How to Build a Major Scale

Introduction

Perhaps you didn't know when you started this course that you were going to learn how to "build" things. Well, that's what you're going to learn how to do: build a scale.

You now have the tools to do so. You know about pitches, and you know about the basic intervals used in scales (half steps and whole steps), so you're ready to begin.

What Is a Scale?

A good way to define a scale is to list the following characteristics:
  1. a scale is an organized series of pitches.
  2. a scale utilizes accidentals, when necessary.
  3. a scale is linked to the concept of "keys" in that a song which utilizes a given scale is said to be in that key.

Major Scales and Minor Scales

There are major scales and minor scales (there are others, too, but these are the two you will encounter in learning to perform simple songs). Major and minor scales have the following characteristics:
  1. they consist of eight notes.
  2. they are identified by their "tonic" note (the note they're named after).
  3. they are primarily constructed of half steps and whole steps

Let's Spell Some

If I want to spell a major scale, I use the following guidelines:
  1. I start with the tonic note. To spell a D Major scale, I start with D.
  2. I use seven pitch names, followed by a repeat of the tonic. To spell a D Major scale, I would then use "D,E,F,G,A,B,C,D".
  3. I check to make sure that there are whole steps between all of the scale degrees except 3,4 and 7,8. I know that those must be half steps. In the case of the D Major scale I'm building, I see that:
Using these guidelines, my D Major scale is now "D,E,F#,G,A,B,C#,D".

Let's do another, this time using B flat as the tonic. If I want to spell a B flat major scale, I'll use the same guidelines:

  1. I start with the tonic note. To spell a B flat Major scale, I start with B flat.
  2. I use seven pitch names, followed by a repeat of the tonic. To spell a B flat Major scale, I would then use "Bb,C,D,E,F,G,A,Bb" (I use the "b" to indicate the flat symbol).
  3. I check to make sure that there are whole steps between all of the scale degrees except 3,4 and 7,8. I know that those must be half steps. In the case of the Bb Major scale I'm building, I see that:
Using these guidelines, my B flat Major scale is now "Bb,C,D,Eb,F,G,A,Bb".

Note: The B flat major scale has a key signature of two flats, even though I just used three flats to spell it. That's because the 2 B flats only count as one B flat.


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