The Major Scale Formula | Hub Guitar

The Major Scale Formula

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Hi. This is Hub Guitar.

The major scale is the basic set of notes that most modern music is built from.

Before we talk about building the scale, we've got to cover a few basics.

Okay, so all music consists of 12 notes. For now you can think of them as 12 blocks, or you might think of them as the 12 frets on the B string from 1 to 12. After that, those same 12 notes repeat forever. So there is a "C" on the first block here. And a "C" on the 13th block here. Even though you can hear the difference, they're the same note. The second "C" vibrates exactly twice as fast as the first. So it is exactly the same ratio. And you can hear that.

Within that set of 12, we need to find some relationships to make music. If we just randomly play 12 notes, it will sound pretty stupid. Or brilliant, depending on who you ask.

So the first thing we'll do is choose one to be our tonic. That's our center of gravity. It means everything will come back to that note eventually. We'll choose C in this case just to make it easy to imagine, but because the 12 notes repeat forever, any one can be used as the center.

And the second thing to do is to choose some notes that sound good with our tonic. But we can't choose them all.

The most common group of notes is called the major scale, and it follows this pattern.

This scale has emerged as the most popular scale in music, and we don't really need to talk about why. I'm sure you can recognize it.

So the formula for the major scale is big step, big, small, big, big, big, small.

If you start on any note, you'll end up with a major scale from that note if you follow that formula. So we can do that with any other note. For instance, if you start on D and do this pattern, you'll end up with two notes that are not in the C scale: a F# and a C#.

So that's the basic pattern of how major scales are constructed.

Scales and Keys

Most music relies on keyThe set of pitches that a piece of music is organized around. A key has two components: a tonal center and some sort of scale, or set of pitches used for creating harmony and melody., a choice to use a pattern of seven notes forming a set called the major scale. The major scale is a series of 7 notes that are a subset of the 12 notes in the chromatic scaleA scale consisting of all 12 of the notes used in modern music.. These notes follow a formula where no note name is repeated. (For instance, A and A♭ cannot both be in the same major scale.)

The first scale you will learn is the C major scale, formed by playing the 7 natural notes with unique names. Play these notes on the B string of your guitar now. Why don’t E and F or B and C have an accidental between them?

We’ve chosen to divide the octave into 12 pieces, and give unique names to the 7 notes of this scale. There’s no room for an E♯ or a C♭ because if there were, we’d have 14 unique slices in our octave—and a very different set of notes.

When you played the C major scale, did it seem familiar? If so, that’s because it’s been used in most music since the year 1500 A.D., and most people have heard thousands of hours of music based on this scale by the time they reach adulthood.

The scale’s unique sound is a product of two things: first, the perceived root noteFor a chord or scale, this is often both the lowest note in the chord, and also the note to which all other notes in the structure are compared. For a scale, this term is essentially synonymous with the tonal center. or lowest note of the scale—in this case, C. When you play the scale from C to C, you will hear C as the most basic note. Second, all other notes that you played on your way up to the high C will now be heard in relationship to their distance from the first C.

Building the Major Scale

the major scale formula: whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half.

A movement up two blocks is called a whole step. A movement up just one block is called a half step. We can see that this C major scale is formed by starting on the root of the scale, C, and then moving through the chromatic scaleA scale consisting of all 12 of the notes used in modern music. notes: whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step. This pattern is so fundamental that it will be the basis of all other musical concepts that we study. Learn to play the scale, name the notes, and memorize the formula of steps needed to create this scale.

The C major scale, and this pattern for constructing scales, must both be accepted without question in order to study music. As you are beginning your study of how music works, now is not the time to ask, “but why C major? Why this pattern?” Since this pattern is used to comprehend all musical concepts to come, it must be taken for granted just as the sky is blue.

C major is not the only major scale there is. If we choose any note, such as E, and repeat this sequence of whole and half steps, we will have a new scale: the E Major scale. The notes will change. We must have sharps and flats: C major is the only major scale with no sharps or flats.


When we take one example of music, whether just a few notes, or an entire scale, or even a whole song, and move all of the notes up or down by an equal amount, the notes will all have the same relationship that they had before, but the song will sound higher or lower than before. This change is called transposing a song.

Comprehension Check

  • What notes are in the E Major scale? (No note name can appear twice.)
  • What notes are in the F Major scale?
  • What notes are in the G Major scale?

Key Tasks

1) Try writing out the notes in the following major scales: C, G, F, D, B♭, A, E♭.

- C:   C  ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___
- G:   G  ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___
- F:   F  ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___
- D:   D  ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___
- B♭:  B♭ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___
- A:   A  ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___
- E♭:  E♭ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___

2) Memorize the formula: whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half.

3) Memorize some key terms:

half step, whole step, key, major scale, root.

As the creator of Hub Guitar, Grey has compiled hundreds of guitar lessons, written several books, and filmed hundreds of video lessons. He teaches private lessons in his Boston studio, as well as via video chat through TakeLessons.

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