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The Major Scale

 

There are many types of scales, but the most commonly used of all is the major scale. We will use the piano keyboard again to demonstrate the major scale. The piano keyboard was designed so that all of the white keys represent plain letter notes, and the black keys represent sharps and flats. 

Here is the formula for determining a major scale:

  • 2 whole steps and 1 half step
  • 3 whole steps and 1 half step

Every major scale can be derived from the chromatic scale, and must conform to this same formula, beginning and ending on the key note.

 

Beginning with the first C on the piano keyboard in the above illustration, let’s use the formula to find the notes for the C major scale. Remember to count the black keys the same as the white keys. It’s a whole step from C to D because there is a black key in between the two. It is only a half step from E to F because there is not a black key between the two (a whole step up from E would actually be F#).

The first note of the C major scale is the key note, C -- the 1st tone of the C major scale.

  • A whole step up from C is D -- the 2nd tone of the C major scale.
  • A whole step up from D is E -- the 3rd tone of the C major scale.
  • A half step up from E is F -- the 4th tone of the C major scale.
  • A whole step up from F is G -- the 5th tone of the C major scale.
  • A whole step up from G is A -- the 6th tone of the C major scale.
  • A whole step up from A is B -- the 7th tone of the C major scale.
  • A half step up from B is C -- the 8th tone of the C major scale.

So the C major scale consists of the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and C -- no sharps or flats!

There are seven different tones in the major scale. The 1st and 8th tones are called the root, tonic, or key note. They are the same note but are an octave apart.

Constructing Other Major Scales

You have seen how easy it was to construct the C major scale. All of the other major scales contain sharps (#) or flats (b) that must be considered. Some scales require sharps and others require flats. You can refer to the Circle of Fifths to see which type are required for any key.

Let’s build the A major scale using the information you have learned:

We will list the notes in order beginning with A, with no regard as to whether they are sharps, flats, or naturals (neither sharp nor flat).

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

A

B

C

D

E

F

G

A

Next, look at the Circle of Fifths chart and you’ll see that the A major scale contains 3 sharps.

Now go through the notes step by step while applying the formula for constructing a major scale:

Formula:

 

 

Key:

A

Whole Step

1 to 2

A to B is a whole step. No adjustment needed.

Result:

B

Whole Step

2 to 3

B to C is only a half step. Note must be sharped.

Result:

C#

Half Step

3 to 4

C# to D is a half step. No adjustment needed.

Result:

D

Whole Step

4 to 5

D to E is a whole step. No adjustment needed.

Result:

E

Whole Step

5 to 6

E to F is only a half step. Note must be sharped.

Result:

F#

Whole Step

6 to 7

F# to G is only a half step. Note must be sharped

Result:

G#

Half Step

7 to 8

G# to A is a half step. No adjustment needed.

Result:

A

 

The Circle of Fifths confirms that there are 3 sharps in the A major scale:

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

A

B

C#

D

E

F#

G#

A

 

You know that the sharped notes in this scale -- C#, F#, and G# -- could also be called Db, Gb, and Ab. But since the key of A calls for 3 sharps (no flats) the notes would properly be called by their sharp names. Also, the properly constructed major scale contains one each (except for the key note, of which there are two) of the notes A, B, C, D, E, F, and G, whether they are sharp, flat, or natural. Below is a chart containing the major scale notes for all 12 keys. The keys of F# and Gb sound and are played differently, but all of the notes are named differently.

 

Major Scale Reference Chart

Key

Sharps/Flats

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

C

0

C

D

E

F

G

A

B

C

G

1 sharp

G

A

B

C

D

E

F#

G

D

2 sharps

D

E

F#

G

A

B

C#

D

A

3 sharps

A

B

C#

D

E

F#

G#

A

E

4 sharps

E

F#

G#

A

B

C#

D#

E

B

5 sharps

B

C#

D#

E

F#

G#

A#

B

F#

6 sharps

F#

G#

A#

B

C#

D#

E#

F#

F

1 flat

F

G

A

Bb

C

D

E

F

Bb

2 flats

Bb

C

D

Eb

F

G

A

Bb

Eb

3 flats

Eb

F

G

Ab

Bb

C

D

Eb

Ab

4 flats

Ab

Bb

C

Db

Eb

F

G

Ab

Db

5 flats

Db

Eb

F

Gb

Ab

Bb

C

Db

Gb

6 flats

Gb

Ab

Bb

Cb

Db

Eb

F

Gb