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What Are Scales And Keys?

Updated on June 6, 2012

When learning music theory, one of the most important things to know about is scales and keys. These are basically two words for the same thing, but used in different sentence structures.

A scale is a set of notes that fit together. But unlike chords, they shouldn't all be played at the same time. You use the different notes in the scale to compose a melody, compose chords or improvise a solo.

In this article you will learn some of the most commonly used scales. All scales are explained with C as the key note, but beware that you'll have to transpose the scales if you play in a different key.

You can learn about chords here

The Major Scale

The Major scale is the most commonly used scale and has a happy kind of sound.

The following notes are in the C major scale:

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

Simple, right? Yes, this is the most simple scale of all because is only played with white keys on the keyboard/piano (meaning no '#'s and 'b's).

The Minor Scale

The Minor scale has a mood that sounds a little more sad.

The following notes are in the C minor scale:

C, D, Eb, F, G, Ab and Bb.

Here, you'll need to use three black keys on the piano. On guitar it will not matter what key you're playing in because it is much easier to transpose the scales and chords.

The Major Pentatonic Scale

The Major Pentatonic scale only consists of five notes instead of seven. It is based upon the regular major scale. We just remove two notes, and we have our pentatonic scale. It is much simpler, but can be used more effectively in some cases.

The following notes are in the C major pentatonic scale:

C, D, E, G and A.

The Minor Pentatonic Scale

The Minor Pentatonic scale is used in most classic rock music - well, just in rock music in general. It is based upon the regular minor scale in the same way that the major pentatonic scale is based upon the regular major scale.

The following notes are in the C minor pentatonic scale:

C, Eb, F, G and Bb.

The Blues Scale

The Blues scale is used in - you guessed it - blues music.

It is build just like the minor pentatonic scale, except you have to add an extra note between what in the C minor pentatonic scale is F and G (in D minor, this would be between G and A).

The following notes are in the C blues scale:

C, Eb, F, Gb, G and Bb.


Sometimes, you will have to play the above scales in other keys than C. Therefore, it is important to learn the intervals in the scale, so you don't have to transpose them manually. Intervals are the gaps between two notes in a scale.

1 note = two half notes.

Major: 1, 1, ½, 1, 1, 1, ½ (there is 1 note between C and D, a half note between E and F and so on)

Minor: 1, ½, 1, 1, ½, 1, 1

Major pentatonic: 1, 1, 1½, 1, 1½

Minor pentatonic: 1½, 1, 1, 1½, 1

Blues: 1½, 1, ½, ½, 1½, 1


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