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Scales
Major & Minor Scales, Modes and Pentatonics

ON THIS PAGE (click on title to jump to subject)
The Major Scale The Minor Scale Pentatonic Scales
Modes of The Major Scale Blues Scales Other Pentatonic Scales
Modes of The Melodic Minor Scale Worksheets

THE MAJOR SCALE - A scale is a set of notes that go up in pitch and then come down again. The MAJOR SCALE is the most common one in western music and most of our music is derived from the scale.

CLICK HERE to hear what the major scale sounds like

Scales are made up of a sequence of tones and semitones (remember a semitone is the smallest step on the keyboard and a tone is 2 steps). The piano keyboard is set out so all the white notes are a major scale (Playing from C up to the nect C). By looking at the keyboard we can see the order of tones and semitones in the major scale: So the order of tones and semitones that make up the major scale is
TONE - TONE - SEMITONE - TONE - TONE - TONE - SEMITONE

You could start on any note and build a major scale. Eg: Starting on G you get
G-A-B-C-D-E-F#-G

The important rule to remember when you build a scale is that you have to use every note name in the scale. So you can't have G-A-B-C-D-E-Gb-G because you haven't used the F.

 

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THE MINOR SCALE

If you begin a major scale from the 6th note of the scale you will play a minor scale. We call this the relative minor becauseit is related to the major scale (it shares the same key signature and uses the same notes).
It is also called the natural minor.

CLICK HERE to hear what the natural minor scale sounds like

 

MELODIC MINOR
In the Baroque period (the 17th century) composers such as Bach used strict rules for composing. They decided when a minor melody was rising it HAD to have the 6th & 7th notes of the scale raised by a semitone to please their sensitive ears! When the melody was descending it had to revert back to the natural minor.

  CLICK HERE to hear what the melodic minor scale sounds like

 

HARMONIC MINOR
The harmony that we use for chord progressions in minor keys comes from the harmonic minor scale. The 7th note of the scale is raised by a semitone (going up and down).

  CLICK HERE to hear what the harmonic minor scale sounds like

 

HOW TO WRITE MINOR SCALES:
1. To find the relative minor of a major scale go to the 6th note of the scale (this is the same as going down 3 semitones - BUT make sure you have the 6th note of the scale and not another name eg A Major - Relative minor is F# Minor NOT Gb Minor).
2. The key signature of the minor is the same as the relative major (write them in the scale as accidentals rather than at the start as a key sig. it is less confusing.).
3. To make a melodic minor raise the 6th & 7th notes of the scale by a semitone going up (It is the natural minor coming down). OR...
4. To make a harmonic minor raise the 7th note of the scale by a semitone.

This box on the left shows a great way to remember how to build melodic and harmonic minor scales (Thank you Ms Morris!)

 

 

IF YOU WANT TO WORK OUT THE KEY SIGNATURE OF A MINOR SCALE:
You will need to find the relative major. To do this go up a minor 3rd (this is the same as going up 3 semitone - BUT - make sure you go up 3 letters names). EG The elative major of Bb Minor is Db Major NOT C# Major.

SO TO RECAP ALL THIS MINOR STUFF:
1. If you know the major and want the relative minor - GO UP A MAJOR 6th

2. If you know the minor and want the relative major - GO UP A MINOR 3rd (which is also the same as 3 semitones).

3. The minor is the start note of the minor scale - EG Bb Minor starts on Bb.

4. The relative major gives your minor scale its key signature - EG The key signature of Bb Minor is the same as Db Major - B,E,A,D & G flats.  

 

 

 

 

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MODES OF THE MAJOR SCALE

You don't necessarily have to play the major scale notes from 1 to 8 (eg C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C). You could play them from 2 to 9. (eg D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D). This scale is still comprised of notes from the major scale, but it has a different sound because we started on the 2nd instead of the root.This scale is a mode of the major scale and is called the Dorian mode.

The Modes of the C Major Scale
MODE SCALE SOUNDS LIKE
Ionian
 
C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C
 
C major scale
 
Dorian
 
D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D
 
Has a minor sound.
Used by think Miles Davis in So What
Phrygian
 
E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E
 
Starts with a semitone (E-F).
Used in Flamenco
Lydian
 
F-G-A-B-C-D-E-F
 
Sounds like a major scale with raised 4th.
Used in rock guitar solos
Mixolydian
 
G-A-B-C-D-E-F-G
 
Sounds like a major scale but with a minor 7th.
Used in the blues
Aeolian
 
A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A
 
The relative or natural minor
 
Locrian
 
B-C-D-E-F-G-A-B
 
Has a semitone at the start
V exotic - least used

 

