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How to Create Scales - Major and Minor

Updated on August 7, 2014

Scales

There are many different types of scales, each producing various moods and feel. The most common scales in western music known as ‘diatonic’ – they are Major and Minor scales.

Most scales contain seven notes repeated over as many octaves as the instrument will allow. The first note of the scale is known as the ‘tonic’, ‘root’ or ‘key’ note.

Scales are made up of a set pattern of distances between notes. The pattern is what will determine if a scale is major, minor, or other. These patterns are lined up against the chromatic scale and the resulting notes are what will be in our scale.

The Chromatic Scale - C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B C

When constructing a scale the distances between each note will either be a tone or a semi-tone.

A tone up is the second note up on the chromatic scale.

A semi-tone up is the first tone up on the chromatic scale.

For example…

If we start on ‘C’ and move up a tone we’ll be on the ‘D’ note.

If we start on ‘C’ and move up a semi-tone we’ll be on the ‘C#’ note.

Further examples…

If we start on ‘E’ and move up a tone we’ll be on the ‘F#’ note.

If we start on ‘G#’ and move up a semi-tone we’ll be on the ‘A’ note.

(It is good to note that you can also move ‘down’ tones and semitones. So a semitone down from E would be E♭, a tone down F would be D#.)

Tips when practicing scales

  • Commit the notes of the scale to memory
  • Play scale ascending, and then descending.
  • Play with a clean tone
  • Play slowly to start with (even painfully slow) Speed will develop with technique.
  • Sing or hum the scale as you play.
  • Always play in tune.
  • Practice every day. Ten minutes a day is better than an hour once a week.
  • Find as many positions to play the scale as possible.

The Major Scale

This is probably the most known scale to people and they don’t even know it. Basically, the major scale sounds the same as singing Do Re Me Fa Sol La Ti Do. The C major scale is the most pure form of this as it contains all natural notes.

To construct a major scale we need to use the pattern… Tone, Tone, Semitone, Tone, Tone, Tone, Semitone.

Following this pattern, using ‘C’ as out starting point, or ‘tonic’ we move up a tone to ‘D’, then a tone to ‘E’, then a semi-tone to ‘F’, a tone to ‘G’ a tone to ‘A’ a tone to ‘B’ and finally a semitone to ‘C’ – which will be an octave above the starting point.

C D E F G A B

If we use a different tonic, ‘G’ for example, and follow the major scale pattern - Tone, Tone, Semitone, Tone, Tone, Tone, Semitone (T,T,S,T,T,T,S) We’ll end up with these notes…

G A B C D E F#

Whereas C major contained no sharp or flat notes, G major contains one Sharp note, which is F Sharp.

If we want to create an ‘E’ major scale we would start on E and follow the T,T,S,T,T,T,S pattern. What would the notes be?

E _ _ _ _ _ _ _

  • We can create a major scale from each of the twelve notes. Each will have a unique collection of notes and a different mood, but will still follow Do Re Me Fa Sol La Ti Do.
  • What makes the various major scales different to each other is the number of sharp or flat notes.
  • No two Major scales will have the same number of sharps or flats.

Try find the notes in the following major keys. D. F. A. B. F#. C#. (Message me for the answers if you like. :-) )

(Hint - The F# major scale and the C# major scale are tricky)

The Minor Scale

The minor scale sounds less happy than the major scale. It also uses Tones and Semi-tones in its construction but follows a different pattern.

Tone, Semitone, Tone, Tone, Semitone, Tone, Tone.

By following this pattern, using ‘A’ as our tonic, we move up a tone to ‘B’, a semitone to ‘C’, a tone to ‘D’, a tone to ‘E’, a semitone to ‘F’, a tone to ‘G’ and finally a tone to ‘A.’

A B C D E F G A

If we were to use ‘C’ as our tonic, and follow the minor scale pattern, we’d end up with…

C D E♭ F G A♭ B♭

The C minor scale has three flats, which are E♭, A♭ and B♭. In contrast to the C major scale, which has no sharps or flats, this has a sadder – minor – sound.

Try find the notes for the following minor keys. B, D, E, F, G, F#, C#, G#, B♭, E♭

Applying this to the guitar.

Now that you know how to find the notes for a major or minor scale it's now time to play them on the guitar. The picture below shows all the notes on the fret board. Try find the patterns for the scales.

Happy playing.

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