Music Literacy
Basic Music Theory
The Basics
The Major Scale
Key Signature
Minor Keys

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The Major Scale

A scale is a fixed sequence of notes upon which compositions are based.

Traditional western music is founded primarily on two types of scales:  the major scale and the minor scale.  Other scales exist, but we'll focus on the major scale for now.

To begin, examine the pattern of half steps and whole steps formed by all of the white notes on the piano keyboard from C to C.

Scale Pattern - C

All major scales follow this same pattern:  2 whole steps, 1 half step, 3 whole steps, 1 half step.

What you see above is the C Major scale (C D E F G A B C), so named because it is the major scale pattern beginning on C.  It has no sharps or flats.

A composition or section of a composition that is based on the C Major scale is said to be in the key of C.

Now consider what happens when you start on a different note.  G, for example:

Scale Pattern - G

You will notice that, in order to produce a whole step starting from E, it is necessary to use an F-sharp, rather than an F.  The G Major scale, then, contains the following notes:  G A B C D E F# G.

A Note on Spelling

Major and minor scales always contain one of each note name.  Therefore, even though the black note between F and G could be referred to as either F-sharp or G-flat, in the key of G, it is always referred to as F-sharp.

Let's look at a couple more examples.  F Major:

Scale Pattern - F

In order to produce a half step starting from A, it is necessary to use a B-flat instead of a B.  A whole step up from B-flat is C.  So the F Major scale contains:  F G A Bb C D E F.

D Major:

Scale Pattern - D

Like G Major, the D Major scale contains a whole step from E to F-sharp.  It also has a whole step from B to C-sharp.  The D Major scale, then, contains the following notes:  D E F# G A B C# D.

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