The Major Scale
Melodies and harmonies in music are constructed from scales, as are different chords and progressions between chords. They are thought to have originated from Ancient Greece, demonstrating how old they are. There are different types of scales, but we will focus on the major scale in the lesson.
A scale, meaning ‘ladder’ in latin, is simply a series of notes ordered by their distance from one another, or more accurately by their pitch.
There are different types of scales, and the ones you will be most accustomed to are major scales and minor scales. However, for grade one you only need to understand the major scale.
Each major scale is built up the same way, it just has different starting notes. So if we understand how any single scale is built, we can then build any of the other major scales. The starting note is the name of that scale. If a scale starts on D, it will be a D scale. If it starts on E, it will be an E scale.
As we said before, there are different types of scales. So a scale that starts on D, could be a D Major scale, or it could be a D Minor scale. But for now we’re only going to look at a few Major scales.
The C Major Scale
The first scale we will look at is the C major scale. This is because, through the use of a keyboard, it is easy to visualise and understand how it is built.
The C major scale has the notes C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C – all of the white notes on the keyboard
As we discussed earlier, C major scale will start on C, and it will also end on C.
Using a keyboard, we’ll now break it down further:
Looking at the piano, you’ll see the first and second notes are C and D. They are both a tone apart.
The second and third are D and E, a tone apart.
The third and fourth are E and F, a semitone apart.
The fourth and fifth are F and G, a tone apart.
The fifth and sixth are G and A, a tone apart.
The sixth and seventh are A and B, a tone apart.
Finally, the seventh and eighth are B and C, a semitone apart.
Here is the distances visually demonstrated. T represents tone, S represents semitone.
The order of the tones is therefore: T-T-S-T-T-T-S
This is important to remember, as using this order the major scale can be built on any other note.
Whilst it may be beneficial to memorize this, it certainly isn’t essential, as long as you know how you can work it out in the exam.
Therefore, on sheet music the C major scale would look like this:
The G Major Scale
Using what we know about how major scales are constructed, we’ll now make the G major scale.
G is the first note, and the pattern of tones and semitones is T-T-S-T-T-T-S.
Therefore, a whole tone above G is A. and a whole tone above A is B. So now we have the first three notes of the G Major Scale:
We have now done two tones, so the next step is a semitone. A semitone above B is C, making our scale G-A-B-C.
Next is another whole tone step, going from C to D. Another whole tone step would then take us from D to E. Making our scale G-A-B-C-D-E.
This now leaves one whole tone step, and one semitone step. If we look at the keyboard, we can quite easily see that a whole tone up from E is F♯.
The final step is a semitone. A semitone above F♯ is G, completing our scale.
This means the G Major Scale is G-A-B-C-D-E-F♯-G.
Here is it with tones and semitones annoted:
And here is G major in both clefs:
The F Major Scale
We are now going to create F Major.
As we know it starts on F, and the pattern for the major scale is T-T-S-T-T-T-S.
A tone above F is G. Making the F Major scale F-G.
The tone above G is A. Making the scale F-G-A.
A semitone above A is B♭. Making the scale F-G-A-B♭.
You’ll notice that in G major, the only accidental was for F♯, and in F major it’s for B♭.
Every major scale, starting at the first note of the scale, goes up through all of the note names. None of the notes are repeated, and none are skipped. Therefore, G major must have the notes G-A-B-C-D-E-F-G, and F major must have the notes F-A-B-C-D-E-F.
This means that, the note following A is B, and if it is a semitone higher than B, it must be a B♭, as every note has to appear in the scale, and accidentals are used to ensure that this happens.
So the F major scale is now F-G-A-B♭.
Using the remaining tones and semitones, the F major scale becomes F-G-A-B♭-C-D-E-F.
This is the F Major scale with tones and semitones annotated:
Here is the F Major scale in both clefs:
The D Major
The final scale you need to know for grade 1 is the D Major Scale.
As before, it starts on D and is built with the pattern of the major scale: T-T-S-T-T-T-S.
A whole tone above D is E. Making the scale D-E.
A whole tone above E is F♯. Making the scale D-E-F♯
A semitone above F♯ is G. Making the scale D-E-F♯-G.
A whole tone above G is A. Making the scale D-E-F♯-G-A.
A whole tone above A is B. Making the scale D-E-F♯-G-A-B.
A whole tone above B is C♯. Making the scale D-E-F♯-G-A-B-C♯.
A semitone above C♯ is D. Finishing off the scale at D-E-F♯-G-A-B-C♯-D.
As before, here is the D Major scale with tones/semitones annotated:
And finally, here is the D major scale in both clefs:
While it isn’t completely necessary to memorise these scales as you can work them out during the exam if you need to, it would definitely make the grade 1 exam and all of the future exams much easier. Therefore, I would recommend memorising the notes in C Major, G Major, F Major and D Major.