This is where it all starts. Well, maybe rhythm is where it all starts, but if you consider the basic elements of music to be rhythm, melody and harmony, the major scale is the best formula for understanding 2 of those elements. See the major scale is a formula. At it’s most technical level it is an organization of sound derived from the harmonic series, or at least the harmonic series has given it context. But let’s, for a moment, take the major scale for granted. Assume that it is beyond reproach and that questioning it’s value lands you in a dungeon where you are left to waste away until you confess to your crime and are…
Oh, hello there. What were we talking about?
Ah yes, the MAJOR SCALE. So, this thing that we will for a moment, take for granted, is essentially the foundation of our entire musical awareness. It might not make much sense now, but chords and scales should be synonymous and pretty much every song we love is made up of chords and scales (plus rhythm). Let’s move on.
There are seven notes, in the major scale and they are derived from this simple formula:
Whole, Whole, Whole, Half, Whole, Whole, Half
These indicate whether the distance from one note to the next is a whole step i.e. C to D (whereas C to Db or C# is a half step) or a half step i.e. E to F or B to C. This is worth remembering now, though eventually you won’t even have to think about it when you play. But conceptually, it is fundamental information.
Now, knowing there are 12 total notes and remembering that the distance between B and C as well as E and F is a half step, we can easily figure out any major scale (and more!)
Let’s use G as our root.
Now we can lay it out several ways, but let’s take just note names without regards to sharps (#) or flats (b) and determine that using our formula. This way we get a general idea of what notes we will be working with before altering them based on whether their intervalic relationship meets up with our major scale formula.
So here they are, unadjusted:
G A B C D E F G
These could very well be the correct notes. But having written this all out in an attempt to educate would lead me, if I were the student, to believe there is something that needs to be changed…
Anyway, remember our formula and the rules about which notes are already half steps and apply the test.
G to A = Whole
Why? Because it starts on G and skips G#/Ab and lands on A. So from the root (or starting note) it travels two half steps or simply put a whole step.
A to B = Whole
B to C= Half
Here is the first instance of a note name changing without a sharp or flat and also being made from a single half step. But fortunately it checks out with our formula.
C to D = Whole
D to E = Whole
E to F =
Nope, it’s a Half. So what does it mean for us? Well, E to F is a half step and according to our formula, at this point (the 6th to 7th degree) should be a whole step. So the easiest way to fix this is by adding an extra half step on to the F which will now be come F#.
So E to F# = Whole
Now the final note, the 7th degree will return to the root a half step away. So in this case it is already done for us.
F# to G = Half
Finally, we have our G major scale
G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G
Now we can continue to apply this formula to all notes and the intervalic relationships will remain the same. The pitch and note names will be different but it will still sound like the major scale.
But wait, there is more!
Once you know how to derive the major scale you now know how to create every chord, every natural minor scale and mode of the major scale. All you have to do is take that formula and start in a different place. But I can’t/won’t teach you everything from this post (a man’s gotta eat) and I can also imagine this might not be the subject to describe in a post.
But, if you are interested in learning more about scales and chords and how we use these things every day to create music, I can certainly give you the tools you need in private, personalized lessons. Whether it’s guitar, mandolin, pedal steel, or any other instrument the theory of western music still applies and that’s why it all sounds so good when we play together!
Thanks for listening,
Superintendent of this website