What are Scales in Music

What are scales in music? Music scales refer to a series or sequence of notes that go in an ascending and descending order. There are several kinds of scales in music and they are usually distinguished by the pattern of the intervals between adjacent keys on your piano. Mastery of music scales is very important because this serves as a structure in determining which notes can be used in a specific key. Music scales also gives us the foundation in chords construction. Once you get the formula, you can apply this on any musical instrument you want to learn.

Ok, to better understand scales, let’s study the most common scale used the Major scale (Ionian scale). The Major scale is composed of seven notes plus the octave of the root. The easiest major scale to play on the piano keyboard is the C Major scale. Going back to our previous lessons, once you know the names of your white keys you already know the C Major scale since it is made up of all white keys. The scale starts on the C note (which is its root) and ascends (left to right) walking on the following notes or pitches C, D, E, F, G, A, B, plus C and vice versa.

Aside from the C Major scale we still have other major scales and I am sure you are thinking, "How do we play the other Major scales?” The good news is we do not need to memorize everything. We just need to follow a short formula or pattern. Then, we can start playing all the different major scales. The formula simply goes like these -- Whole:Whole:half:Whole:Whole:Whole:half (W - W - h - W - W - W - h )! How do we use this formula? Let's try this on the C Major scale. Press any C note on your piano, apply a whole step from C which takes you to D, another whole step from D, apply a half step from E, and so on and you will get the C Major scale!  (e.g. D Major Scale below)

D Major Scale

Now using the same concept, I recommend that you go back to your instrument and try to figure out the other major scales starting with the C# Major scale. While you are doing this exercise, say the name of notes out loud when you press them. This will help you memorize the names of the notes in the different major scale. If you are not familiar with half steps and whole steps yet, please refer to our previous lesson "Understanding Half Steps and Whole Steps". After reading this article and doing the exercise above, should be able to:

  • Define music scales
  • Identify and name all the notes on every major scale (D maj scale = D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#, D)
  • Play the different major scales (C maj scale, C# maj scale, D maj scale, etc)