Music Scales – Making Scalable Music

Everybody has heard of musical scales, and most people have some idea of what they are. For many, they are only remembered as one of the pointless homework exercises inflicted upon them in the enforced piano lessons of their childhood. But what exactly is a music scale, and how do we go about creating them?

What is a Music Scale?

In very broad terms, a scale may be described as a selection of notes which are deemed musically appropriate for a particular song. Although in theory a scale can continue on indefinitely, it is simpler to define the notes within a single octave and then repeat the sequence at higher or lower registers as required.

Each scale is defined in relation to its root note. For example, the major scale of C begins (and ends – sort of) on the note of C, featuring the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, B – which happen to be the white notes of the piano keyboard. On the other hand (so to speak), the scale of A minor also uses these notes, giving us the delightfully memorable sequence A, B, C, D, E, F, G.

It must be remembered that this scheme of notation is an accepted convention rather than an absolute definition of how music must be defined. Different cultures break up music in different ways – the occidental method is what we refer to as an “equal-tempered” system, whereby octaves are divided up into 12 notes. Most conventional songs composed in this system use a selection of seven (or even five) of these notes, which can be played in a scale.

Major and Minor Scales

The essential difference between a major and minor scale lies in the pattern of semitone jumps. The variation between any two contiguous (side-by-side) keys on a piano keyboard is known as a semitone. Thus, in playing C# followed by D you have moved up a semitone. Moving from C to D is two semitones, or a full tone.

The pattern of semitone jumps for a major scale reads like this: 2 2 1 2 2 2 1. By applying this pattern to a note, the major scale can be derived: if you start on C and move up two semitones, you land on D. Move up another two semitones to find the next note in the scale, which is E. Then you move up one semitone to land on F, move up a further two semitones to land on G, and so on.

The exact same process is applied to derive the Minor scale, but the semitone jump pattern is slightly different – 1 2 2 1 2 2. By transposing the root note up or down, any desired major or minor scale may be determined by following the appropriate pattern of ascent.

Music Scales – Making The Change

Remember that there is a significant difference between transposition and transformation – transposing may change the key but the scale will remain intact. A transform can change the key and/or the scale, and can be effected as a single-note or multiple note transform. For example, if you take a song originally written in C major, you can easily transform it to G major by changing every instance of F to F#.


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