Major Scales

We just discovered that musical intervals are the basis for forming scales. At the beginning of this chapter, we also discovered that a piano has 88 keys, which we subdivide into octaves. It is also important to know that an octave consists of 12 notes, whereas a musical alphabet contains seven notes. All well and good, but how can we connect the two?

Thanks to intervals and scales, we know that we can derive our musical alphabet from these twelve keys. The musical family (or key) we choose determines which seven letters these are.

We start with the two most popular scales in modern music: the major and minor scales. Of course, there are many others, but these are not important at the moment.

The major and minor scales form a solid basis and are widely used in contemporary music. We will first learn to form these scales, after which we will delve into certain tips and tricks to give a particular song more individuality.

After that, you will be able to analyse your favourite songs even better. When you know which key applies, you know which notes the musicians might use and which chords might show up further along the song. It's the first step towards writing your songs!

We’ll start with (the family) C-major, as it contains no black keys. As soon as this musical family has no more secrets for you, we can apply this theory to any other key. Below is the translation of the musical family C-major on a piano keyboard. The formula below tells you how we can find the rest of the notes that belong within this scale by starting at C and using intervals.

1 tone = the distance between C and D

1 tone = the distance between D and E

1 semitone = the distance between E and F

1 tone = the distance between F and G

1 tone = the distance between G and A

1 tone = the distance between A and B
1 semitone = the distance between B and C

Do you want to find the right notes within a certain major scale? You can always use the formula above. You can start from any key on the piano, including the black keys. This logic will help you complete any musical family in major.

And there is more. At this point, we are ready to convert our alphabet into numbers which will make the intervals a lot clearer. In C major, for example, we will get: C (first = root), D (second), E (third), F (fourth), G (fifth), A (sixth), B (seventh).

Thus, we arrive at the illustration below. That looks a lot easier, doesn't it?

Now the idea is to apply the same intervals to a different family; let’s practice this once again using the D-major scale. The first note is always the note of the family we have chosen, so logically we start here with the letter D. By applying our familiar list of intervals (tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone, semitone), we know how to find the other notes.

The example below will get you started. Note that the distances between the letters (or the intervals) are the same for both D and C-major scales.

Again, we can use numbers instead of letters. This is the result:

All clear? Are you completely on board? Perfect! Now you know which notes are within a D-major scale: D (1), E (2), F# (3), G (4), A (5), B (6) and C# (7).

Is it all a bit overwhelming? Don't stress; just do everything at your own pace and follow the steps below. I will help you on your way with another example, the A-major scale.

Step 1: Choose a particular family, such as A-major.

Step 2: Determine the first note; here it’s A.

Step 3: Apply the known intervals to a keyboard to discover the seven notes.

  • 1st note: A (since this example is the family of A-major)

  • 2nd note: 1st note + 1 tone = B

  • 3rd note: 2nd note + 1 tone = C#

  • 4th note: 3rd note + 1 semitone = D

  • 5th note: 4th note + 1 tone = E

  • 6th note: 5th note + 1 tone = F#

  • 7th note: 6th note + 1 tone = G#

  • 1st note: 7th note + 1 semitone = A

Step 4: Place the notes on a keyboard with numbers or letters.

If you understand this concept, well done! If it's still not completely clear, go through this chapter again at your own pace. Once you have mastered the technique, it becomes child's play. After all, we always count the same way.

Before we go on with minor scales, we need to learn a bit more about sharps and flats.