Music Theory

Lesson 6



The Major Scale and Tonality


As mentioned in the last lesson, scales are a selection of pitches from the total chromatic arranged within one octave.  Scales generally use between five and eight notes, which serve as the pitch material for a composition.  In this lesson we will learn about the construction of perhaps the most common scale, the major scale.  The major scale is a selection of seven notes within the octave, designed with a specific order of whole steps and half steps.  The major scale can be built upon any of the twelve tones in the total chromatic, although accidentals are needed for all but one of these to arrive at the correct formula of whole steps and half steps.  Let's begin with the exception to this rule, the one major scale that does not require any accidentals, the C major scale.  Each member of the scale can be named by its numerical position, or scale degree (scale degrees are notated by a number and a carat sign above it, as shown below).




As you notice, there are whole steps between each scale degree except for the half steps between 3 & 4 and 7 & 8 , thus following the formula WWHWWWH for the distance between each ascending note of the major scale.  As I said earlier, the C major scale is the only scale that does not require any accidentals.  Let's see what happens when we try to form the G and F scales without accidentals.  They both sound slightly wrong, so let's isolate the problem by analyzing each scale to see its disposition of whole steps and half steps.  A single sharp on F fixes the G scale, and a single flat on B fixes the F scale.


Listen to G scale without accidentals Listen to F scale without accidentals


Listen to G Major Scale Listen to F Major Scale


The original versions of the G and F scales are called modes, and were used between the eighth and fifteenth centuries.  Eventually they were replaced by the major scale.




© Copyright 2005

Mark McFarland