followed. Here is this pattern:

Whole Whole Half Whole Whole Whole Half. (W W H W W W H)

The C major scale, which has no sharps or flats, naturally falls within this pattern:
scales1
c major

However, all other major scales must use either sharps or flats to fall within this pattern.

scales2
g major

Above is the G major scale. Notice that it contains one sharp, F#. In order for a major scale starting on G to fall within the W W H W W W H pattern, the F must be sharped.

scales4
e major

Here we have the E major scale. It is more complicated than the C major and G major scales. In order to make a major scale starting on the E note, we have to sharp four notes: F#, C#, G#, D#. Once we do that, the major scale pattern fits.

scales3
Bb major

Now we have a major scale using flats instead of sharps to fall within the pattern. This is the Bb (B flat) major scale. It needs two flats to fall within the major scale pattern: Bb and Eb.

Minor scales

Minor scales are characterized by their “sad” sound. There are three types of minor scales. In order to make a Natural Minor scale, it must follow this pattern: W H W W W H W W.

scales5
a nat minor

Above is the A Natural minor scale. Like C major, it naturally falls within the minor scale pattern without needing any sharps or flats.

scales6
a har minor

Here we have the A Harmonic minor scale. In order to turn a Natural minor scale into a Harmonic minor scale, we need to raise the value of the seventh note up a degree. The G note is the seventh note in the Natural minor scale, and thus we raise it to G# to turn the scale into a Harmonic minor scale.

scales7
a mel minor

Here we have the A Melodic minor scale. In order to turn a Natural minor scale into a Melodic minor scale, we need to raise the value of the sixth and seventh notes up a degree. The F and G notes are the sixth and seventh notes in the Natural minor scale, and thus we raise them to F# and G# to turn the scale into a Melodic minor scale.

scales8
a mel minor 2

We raise the sixth and seventh notes to make a Melodic minor scale when ascending, but when we descend, we play the scale in its Natural minor form.

For lessons/excercises on how to play scales on the guitar, look in the “Technique” and “Excercises” sections of the site.

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