A scale is simply a group of notes in succession. There are many different types of scales but by far the two most common are the major and minor scales. Here I’ll be explaining how a major scale is constructed and how to use this info to figure out the major scale for any key.
How They’re Constructed
There are only twelve pitches in standard western music. After twelve, the pitches repeat but in the next higher register or “octave”. Once you understand the concept of intervals, scales will be pretty easy to grasp since they’re just made of a series of intervals.
You can figure out scales in any key by knowing the interval ‘formula’ for the type of scale you’re looking for. For clarity, lets say W=whole step and H=half step. If you would like to follow along on a piano keyboard click the green ‘Show Keyboard’ box on left side of the screen. Remember, a half step is the smallest interval there is and, on a piano, will be just one key away from the starting note. A whole step is made of two half steps so it will be two keys away from the starting note. Be sure to include the black keys when counting steps.
Here is the scale ‘formula’ for the major scale:
Major scale formula
W – W – H – W – W – W – H
Using this formula, say we wanted to figure out the C major scale. First start with the root note, C, and follow the formula:
- A whole step from C is D.
- A whole step from D is E.
- A half step from E is F.
- A whole step from F is G.
- A whole step from G is A.
- A whole step from A is B.
- A half step from B is C, back to the top.
So, the C major scale ends up looking like this:
Writing Major Scales in Any Key
The above ‘major scale formula’ is all you need to write a major scale in any key. Let’s try to write the major scale for other keys.
How about a ‘hard’ key to mix it up; F#:
- A whole step from F# is G#
- A whole step from G# is A#
- A half step from A# is B
- A whole step from B is C#
- A whole step from C# is D#
- A whole step from D# is E#
- A half step from E# is F#, and we’re back at the top.
F# Major Scale
F# – G# – A# – B – C# – D# – E#
One more for good measure. Let’s figure out the notes for the Bb major scale.
- A whole step from Bb is C
- A whole step from C is D
- A half step from D is Eb
- A whole step from Eb is F
- A whole step from F is G
- A whole step from G is A
- A half step from A is Bb, and we’re back at the top.
Bb Major Scale
Bb – C – D – Eb – F – G – A
Now that you can build major scales you’ll want to commit them to memory for best results down the road. To help with that I’ve created a complete list of all major scales for your reference. Also, to understand the relationship of each key to the next, be sure to get yourself familiarized with the circle of fifths.