Table of Contents

Next: Key Signatures and the Circle of Fifths

Previous: Elements of Music Notation

Scales

Scales are patterns of notes filling an octave that progress up or down stepwise. Each of the steps between the notes forms an interval. When the notes occur one after the other, they make up a melodic interval. Scales consist of melodic intervals. When the notes occur at the same time, they make up a harmonic interval. Chords consist of harmonic intervals.

The smallest interval used in scales is a half step (or semitone). The next larger interval is a whole step, which is equal to two half steps. Using the natural notes, there are intervals of whole steps between C-D, D-E, F-G, G-A, A-B, and there are half steps between E-F and B-C. Return to the chapter on the Elements of Music Notation if this is unclear.

The most common scale type is that of the major scale. The simplest major scale consists of the natural notes starting from C. The order of the notes is C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C. As long as there are 7 unique notes (8 counting the first and last notes that are the same), with a half step between notes 3 to 4, and notes 7 to 8 and whole steps between the other notes, the scale is major.

Click on the figure below to hear the scale

C

C

D

D

E

F

F

G

G

A

A

B

C

D

E

G

A

B

Other commonly used scales in the last three centuries include the chromatic scale, which contains all 12 unique notes within an octave, and three forms of "minor" scales. The three minor scales are the natural minor (also known as the melodic minor descending), harmonic minor and ascending minor.

The natural minor scale contains half steps between notes 2 to 3 and notes 5 to 6. Click on the figure below, can you hear the difference between this scale and the major scale.

Click on the figure below to hear the scale

The harmonic minor scale contains the same half steps between notes 2 to 3 and notes 5 to 6, but also contains a half step between notes 7 and 8. It also, however, contains an augmented second (a step and a half) between notes 6 and 7. Essentially, the scale is advantageous in certain harmonic musical situations. It is the same scale as the natural minor except for the raised 7th note of the scale, which makes the interval between notes 6 to 7 larger and notes 7 to 8 smaller. Click on the figure, can you hear the second to last note raised?

Click on the figure below to hear the scale

The melodic ascending minor scale corrects for this awkward step and a half by also raising the 6th note one half step.

Click on the figure below to hear the scale

There are many more types of scales than these most common ones. Other scales may contain different numbers of notes as well.

Using the natural notes only, and starting on a different note to begin the scale, you can create seven note scales that contain half steps in different locations. In the Middle Ages, these scales, or modes as they are commonly referred to, were used often in compositions. Using no accidentals in the scale, the name of the mode that starts off with each natural letter is as follows:

C

D

E

F

G

A

B

Ionian

Dorian

Phrygian

Lydian

Mixolydian

Aeolian

Locrian

For example Mixolydian mode with no accidentals in the key signature would consist of the notes:

G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G

Note the half steps between notes 3 to 4, and 6 to 7. This mode is very similar to Major and is used frequently in playing Rock and Roll.

Each of the above modes can start off in with any of the 12 unique notes within an octave, however, the above example is the easiest way to remember the locations of the half steps.

Note that Ionian is the modal name for the major scale and Aeolian is the modal name for the natural minor scale. The scales in the following table consist of the intervals found in the right side of the table. "M2" is a Major second, or a whole step. "m2" is a minor second, or a half step. "A2" is an Augmented second, equivalent to a step and a half. "d3" is a diminished third, equivalent to a whole step, (but requiring a skip in a letter name). "m3" is a minor third, equivalent to a step and a half, (but requiring a skip in a letter name). Intervals other than M2 or m2 are highlighted.

Major (Ionian) M2,M2,m2,M2,M2,M2,m2
Natural Minor (Aeolian) M2,m2,M2,M2,m2,M2,M2
Ascending Minor M2,m2,M2,M2,M2,M2,m2
Harmonic Minor M2,m2,M2,M2,m2,A2,m2
Dorian M2,m2,M2,M2,M2,m2,M2
Phrygian m2,M2,M2,M2,m2,M2,M2
Lydian M2,M2,M2,m2,M2,M2,m2
Mixolydian M2,M2,m2,M2,M2,m2,M2
Locrian m2,M2,M2,m2,M2,M2,M2
Whole Tone M2,M2,M2,M2,M2,d3
Pentatonic Major M2,M2,m3,M2,m3
Pentatonic Minor m3,M2,M2,m3,M2
Enigmatic m2,A2,M2,M2,M2,m2,m2
Neapolitan m2,M2,M2,M2,M2,M2,m2
Neapolitan Minor m2,M2,M2,M2,m2,A2,m2
Hungarian Minor M2,m2,A2,m2,m2,A2,m2

You can use Virtualoso Guitar to hear the different types of scales.

ACTIVITY: Explore scales

In the Sheet Music window, select the "Key Signature" menu's "Choose Key Signature" menu item. Select C Major by clicking on the very middle button in the Choose Key Signature window.

In the Mode window, use the Mode menu and select Explore Scales.

Look at the notes on the Virtualoso Guitar window. You are looking at THE PATTERN to memorize on the guitar. (The red notes would be unreachable if your hand was in the position indicated by the white arrows, but they still are in the pattern to memorize.) These notes, (no matter their color for now), represent the notes of the C Major scale (for piano converts - the white keys on the piano).

The pattern repeats at fret 12 (XII), so you only have to learn the notes up to that fret.

If we had to teach you one thing about guitar, this would probably be it. From this pattern you can offset notes into any key signature using the circle of fifths described in the next chapter.


By clicking on the "Play Scale" button, you can hear an ascending scale of this type. You can move the assumed position that you hand would be in with the "arrow" buttons, try moving the position higher with the > button, then play the scale again. You might be surprised to find that it sounds the same even though your not at the same place on the guitar!

If you have registered your software, select Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Locrian, and compare them against the Major and Natural Minor scales. Can you tell that you're simply starting off at a different tonic note and that the pattern on the fretboard remains exactly the same except for the location of the tonic note?

Select some of the other scales and play them. The pentatonic scales are very handy to know since you can never really play a "bad" note with them, they are well suited to playing melodies.

With your own guitar you can use Explore Scales mode as a virtual fretboard road map. Simply set the scale type that you want to work on, look at the notes on the Virtualoso Guitar window, and then play them on your own guitar. After you play the scale from a low tonic note up to the next tonic note, Hit the "Play Scale" button. Make sure it sounds the same as the scale you just played on your guitar.

If you would like to work on Ear Training for scales, select "Make Me Guess!" from the "Scale" menu. Virtualoso Guitar will randomly select a scale for you. If you recognize the pattern on the fretboard, you can check the scale name that was selected by clicking on the "Scale" menu again. If you don't recognize the pattern, or simply would like to work on pure ear training, click on the "Play Scale" button, make your guess, and check your guess with the "Scale" menu again.

The circle of fifths are described in the next chapter along with a more detailed explanation of key signatures.

Table of Contents

Next: Key Signatures and the Circle of Fifths

Previous: Elements of Music Notation