Understanding Scales

We begin our study by looking at the building blocks of music - scales. A working knowledge of scales is essential for any musician to gain mastery of their instrument and versatility of expression.

The distance from one note to another is called an interval. The same pattern of intervals is used in all major scales. They conform to the following pattern:

1 - (T) - 2 - (T) - 3 - (S) - 4 - (T) - 5 - (T) - 6 - (T) - 7 - (S) - 1

[T = Tone; S = Semitone]

This means that the distance from note one to note two in any given major scale is one tone (a tone is equal to two semitones). From note two to note three is also a tone. But from note three to note four is only a semitone, and so on. For example, using the C major scale:

C - (T) - D - (T) - E - (S) - F - (T) - G - (T) - A - (T) - B - (S) - C

And with the E♭ major scale:

E♭ - (T) - F - (T) - G - (S) - A♭ - (T) - B♭ - (T) - C - (T) - D - (S) - E♭

Thus, the pattern of intervals for any major scale is always tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone, semitone. All major scales conform to this pattern, that is why they sound alike, only at different pitches. Each major scale has the same "feel" about it.

The fact that the 2nd note is always the same distance from the 1st, and the 3rd note from the 2nd, and so on, is the reason why C is the only major scale with no sharps or flats in it. If you make your starting point for a major scale any note other than C, then you will end up with sharps or flats - i.e. the black notes on the piano. An important point to memorise is that the distance from E to F and from B to C is only a semitone. If you don't keep this in mind, you will make all kinds of mistakes later on.

Now read: Major Scales With Sharps

Understanding Scales | Understanding Chord Structure | Understanding Diatonic Chords | Understanding Minor Scales | Diatonic Chords in Minor Keys | Scale Degree Names | Chord Substitution - Extended Chords | Chord Substitution - Overlapping Chords | Improvisation - Arpeggios | Improvisation - Major Scales | Improvisation - Pentatonic Scales | Improvisation - Blues Scales