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The Major Scale

Justinguitar.com on Scales

The Major Scale is probably the most important scale to learn - pretty much all western music theory is based on it and you'll have a lot of fun improvising with it...

The Major Scale is the cornerstone of all western harmony, when we describe other scales it is always in relation to The Major Scale and the naming conventions for chords and all forms are harmony come from the major scale.

You will almost certainly know the sound of the scale if only from The Sound Of Music Song (video of the famous song!). The system in the song is called solfege and uses the syllables: Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti and Do to represent the intervals in the scale.

It is a seven note scale, but when describing it the 'octave' is usually shown or played. The octave is the same note as the starting note but half or double the frequency (think of the first two notes of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow", they're an 'octave' apart).

The white notes on the piano starting on the note C will give you the notes of the C Major Scale: C D E F G A B C. If you have access to a piano you should try it out for yourself. Look at a piano keyboard, you'll see the black notes grouped in 2's and 3's. The white note immediately to the left of the 2 black notes is the note C.

All other scales are thought of in relation to this scale so it is a very important to get The Major Scale understood very well. Learn it, study it and look at the relationships between the notes and the chord tones (you find all this and more in Practical Music Theory).

The Modes Of The Major Scale are covered in a separate series but as the name suggests, they are just modes [a way or manner in which something occurs or is experienced, expressed, or done.] of using The Major Scale. But note that the Ionian Mode has exactly the same notes as the major scale.


Scale Formula

The scale formula for the major scale must be memorised, as you will use it often to work out the notes or chords in the key. The formula describes the interval distances between each note of the scale.

T
T
S
T
T
T
S
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8


T = Tone [whole step] • S = Semitone [half step]

Note that the scale is made up of two sequences of T T S joined by a T. This can help you remember it! The T T S Sequence is called a Tetrachord and was used by the ancient Greeks who come up with the system!

 

Chords In The Key

The chords in the "Key Of C Major", that is the chords that can be made using only notes of the C Major Scale are:

I
II
III
IV
V
VI
VII
I
C Major Scale
C
D
E
F
G
A
B
C
Triad Chords
C
Dm
Em
F
G
Am
Bdim
C
Quadad Chords
C∆7
Dm7
Em7
F∆7
G7
Am7
Bm7b5
C∆7


Shown are Triads (3 note chords) and Quadads (4 note chords), there are many hundreds more chords that can be built from this scale but these are by far the most commonly used.

You could use the C Major Scale to improvise over any or all of these chords!

 

Note Names Of The Scale

I don't use the classical note names much in my lessons but I feel I should add them here in case you need them for study - most music school require you to know them even though they're not used often in normal music conversations, more for harmonic analysis.

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
Tonic
(Root)
(Key)
Supertonic
Mediant
Subdominant
Dominant
Submediant
Leading Note
Octave

 

Further Reading

To understand the Scales and how to use them properly you will get great benefit from a solid grounding in basic music theory like you'll get in my ebook Practical Music Theory. You'll learn how the major scale is constructed, how to work out the notes in all the keys, the chords that come from it and a whole lot more :)

Practical Music Theory

Practical Music Theory (eBook)
In this ebook I explain music theory in a practical way for guitar players! You'll learn all the essential concepts, the major scale, chord construction, keys, intervals and lots more, with worksheets for most concepts. If you always wanted to understand basic music theory but found it too complicated, this is for you. Check out the rave reviews on the forum, it's all the important stuff in a clear and easy to understand method that works!

Available on the Justinguitar website.


Lesson ID: SC-201