Music Theory Part 1; How Scales are Formed

Published: 20th June 2010
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Right so you want to learn the formulas of how scales are formed? Scales are all based on distance. The way we measure distance in music is by half and hole steps. By applying certain formulas we can generate scales by starting with just one note. In this article I will show you how to create a major scale, natural minor scale, and harmonic minor scale in any key.

Major scales are compose of a whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, and a half step (W,W,H,W,W,W,H). Let's figure out the key of G Major. Start by writing the notes out in musical alphabetical order starting with G (Musical alphabet= A-G). G A B C D E F G. Now let's apply the formula (a half step is one fret a whole step is two). G^w A^w B^h C^w D^w E^w F#^h G. The distance didn't need to be modified until we went from E to F. The distance from E to F normally is a half step, so we had to sharp F to make it a whole step (sharp=raise a half step, flat= lower a half step). Try this out to figure out the key of F Major. You'll notice that you will need to flat B in order to make the distance from A to B to be a half step. F^w G^w A^h Bb^w C^w D^w E^h F. If you ever forget the formula just measure the distance between the notes in C Major.

The Natural Minor Scale is made up of a whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, and another whole step (W,H,W,W,H,W,W). Let's figure out the key of E minor. E^w F#^h G^w A^w B^h C^w D^w E. Right off the bat we had to sharp F to make it a whole step. You may have noticed that both E minor and G major are composed of the same notes. They just have different starting points. E minor is the relative minor of G major. You can figure out what the relative minor of any key is by going to the 6th degree of the major scale. For example G-1, A-2, B-3, C-4, D-5, (E-6), F#-7. Just write out the scale again starting with E and you have the E natural minor scale. Also If you are playing in a minor key you can figure out any relative major key by going to the 3rd degree of the scale E-1, F#-2, (G-3), A-4, B-5, C-6, D-7. Just write out that scale in order starting from the third degree.

The harmonic minor scale is my favorite. It is composed of a whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, half step, 3 half steps, and another half step (W,H,W,W,H, 3H, H). The three half step jump from the sixth to seventh degrees is what gives this scale it's distinct sound. Let's figure out the A harmonic minor scale. Write out A-A again using the musical alphabet A,B,C,D,E,F,G,A. Now let's apply the formula A^w B^h C^w D^w E^h F^3H G#^h A. The only thing that was modified from the natural minor scale is that the 7 degree (in this case G) was sharped. The harmonic minor is a natural minor scale with a raised seventh degree. You can change between these scales easily and it will sound really good!

Right so now we learned how scales are formed. It is time to take our music learning to the next level by taking some music lessons online. For music lessons online click on music lessons


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