The Major Scale (part 1)

What is a major scale?

Perhaps the most important topic that we must understand in modern harmony is the major scale. We know that in the western tuning system we have 12 different notes, as we saw in the Chromatic Scale article. However, we usually need fewer notes when we are making music. This selection of notes is called scale. There are many kinds of scales, but the most basic one is the major scale, which has 7 different notes. There is a major scale for each note in the chromatic scale, that is, we have the C major scale, the C# major scale and so on. The most famous one is the C major scale, as it has the notes: C D E F G A B and C (all the white keys on a piano keyboard). As we can see, the scale has eight notes but only seven note names. This means that every major scale should start and end with the same note name.​

Using tetrachords

To build a major scale we must follow a formula like we did when we built tetrachords (S - S - HS). The major scale formula is:

S  S  HS  S  S  S  HS
S = step; HS = half-step.

If we compare both formulas, we can se that the major scale is built from two tetrachords:

S  S  HS  S  S  S  HS

This is why, if we can build tetrachords, we can easily build major scales. Let's see some examples.

G major scale:
  1. We start from G
  2. We move one step ahead: A
  3. Another step ahead: B
  4. Now a half-step ahead: C
  5. Then, we move another step ahead: D
  6. One more step again: E
  7. Then another step: F# (a step above E takes us to F#, not F)
  8. And finally, one last half-step: G
The G major scale has these eight notes: G  A  B  C  D  E  F#  G

Another example, the F major scale:
  1. We start on F
  2. One step: G
  3. One step: A
  4. One half-step ahead: Bb (we say Bb instead of A# because we cannot repeat consecutive note names)
  5. One step: C
  6. One step: D
  7. One more step: E
  8. Final half-step: F
So, the F major scale uses the notes: F  G  A  Bb  C  D  E  F. We can say we did a good job if the last note is the same than the first one. All major scales have a "definitive sound". If we play any major scale, we can hear this characteristic sound. There are more examples and interesting facts to mention about the major scale, so stay tuned for the next article! ;)

If you want to learn more about harmony and theory, check out my online course: Applied Modern Harmony, part 1!


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