In this brief introduction, we will explore the concept of a scale and delve into the formula for a major scale – One of the most fundamental scales in Western Music.
The major scale is a seven-note scale widely used in various genres of music, from classical to pop, jazz to rock. It has a bright and uplifting quality that makes it a staple in many compositions.
The formula for constructing a major scale follows a specific pattern of whole steps (W) and half steps (H). The formula for a major scale is as follows:
Whole – Whole – Half – Whole – Whole – Whole – Half (W-W-H-W-W-W-H)
Major Scale Formula Building Blocks
In Western music, whole steps (W) and half steps (H) are essential units of measurement that determine the distance between adjacent notes.
Alternatively they are referred to semi-tones, with 1 semitone being equivalent to 1 half step.
Knowing about semitones or half steps is crucial in constructing major and minor scales.
A half step (H) is the smallest interval between two notes, corresponding to a semitone in the musical alphabet. For example, the distanCe between C and C# or E and F is a half step or 1 semitone.
A whole step (W) is equal to two half steps or two semitones. It represents a larger interval between notes, such as the distance between C and D or G and A.
The arrangement and sequence of whole steps and half steps in a scale, like the major scale formula (W-W-H-W-W-W-H), gives each scale its unique character and sound.
Understanding and manipulating whole steps and half steps allows musicians to navigate the musical landscape, build chords, & construct melodies. These intervals serve as the foundational elements of Western music theory, providing the basis for countless musical expressions and ideas.
Major Scale Examples
Below we break down x3 major scales so you can see how they are similarly put together and the formula is applied.
A Major Scale
To deconstruct the theory behind the “A” major scale, we go back to the formula for constructing a major scale: Whole-Whole-Half-Whole-Whole-Whole-Half (W-W-H-W-W-W-H).
So starting with the note A as the tonic or root of the scale, we apply the first whole step (W) to get to the note B.
Next, we apply another whole step (W) to move from B to C#
Then, we apply a half step (H) to move from C# to D.
We continue with two more whole steps (W-W), so progress from D to E and then from E to F#
Again, applying a whole step (W), we move from F# to G#
Finally, the last half step (H) takes us from G# to A, completing one octave and bringing us back to the starting root note.
Thus, the “A” major scale consists of the following notes: A, B, C#, D, E, F#, and G#
B Major Scale
Starting with the note B as the tonic or root of the scale, apply the first whole step (W) to get to the note C#
Next, apply another whole step (W) to move from C# to D#
Following the formula, we apply a half step (H) to move from D# to E.
Continuing with two more whole steps (W-W), we progress from E to F# and then from F# to G#
Again, applying a whole step (W), we move from G# to A#
Finally, the last half step (H) takes us from A# to B, which completes the octave by bringing us back to the root note of B
Thus, the “B” major scale consists of the following notes: B, C#, D#, E, F#, G#, and A#
C Major Scale
Here is a different way to look at the formula where each semitone corresponds to the notes of the scale.
Between C and D: Whole Step (W)
Between D and E: Whole Step (W)
Between E and F: A Half Step (H)
Between F and G: Whole Step (W)
Between G and A: Whole Step (W)
Between A and B: Whole Step (W)
Between B and C: A Half Step (H)
Corresponding notes in the C major scale are:
C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C
Fact: The C major scale is unique as it contains no sharps or flats, consisting of all natural notes (white keys on a piano).
Related: The G Major Scale In Depth
Beyond the Major Scale: A Glimpse into Other Scales
While major scales have a bright and uplifting quality, minor scales possess a more introspective and melancholic sound.
The relationship between major and minor scales is interconnected, as each major scale has a relative minor scale sharing the same key signature.
For example, the relative minor of C major is A minor. Minor scales have the following whole and half steps formula: W-H-W-W-H-W-W.
Harmonic Minor Scale
The Harmonic Minor Scale introduces a twist by raising the seventh degree, resulting in an augmented second interval between the sixth and seventh notes.
This alteration creates a rich and exotic sound that is commonly associated with Middle Eastern, Eastern European, and Flamenco music.
The Harmonic Minor Scale’s augmented second interval lends it a sense of tension and drama, making it a favorite choice for composing melodies that evoke mystery, passion, and a touch of darkness.
The pentatonic scale consists of five notes, hence its name, and is a staple in various genres such as blues, rock, and pop.
Its simple yet powerful structure allows guitarists to effortlessly create memorable melodies and solos, making it an essential tool for improvisation and musical expression on the guitar.
Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced player, beginning with understanding and mastering the pentatonic scales can unlock a world of endless possibilities for crafting soulful, expressive guitar lines.
The chromatic scale on guitar is a musical scale that includes all twelve pitches within an octave.
It consists of consecutive half steps, also known as semitones, with no skips or gaps between the notes.
On the guitar, the chromatic scale can be played by moving up or down the fretboard, playing each fret in succession regardless of the specific key or tonality.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you memorize major scales?
To memorize all of your major scales, you can use what’s called a “mnemonic”, or just write a phrase where each word corresponds to each letter of the major scale formula:
“Wandering Wolves Howl When Wandering Wanderers Hike”
Alternatively, you can remember the number of Whole steps before each half step.
So 2 W’s before H, and then 3 Ws before H.
Related: A Sus Guitar Chords Made Easy!
How do you find the scale of a song?
Identify and play the root note: Listen carefully to the song and try to identify the note that sounds most resolved or stable. This is likely the root note of the scale. Once you find it, you can use it as a reference point for determining the scale.
Refer to chord shapes: Analyze the chords being played in the song and determine if they belong to a particular scale. For example, if you see chords like C, F, and G, it suggests the use of the C major scale. By visualizing the chord shapes and connecting them with the appropriate scale patterns, you can quickly find the scale.