Last time we looked at the chromatic scale and learned that this scale contains all the notes available.
Here’s the piano keyboard again for reference.
Remember the distance between one note and the next (or one piano key and the next) is called a semi-tone, and that a distance of two semi-tones is called a whole-tone. To build a major scale we use this pattern.
whole-tone, whole-tone, semi-tone, whole-tone, whole-tone, whole-tone, semi-tone
You can pick any note you like as your first note. As long as you apply that pattern the result will be a major scale.
Lets build a few major scales to get a feel for it.
We can build a C major scale by starting on the note C, going up a whole-tone to D, a whole-tone to E, a half-tone to F, a whole-tone to G, a whole-tone to A, a whole-tone to B and finally a half-tone back to C. Spelled out it looks like this:
C D E F G A B C
Notice there are no sharp or flat notes in this scale. In other words, it’s just the white keys. This is unique to the key of C.
Lets build a G major scale now using the same technique. That ends up looking like this:
G A B C D E F♯ G
This time to make the whole/half-tone pattern fit we needed to use one of the black keys, the F♯.
If we start on the note D and apply the same pattern we find that a D major scale looks like this:
D E F♯ G A B C♯ D
Two black keys this time, F♯ and C♯.
You can do the same thing starting on any note you like, including the black keys. You’ll find that each major scale has a unique number of sharps. That’s called it’s key signature.
The major scale is of course the do-re-mi scale you’re probably familiar with hearing. It’s a vitally important scale in music. It also happens to be the scale your harmonica is custom designed to play.
Pick up your C harmonica and play the following (see the notation guide for information on reading tablature).
4+ 4 5+ 5 6+ 6 7 7+
That’s the notes C D E F G A B C – the C major scale! If you play the same holes on a G harmonica you get the G major scale, if you do the same on a B♭ harmonica you get a B♭ major scale and so on.
This is very cool as it means we only need to learn a melody, scale or lick once and we can play it in any key we like simply by changing the harmonica. We can use the same breath and hole pattern regardless – the harmonica we select decides the key.
There are literally thousands of tunes that use the notes of the major scale. I like to use Oh Suzanna as an example.
As an exercise try to find the melody for When the Saints go Marching in, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and This Land is Your Land.
In the next post in this series we’ll expand our understanding of scales by looking at scale degrees.