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Chord Scales - Part 1: The Major Scale


Welcome to this first part about chord scales.

I decided to deal with this topic in three separate articles. It has been my experience that music students know much more about modes than the actual major scales. In my view, this is an ignorance that leads to misunderstandings regarding modes and their application.

To make this clear: Understanding major scales is a prerequisite for understanding modes and chord scales. I therefore dedicate this entire first part to the theory of major scales. Note that the terms "modes" and "chord scales" are used to actually describe the same thing, that is chords, their function, and the notes they take.

For some of you this article may not include earthshaking discoveries. Nevertheless, I encourage you to read through it, compare the presented content with your own knowledge and see it as a review.

It would be very helpful to have knowledge about intervals, triads, and 7th chords.

If you have any questions, comments, suggestions or criticism please feel free to post them in the forum here at iBreatheMusic.

And off we go ...

Major Scales Formula

Let's jump right into our topic by examining the construction and formula of major scales.

The C major scale is a handy tool for demonstration because it contains no accidentals, i.e., only natural note names.

To demonstrate the scale's structure I use the symbols for a whole step (two frets) and for a half step (one fret).

Let's have a look at the C major scale and the structure of whole and half steps:

If we forget the fact that we are using C as our Root and just take a look at the structure we get a plain formula that we can apply to all major scales - we just have to choose a root and fill in the right note names.

"Why is that?" you may ask. At this point and I think it's a reasonable question - I am tempted to answer with "That's a fact... That's how it is.... It's like Mathematics using place holders (x=y+1)..... You just have to know this......".

I guess there's no satisfying answer. Seriously, we would have to take a trip through centuries of Western music history to understand the evolving of today's harmonic understanding. The most important step for its development was that Andreas Werckmeister introduced the "Well-Tempered tuning" in 1691 - meaning the division of one octave into 12 equal half steps (known as chromatic scale).

This tuning allows us to transpose a composition without loosing it's character, which was demonstrated by Johann Sebastian Bach who wrote a Prelude and Fugue in every key, known as "The Well Tempered Clavier".

(In my hometown Innsbruck, Austria there is a church that has a pipe organ which was built long before 1691, meaning no well- tempered tuning. I once had a chance to listen to it and believe me when I tell you that it really hurt - for our ears it's totally out of tune - no band in the world can play that scary - Man, what a way to praise the Lord?!?).

One more thing: I encountered different opinions regarding the question "How many different notes are in a major scale?". The answer is 7 and not 8.

Although the second C is most of the time pictured to demonstrate the half step from B to C it actually doubles the Root C and is not considered a new scale tone.

Rules For Constructing Major Scales >>