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The Major Scale -- Just Seven Notes

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What's the Major Scale?  The major scale consists of just 7 notes from any chromatic scale -- and just like the chromatic scale notes, major scale notes are strung together in order.

Why Is It Called the Major Scale?  As is true much of the time, I just don't know.  However, a "major" scale -- or a "major" chord, for that matter (made up of some notes from a major scale, by the way) has a "positive" or "major" sound.  And maybe it's "major" because it is certainly the most important -- since all other scales are derived from this scale.

What Does It Sound Like?  Remember "Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do?"  Those are the notes -- there are two "Do's," because they're the same note, an octave apart.

If you can sing "Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do," you already have the elements of every major scale in your head.

If you can't sing "Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do," or if you don't even know what that phrase is, you have to go get the movie "The Sound of Music" from the video store, find the place where Julie Andrews teaches "Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do" to the children, and commit it to memory.

Or get a musical friend to teach you -- they'll be delighted.  Or sit down at a piano, find the middle C note, and play just the white keys, counting middle C as number 1, up to number 8, singing "Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do" as you go.

"Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti" -- the first 7 notes -- are the seven notes of the major scale.  The last "Do" is the 8th note, or the octave, of the 1st "Do."

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The Easiest Major Scale -- C.  This discussion is easiest to begin by using the C chromatic scale, from which we will create the C major scale.

Here's the C chromatic scale, so named because it starts on a C note, and it ends with a B note, the 12th and last note before C occurs again.

C C# D D# E F F# G G# A Bb B

Here's the C major scale, so named because it starts on a C note.  Notice that the notes are in alphabetical order, and that after G, since there are no more named notes after G (actually G#/Ab), you start again with A.


Here are both C scales, stacked on top of each other, so you can compare them.  Now you can see why it's the easiest of the major scales -- it has no sharps or flats to visually confuse you.  Othewise, it's just like any other scale.

Chromatic C C# D D# E F F# G G# A Bb B
Major C D E F G A B
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Back to Music Math.  Looking at the major scales above, you may have noticed that the spacing between notes is not even.   Some notes are "scrunched" together, and others are farther apart.   It's no accident, and the reason should now be obvious by comparing the two scales just above:  The C major scale leaves out all of the accidentals in the C chromatic scale.  The key of C just happens to have no sharp or flat notes in it.  It's the only scale like that, which makes it useful for learning.  But the gaps -- properly known as intervals -- between notes are defined by the distances between notes in the major scale, when compared with the chromatic scale notes.

The nifty thing about this phenomenon is that all major scales have the same gap sizes, in the same order for every scale.  It can be reduced to a formula, as we'll soon see.  Here is the same chart of notes, with an additional line showing the intervals.

Chromatic C C# D D# E F F# G G# A Bb B
Major C D E F G A B
Intervals W W H W W W H

W stands for a whole-note interval (2 half-notes), and H stands for a single half-note interval.   The last H is the interval back to the 1st note of the scale -- in this case the next octave of C.

The Formula.  So the formula for making any major scale is to apply these intervals after picking the starting note of the scale.

W - W - H - W - W - W - H

( The "2 1/2 - 3 1/2" Formula)

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Testing the Formula.  You can test this formula for all 12 notes of the scale, but let's just test it once here.  We'll pick a different note to start -- let's use F -- and we'll apply the W - W - H - W - W - W - H formula as shown below.

Chromatic F F# G G# A Bb B C C# D D# E
Intervals W W H W W W H
Major F G A Bb C D E

Play the F major scale as shown above on a piano or guitar, and you should still hear a perfect "Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do," just starting on the F note.

Note:  Unlike the C major scale, which has no sharps or flats, the F major scale has one flat -- Bb -- in the scale.

All major scales except C major will have anywhere from 1 to 6 sharps or 1 to 6 flats in them.  The W - W - H - W - W - W - H formula will reveal them as you build the scales, if you're so inclined.

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Just Remember That There Is A Major Scale For Every Note.  To get it in your head, apply the formula to any chromatic scale, eliminating the skipped notes.  The result is a major scale of that same key.

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Why Should I Learn This Major Scale Stuff?  Well, you can probably play guitar for a long time without ever knowing any of this, but if you want to know how to build music intelligently, you'll have much better tools if you learn and understand these simple ideas.

For example, once you know the major scale in any key, you can build a major chord, knowing that the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of the major scale make a complete major chord.  So in the key of C, you could just memorize the fingerings for every C chord.  Or you could understand that all C chords are built of a combination of 3 tones - C, E and G, and that no matter how you organize them on the guitar fingerboard, those three tones -- including any octave of any of the three -- make a unique C major chord.  If you change one of those notes, or if you delete or add to them, you no longer have a C major chord, but you've made a new chord.  As you learn the intervals, those other chords can also be built.   But more about other intervals later.

Here's a fingerboard diagram only, with the major scale charted out in color.

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Take This Stuff In Little Bites.  Learn a little bit, then add to it.  It will begin to make sense.  I know this because it's how I've learned it.

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