Introducing the Major Scale
Before exploring topics like chords or melody one must understand the Major Scale. This note sequence provides the fundamental structure on which music theory is based. Understanding this scale allows musicians to analyze, explore and express musical ideas.
A note played on a musical instrument is actually a composite of multiple frequencies. The vibrations from the instrument create different frequencies that blend together to make the sound we hear. The strongest frequency is called the Fundamental. When these frequencies are separated and looked at individually, they referred to as harmonics (or partials).
Scales are a way a organizing pitches from the Harmonic Series. This series is the sequence of multiples of a base frequency. When a note is played on an instrument we hear the strongest frequency called the ‘Fundamental’. Other weaker frequencies occur as multiples and divisions of the fundamental. These ‘Partials’ occur at various distances from the fundamental pitch. The first partial to appear in the series is the called an ‘Octave’.
[Four “C” notes octave(s) apart]
[Four “C#” notes octave(s) apart]
[Four “D” notes octave(s) apart]
An Octave is an interval between two musical pitches. The distance of this interval maybe half or double the frequency. This means both notes share the same name. Each key highlighted above are notes spaced an octave apart on the piano. They are said to be the same note, an octave(s) apart.
A Scale is a sequence of notes connecting notes an octave apart. All scales begin + end on octaves notes.
For example lets look at two “C” notes an octave apart. If we play (and count) only white keys between this octave we get the following scale.
This scale repeats the same sequence every eight notes. Octaves are named after this eight note cycle known as the Major Scale.
Each scale is named for it’s start/end note. In this example we have made the ‘C Major Scale’ because it’s begins and ends on a C note.
In the previous lesson we played the C Major Scale for one octave. In order to play only white keys we must skip over some notes on black keys. If two notes are separated by a note they are said to be a Whole Step apart.
To play a whole-step on the piano you play a note and then play another note two keys away. On the guitar you play a whole-step by playing a note in one fret followed by a note two frets away. The major scale begins with two whole steps. One between notes C(1) + D(2) and another between notes D(2) + E(3).
Scales also contain notes that are neighboring tones. These notes are played on adjacent piano keys or frets on the guitar. Notes that are “touching” like this are said to be a Half-Steps apart. The major scale has a half-step between notes E(3) + F(4). We could also say that a whole-step contains two half-steps.
If we analyze the Major Scale as a sequence made up of whole-steps and half-steps we get the following pattern.