Major Scale: Essential Information

Difficulty: Spectrum

The Major Scale is the cornerstone of all western harmony, when we describe other scales it is always in relation to The Major Scale and the naming conventions for chords and all forms are harmony come from the major scale.

You will almost certainly know the sound of the scale if only from The Sound Of Music Song (video of the famous song!). The system in the song is called solfege and uses the syllables: Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti and Do to represent the intervals in the scale.

It is a seven note scale, but when describing it the 'octave' is usually shown or played. The octave is the same note as the starting note but half or double the frequency (think of the first two notes of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow", they're an 'octave' apart).

The white notes on the piano starting on the note C will give you the notes of the C Major Scale: C D E F G A B C. If you have access to a piano you should try it out for yourself. Look at a piano keyboard, you'll see the black notes grouped in 2's and 3's. The white note immediately to the left of the 2 black notes is the note C.

All other scales are thought of in relation to this scale so it is a very important to get The Major Scale understood very well. Learn it, study it and look at the relationships between the notes and the chord tones (you find all this and more in Practical Music Theory).

The Modes Of The Major Scale are covered in a separate series but as the name suggests, they are just modes [a way or manner in which something occurs or is experienced, expressed, or done] of using The Major Scale.

Scale Formula

The scale formula for the major scale must be memorised, as you will use it often to work out the notes or chords in the key. The formula describes the interval distances between each note of the scale.

 
T
 
T
 
S
 
T
 
T
 
T
 
S
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
7
 
8

T = Tone [whole step] • S = Semitone [half step]
 

Note that the scale is made up of two sequences of T T S joined by a T. This can help you remember it! The T T S Sequence is called a Tetrachord and was used by the ancient Greeks who come up with the system!

Chords In The Key

The chords in the "Key Of C Major", that is the chords that can be made using only notes of the C Major Scale are:

 
I
II
III
IV
V
VI
VII
I
C Major Scale
C
D
E
F
G
A
B
C
Triad Chords
C
Dm
Em
F
G
Am
Bdim
C
Quadad Chords
C∆7
Dm7
Em7
F∆7
G7
Am7
Bm7b5
C∆7


Shown are Triads (3 note chords) and Quadads (4 note chords), there are many hundreds more chords that can be built from this scale but these are by far the most commonly used.

You could use the C Major Scale to improvise over any or all of these chords!

Names Of The Scale Degrees

I don't use the classical scale degrees much in my lessons but I feel I should add them here in case you need them for study - most music schools require you to know them even though they're not used often in normal music conversations, more for harmonic analysis.

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

Tonic
(Root)
(Key)

Supertonic

Mediant

Subdominant

Dominant

Submediant

Leading Note

Octave

Major Scale

- LESSON STEPS -

Grades

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