Mar 15th, 2007
Today we will take a look at how to build a scale using certain notes on your guitar (or any other melodic instrument you play). Just like notes are the building blocks for scales, scales are the building block for composition. All chords are derived from scales. And in western music there is one scale that is more important than all the others: the Ionian scale, (most commonly called by the “Major” scale.)
The Major scale and its modes (a “mode” is a musical scale that is derived from another musical scale by starting from an alternate note within the parent scale. We will get deeper in to modes in another lesson) are used by almost every composer in music today. You will need to understand them if you wish to compose your own songs, improvise, or do almost anything else on guitar
The first thing you must know is that the Major scale and its modes are all “diatonic” scales. This means they are 7 note scales where all the notes are derived from the tonic (the first note). If you recall from the lesson on notes, there are 12 notes in all. How do we know which 7 notes we need to make a scale? Easy. There is a formula.
Remember, each note is a half-step away from the next. By using a formula of whole and half steps we can make a scale.
The formula for the Major scale is W-W-H-W-W-W-H (W=whole step, H = Half step).
So you can start with any note and then follow the formula to get that note’s major scale.
See the following diagram showing the C major scale and the G major scale as examples:
Note that the C major scale has no #’s (sharps) or b’s (flats) in it. This is the only major scale with no #’s or b’s in it. For that reason many people will use the key of C major for examples, because it is much easier to follow. I will be using the key of C major to explain things quite often.
As a final point. It is said the tone and character of the major scale is happy and joyful sounding. Other scales and modes will have their own tonal qualities as well.
I hope this was some help. If you are still not getting it perhaps try referring back to the lesson on Notes. If you have any questions please post them to the comments section of this post.