#1May 3rd, 2009 · 02:12 PM
102 threads / 59 songs
204 posts
Lesson 3: Major and Minor Scales
We all know what scales sound like. The major scale might be the most familiar melody anyone knows. So what is a scale?

The major scale is the series of notes that can be played by incrementing note names from C to C an octave higher without using accidentals. In other words, in C a major scale is the series of notes CDEFGABC. In other keys, we can notate the same thing so long as we use the proper key signature.

In a major scale, the interval between every note is either a semitone (st) or a whole tone (wt) and this series of intervals is the same regardless of what note we start on. So in A the major scale looks like:

A (wt) B (wt) C# (st) D (wt) E (wt) F# (wt) G# (st) A
1          2          3         4         5          6            7         1

Notice that there are 7 different note names (i.e. A, F, G, etc.) in the major scale. Also notice that there are two semitones, between the third and fourth note and the seventh and first (or last).

We call the notes in a major scale "scale degrees" but each scale degree also has another name.
In D these would be:

1 tonic (D)
2 supertonic (E)
3 mediant (F#)
4 subdominant (G)
5 dominant (A)
6 submediant (B)
7 leading tone (C#)
1 tonic (D)

Now let's have a look at the minor scale.

The minor scale is not as simple as the major scale, mostly because there are three minor scales.

Let's start with the simplest one, the natural minor scale. For those who've heard of modes, the natural minor scale is identical to the Aeolian mode (and the major scale identical to the Ionian) for those that haven't we can look at the natural minor scale as a major scale that starts and ends on a different note. The A major scale above would sound like the F# natural minor scale if we played it starting and finishing on F#m. Here it is:

F# (wt) G# (st) A (wt) B (wt) C# (wt) D# (st) E (wt) F#
1            2          b3         4         5          b6      b7         1

If we compare this scale to the major scale we can see that scale degrees 3, 6, and 7 have been lowered by a semitone. The notes in a minor scale have the same names as those in the major scale except for the lowered seventh scale degree which is called the subtonic.

Why do we call it the subtonic and not the leading tone?

Music theory operates on a principal called tonality. We'll discuss it a lot more later but the gist is that when we play a melody in a certain key the melody tends to gravitate towards the tonic. Music is largely built on the idea of creating instabilities and returning to stable notes or chords. The tonic (1st scale degree) is considered the most stable note and so melodies tend to want to return to it, we call this tonality and it helps keep music together. But different notes gravitate more or less towards the tonic, the leading tone, being only a semitone below the tonic, gravitates the most towards it and for this reason in called the leading tone (as in leading up to the tonic). Now the natural minor scale lacks this relationship as the 7th scale degree is a whole tone below the tonic instead of a semitone. Composers, wanting to exploit the dark nature or the minor scale but hold on to the tonality developed variations on the minor scale. So they created the harmonic minor scale.

The harmonic minor scale is just like the natural minor scale except that scale degree 7 is raised a semitone. In C minor it would look like:

C (wt) D (st) Eb (wt) F (wt) G (wt) Ab (aug. 2) B (st) C
1          2        b3          4         5        b6                 7         1

Notice that we now have a new interval between the 6th and 7th scale degrees. That interval is an augmented second, 3 semitones. It is often notated as: aug. 2, a2, +2, x2

If you've got an instrument handy, play this scale and listen to the augmented second. It sounds abrasive or at least sticks out a lot, most importantly, it's hard to sing. In an effort to reduce this effect, composers developed one more minor scale called the melodic minor scale. The melodic minor scale is like the harmonic minor scale except that when we play it ascending we raise scale degree 6 as well and when we descend the scale we play the natural minor scale.

In A minor, going up then down, this looks like:

A (wt) B (st) C (wt) D (wt) E (wt) F# (wt) G# (st) A (wt) G (wt) F (st) E (wt) D (wt) C (st) B (wt) A
1         2         b3       4         5         6           7          1         b7       b6      5         4         b3      2         1
#2May 4th, 2009 · 04:33 AM
371 threads / 187 songs
3,394 posts
United Kingdom
Man I really appreciate your efforts here, your building up a nice protfolio of music theory tutorials. I'm busy on other projects at the moment, but I'm gonna do a video tutorial on guitar basics, Marino has just uploaded a vid tutorial on FL and FPC.  This is great for the community, I really love it when I see someone improve from the effort of  the community. It just adds FUEL to the community spirit

Keep it up!!
#3May 4th, 2009 · 01:04 PM
181 threads / 54 songs
1,932 posts
These are amazing lessons man!!! Sorry, I forgot to comment on Lesson 2, but this is coming along quite nicely. I'm learning a lot! this is really great. keep it coming!
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