ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

How to Build Major, Minor, Harmonic Minor, and Melodic Minor Scales

Updated on November 12, 2012

Scale Overview

A scale is an ordered sequence of musical pitches. The two most common scales over the past 400 years in western music have been the major and minor scale. The vast majority of music from western countries that people have listened to throughout their lives has been assembled using major or minor scales.

The uniqueness of any scale is determined by the order of its intervals and the quality of each of the those intervals. (An interval is the distance between two musical pitches). Major and minor scales each have seven pitches and two different interval types (technically there are three interval types, the third is explained later).

The two types of intervals that are used to build major and minor scales are called major 2nds and minor 2nds. A major 2nd comprises of 2 half steps (also called a whole step), while a minor 2nd comprises of 1 half step (the smallest interval in the 12 pitch tuning system). The use of these intervals and the order they appear in each scale is what gives each scale its unique sound.

C Major Scale
C Major Scale | Source

Major Scales

To build a major scale, first pick a note to start on. Remember when building major and minor scales, each whole or half step is added to the note before it. Use the following interval sequence to build a major scale:

Whole-Whole-Half-Whole-Whole-Whole-Half.

If you use C as your starting note (see image to the right) the pitches should come out to be C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. This pitch collection makes up the C major scale.

Note: On the major scale picture to the right: Whole steps are marked with curved lines and half steps are marked with pointed lines.

The order of intervals that make up the major scale can be started on any of the 12 pitches used in Western music and the end result will give you a major scale.

Natural Minor Scale

F minor scale
F minor scale | Source

Harmonic Minor Scale

A harmonic scale, ascending and descending
A harmonic scale, ascending and descending | Source

Melodic Minor Scale

B melodic minor scale
B melodic minor scale | Source

Minor Scales

Minor scales get a little more complicated than the major scale because there are three of them as opposed to there only being one major scale. The three minor scales are called natural minor (or just minor), harmonic minor, and melodic minor. Just like the major scale, the order of intervals that make up any of the three minor scales can be started on any of the twelve pitches used in Western music.

Natural Minor Scale - Pick a starting note and use the following interval sequence to build a minor scale:

Whole-Half-Whole-Whole-Half-Whole-Whole.

If you use F as your starting note, the pitches should come out to be F-G-Ab-Bb-C-Db-Eb-F (see natural minor picture) thus giving you an F minor scale.

Note: There is another type of 2nd degree interval called the augmented 2nd, and this interval is made up of 3 half steps. (See harmonic minor).

Harmonic Minor Scale - This scale is the most unique sounding of the four scales presented in this article because it contains an augmented 2nd interval. Again, pick a note to start on and follow this sequence of intervals to build a harmonic minor scale:

Whole-Half-Whole-Whole-Half-Augmented 2nd-Half.

If you use A as your tonic the pitches should come out to be A-B-C-D-E-F-G#-A (see harmonic minor scale picture to the right). This scale would be called A harmonic minor.

Melodic Minor Scale - The melodic minor scale starts out like a minor scale but finishes like a major scale giving it a very conflicting sound, which you would expect due to the clash between major and minor scale components. Pick a note to start on and use the following interval sequence to build a melodic minor scale:

Whole-Half-Whole-Whole-Whole-Whole-Half.

If you use B as your tonic the pitches should come out to be B-C#-D-E-F#-G#-A#-B (see melodic minor scale picture to the right). This scale would be called B melodic minor

Note: If you look closely at the picture to the right called Melodic Minor Scale you will notice the descending intervals in the melodic minor correspond to the pitches of the B natural minor scale rather than the B melodic minor scale. Notating the melodic minor scale like this has been a tradition in Western music theory, but in actual music practice the descending pitches are not usually changed.

Listen: Major, Minor, Harmonic Minor, and Melodic Minor Scales

Hear the Difference Between Major and Minor

For those of you who want to hear the difference between these four scales I highly recommend you play them on your instrument of choice. If you do not play an instrument, and would still like to hear the differences between these scales, click on the video to the right.

These scales may not sound like anything special, but they have been the building blocks for most of the music produced by Western societies for over 400 years.


Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • jamila sahar profile image

      jamila sahar 

      5 years ago

      Thanks for sharing this useful hub! It is great to be able to share various perspectives with students, as they may understand the way you explained it more clearly. What's important to me is that my students get a thorough education.

    • Music-and-Art-45 profile imageAUTHOR

      Music-and-Art-45 

      5 years ago from USA, Illinois

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing Jamilla. Feel free to share with who ever you think this may be useful, too.

    • jamila sahar profile image

      jamila sahar 

      5 years ago

      Great Hub! Although I teach these same scales everyday, it is refreshing to read about this from another perspective, I would love to share this hub with my students, voted up and useful.

    • Music-and-Art-45 profile imageAUTHOR

      Music-and-Art-45 

      5 years ago from USA, Illinois

      Thanks Giselle, I'm glad you found this hub useful. Music theory is very interesting in my opinion and I'm glad to find someone who is interested in it, too.

    • profile image

      Giselle Maine 

      5 years ago

      Wow, superb! I have been wanting to get more into music theory so this hub is perfect. I love how you included the video to listen to the differences between the different scales. Plus your writing was great and the topic was set out in a way that was easy to understand. I am glad to be following you. Voted up, useful and shared.

    • Music-and-Art-45 profile imageAUTHOR

      Music-and-Art-45 

      5 years ago from USA, Illinois

      Thanks, I just started writing so I really appreciate that.

    • Omnivium profile image

      Omnivium 

      5 years ago

      Finally a hub that is actually useful

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)