Build Major Scales (Natural, Harmonic, Melodic)

Edited by Jacob, Anonymous, Dougie, Doug Collins and 1 other

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In music, a scale is series of musical notes ordered by different pitches. A scale also makes music meaningful and gives character to it. Where a Major scale is cheerful, a minor scale is tragic and dramatic. While there are many types of Major scales, we're just going to focus on showing you how to build three of them. These three are the Natural, Harmonic, and Melodic Major scales. Note that the 'Natural' Major scale is referred to as a 'Major scale'

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If you'd instead like to learn about how to build a minor scale, please read the linked article. Otherwise, read on to learn everything about how to build Major scales:

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Major Scale (Natural)

This is the most commonly used scale in western music.

A Major scale includes 7 notes ordered by specific intervals. The simplest Major scale is C Major because it is the only Major scale that doesn't have any sharp or flat note. In the steps below, we'll show you how to build one. To start with, lets choose the C Major scale, because it's easy. Keep in mind that an interval is a physical distance between two notes, for example a whole step or half step. If we observe the piano keys, the interval between each neighbor white and black key is a half step, and the distance between each neighbor white key is a whole step. Note that the distance between B and C, and E and F is half step, because there is no black key between them. (Tone (T) = Whole step, Semitone (ST) = Half step)

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Piano-Keys-intervals.png

Follow the steps below to build the C Major scale:

  1. 1
    The C Major scale starts from C, so we begin with C.
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  2. 2
    From C, we take one whole step, also known as a whole tone, up to D.
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  3. 3
    From D, we take another whole step up to E.
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  4. 4
    From E, we take a half step, also known as a semitone, up to F.
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  5. 5
    From F, we take a whole step up to G.
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  6. 6
    At this point, we have C D E F G.
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  7. 7
    From G, again we take a whole step up to A.
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  8. 8
    From A, we take a whole step up to B.
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  9. 9
    From B, we take a half step up to C.
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  10. 10
    This is the C Major scale, consisting of C D E F G A B C.
    C-Major.png
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If we examine the intervals between each note, we find a pattern for building Major scales, which is T-T-ST-T-T-T-ST (Tone (T) = Whole step, Semitone (ST) = Half step).

C-Major-Intervals.png

This series of intervals makes a Major scale.

Let's choose another note and use it to build a Major scale. For this example, we'll choose F. You should use the T-T-ST-T-T-T-ST pattern of intervals discussed earlier, to build F Major scale:

  • F + Tone = G
  • G + Tone = A
  • A + Semitone = B-flat
  • B-flat + Tone = C
  • C + Tone = D
  • D + Tone = E
  • E + Semitone = F
  • F Major scale: F G A B-flat C D E F
F-Major.png

Harmonic Major Scale

The harmonic Major is most often used in Jazz Music.

A harmonic Major scale is a bit different than a natural Major scale. The harmonic Major was created in the Common practice era, which was from 1600 to 1900. The Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov, who lived from 1872-1908, named this scale. The difference between a harmonic Major scale and natural Major scale is that the harmonic Major scale has 6th degrees lowered by a semitone (half step). It means for example in C Harmonic Major, instead of A we have A-flat. 'A scale degree is a number or name given to specific note in the scale.

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Considering the natural Major pattern, as it was discussed in the first section, and the diminished 6th degrees. Let's build the C Harmonic Major scale:

  1. 1
    From C, We take a whole step to D
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  2. 2
    From D, We take a whole step to E
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  3. 3
    From E, We take a Half Step to F
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  4. 4
    From F, We take a whole tone to G
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  5. 5
    From G, We take a Half step to A-Flat
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  6. 6
    From A-Flat, We take a whole step plus a half step to B
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  7. 7
    From B, We take half step to C
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The C Harmonic Major scale Includes: C D E F G A-flat B C

C-Harmonic-Major.png

Just like a natural major, by looking at the intervals, we find a pattern to build all the harmonic major scales: T-T-ST-T-ST-T+ST-ST (Tone (T) = Whole step, Semitone (ST) = Half step)

Melodic Major Scale

The melodic Major scale was used in Eastern European folk melodies, but was ignored by most classical composers.

Today this scale, like the harmonic Major scale, is used in Jazz Music. The difference between a melodic Major scale and a harmonic Major scale is that in the melodic Major scale we have 7th degrees lowered by a half tone. For example in the C melodic Major scale, we have B-flat instead of B. So in all melodic Major scales we have 6th and 7th degrees lowered by a half step. Let's build a C Melodic Major:

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  1. 1
    From C, we take a whole step to D
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  2. 2
    From D, we take a whole step again to E
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  3. 3
    From E, we take a half step to F
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  4. 4
    From F, we take a whole step to G
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  5. 5
    From G, we take a half step to A-flat
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  6. 6
    From A-flat, we take a whole step to B-flat
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  7. 7
    From B-flat, we Take a whole step to C
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C-Melodic-Major.png

Just like in other scales, if we check each interval, we discover a pattern, which we can then use to build all melodic Major scales: T-T-ST-T-ST-T-T (Tone (T) = Whole step, Semitone (ST) = Half step)

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A melodic Major scale is very close to a natural minor scale. If we check a natural minor scale we get: T-ST-T-T-ST-T-T. When we compare these two scales, we can see that the second part (upper Tetra chord) of both scales is the same

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  • Melodic Major scale: T-T-ST-T-ST-T-T
  • Natural minor scale: T-ST-T-T-ST-T-T

In summary, if we play both of these scales, only from the first part (lower Tetra chord), we can understand which one is the natural minor scale and which one is the melodic Major scale

Questions and Answers

How do I know what key something is in when I listen to it?

I want to know the difference when listening in identify key signatures and aural skills with majors and minors

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Categories : Music

Recent edits by: Doug Collins, Dougie, Anonymous

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