Music Theory

Here is a preview of some of the lessons included in Musicopoulos

Major Scales

How Major Scales are Derived

A scale is a collection of notes that are related by pitch. Scales provide the foundation for melody, where each note in the scale is played individually, and harmony, where 2 or more notes are played simultaneously. In order to master music theory, you must have a thorough understanding of scales.

Scales are created by restricting the number of notes in a repeating group based on a specific pattern. There may be as little as 2 notes in a scale, or 12 or more related notes. Combinations of the notes within the group can be used to create related chords and melodies. When chords and melodies are derived from within a scale, they sound "right" to the ear.

By understanding scales and their relationships, we gain an understanding of the practical applications of chords and melodies and how combinations are used in music.

The first scale we will study is the Major scale. A Major scale consists of 7 repeating notes derived using a specific pattern of halfsteps and wholesteps.

The first step in building a Major scale is to build the lower tetrachord. A tetrachord is simply a collection of 4 notes. The lower tetrachord is derived by taking the root note (the starting note), moving up by one wholestep to find the second note, moving up by one wholestep from the second note to find the third note, and finally moving one halfstep up from the third note to find the fourth note.

For example, if we use C as the root (starting) note, we derive the following lower tetrachord

Major Scales Example 1

The numbers “2, 2, 1” represent wholesteps and halfsteps respectively.

We now have the lower tetrachord of our Major scale. However, a Major scale requires 2 tetrachords in order to be complete. Now that we have derived the lower tetrachord, we will use it as a reference point to determine the starting point of our upper tetrachord.

The upper tetrachord begins one wholestep above the last note of the lower tetrachord. Continuing from our example above, one wholestep up from F is G

Major Scales Example 2

Now that we have the starting point for our upper tetrachord, G, we can construct the upper tetrachord using the same “2, 2, 1” pattern we used to derive the lower tetrachord.

Major Scales Example 3

Major Scale Names

The name of a Major Scale is determined by using the root (starting) note of the lower TETRACHORD. In our example above, we have created the C Major scale. There are 15 Major scales in total:

Enharmonic's and Note Naming

In the previous lesson, we discussed the concept of enharmonic's where a unique pitch may be described by more than one name. As you construct Major scales, you will encounter various sharps (#) and flats (b). To help you understand which enharmonic to select, consider the following:

  1. The notes of the major scales follow the order of the alphabet
  2. You will never have 2 of the same letters in a scale; for example, Eb and E cannot exist in the same scale. The correct choice would be D# and E
  3. Major scales will not mix flats and sharps