A good way to remember the names of the modes is:
Ionian - Dorian - Phrygian - Lydian - Mixolydian - Aeolian - Locrian
I - Don't - Play - Lousy - Modes - Any - Longer

 

WRITING MODES
There are 2 ways of naming the same mode:
a) D Dorian (the 2nd mode starting on a D)
b) Dorian in C Major (the 2nd mode in the key of C major)
both descirbe the same mode: D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D

To write a mode where you are given the start note -
count back down the scale to work outwhat the root is and therefore what key you are in.
EG: B Phrygian. Phrygian is MODE 3 so B is the 3rd note of the major scale. Count down: B-A-G. So we need a key signature of G Major.

To write a mode where you are given the key you are in -
count up from the root to the degree of the scale the mode starts on.
EG: Phrygian in G Major. Phrygian is MODE 3 so we count 3 up from G: G-A-B. So our start note is B.

So the answer to both of these should be a scale of: B-C-D-E-F#-G-A-B

HERE ARE THE MODES OF C MAJOR:

 

 

EAR TRAINING

To hear the Major Modes all played on the same root note CLICK BELOW:

 

To hear the Dorian Mode and the minor scales all played on the same root note CLICK BELOW:

 

To hear the Lydian and Mixolydian Modes played on the same root note CLICK BELOW:

 

To hear the Phrygian and Locrian Modes played on the same root note CLICK BELOW:

 

 

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THE PENTATONIC SCALE

Pentatonic Scales are 5 note scales. (They are all 5 black notes on the piano and sound Chinese).
Listen to the guitar riff on The Temptations classic - My Girl - it is the major pentatonic.

TO BUILD A MAJOR PENTATONIC
The major pentatonic is the 1,2,3,5&6 of the major scale
1. Work out the key signature for the root note
2. Build the major scale from the root note up but leave out the 4 and 7 notes

  CLICK HERE to hear what the major pentatonic scale sounds like

 

TO BUILD A MINOR PENTATONIC
The minor pentatonic is the major pentatonic but starts on the 6th (it takes its name from the 6 as this is the relative minor - EG C Major and A Minor are related).
1. Go up a minor 3rd to get the relative major
2. Work out the key signature for relative major
2. Build the major pentatonic from the relative major note
3. Put the 6th at the start of the scale - now its the relative minor pentatonic


  CLICK HERE to hear what the minor pentatonic scale sounds like

 

OTHER PENTATONIC SCALES

These 2 exotic scales are Japanese pentatonics.

  CLICK HERE to hear what the Hirajoshi pentatonic scale sounds like

 CLICK HERE to hear what the Kumoi pentatonic scale sounds like

 

 

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BLUES SCALES

There are 2 blues scales. The MAJOR BLUES and the MINOR BLUES. The MINOR BLUES is the most commonly used and is ofthen called just the blues scale.
The major blues scale is a major pentatonic with a min3rd added.
The minor blues scale is a minor pentatonic with a dim5th added.


  CLICK HERE to hear what the Major Blues scale sounds like

 CLICK HERE to hear what the Minor Blues scale sounds like

 

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MODES OF THE MELODIC MINOR

As with the major scale you can form modes from any scale. A commonly used set of modes are those from the melodic minor. They are used a lot in jazz music as they add colour to your melody lines and altered notes to your chords.

The Modes of the C Melodic Minor Scale
MODE SCALE SOUNDS LIKE
Melodic Minor
 
C-D-Eb-F-G-A-B-C
 
C melodic minor scale
 
Dorian b9
 
D-Eb-F-G-A-B-C-D
 
Lydian Augmented
 
Eb-F-G-A-B-C-D-Eb
 
Lydian Dominant
 
F-G-A-B-C-D-Eb-F
 
Mixolydian b6
 
G-A-B-C-D-Eb-F-G
 
Locrian #2
 
A-B-C-D-Eb-F-G-A
 
Super Locrian or Altered Scale
 
B-C-D-Eb-F-G-A-B
 

 

WRITING MELODIC MINOR MODES
See above for writing modes of the major scale as the principle is exactly the same.

HERE ARE THE MODES OF C MELODIC MINOR:

 

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WORKSHEETS FOR SCALES

Intro to Major Scales Writing ALL Major Scales Modes of the Major Scale
Minor Scales Pentatonic Scales

 

Now go back to the top and try some of the worksheets.
GOOD LUCK! Any problems please find a friend who understands and get them to help you out or book a lesson with a theory teacher. Don't suffer in silence. x


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