The Ins & Outs of a Musical Scale

What is a musical scale?

A musical scale is a collection of sequential pitches. The way pitches are organized in relation to each other determine what type of scale it is. An increasing pitch is called an ascending scale and a descending scale would be organized by decreasing pitch. You’ll usually see scales listed from low to high pitch. 

How will you see them written?

Scales can be described based on how many pitch classes it contains, constituent intervals or the symmetry. Pitch class scales will be written as chromatic (12 notes per octave), nonatonic (9 notes), octatonic (8 notes), heptatonic (7 notes and the most common scale used in modern Western music), etc. A scale described by its constituent intervals could be called hemitonic (one or more semitones) or cohemitonic (no semitones). A symmetry scale would be called palindromic (same sequence whether its read forward or backward) or chiral (asymmetry).

Each scale has its own formula and is defined by its interval pattern, which is the distance between notes, and special note, which is selected at the beginning of an octave. Scales will repeat the pattern of notes in each octave most of the time.

Example of a musical scale

A major scale is constructed by starting on a tone, going up a whole step, then another whole step, a half step, a whole step, a whole step, a whole step and then a half step back to the root note one octave higher. A C major scale would be: C D E F G A B C: Root, whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half. Major scale and modes, minor scales and modes, major and minor pentatonic scales, which is the blues scale.

Importance of understanding scales

Learning these different musical scales is important and fundamental. Knowing how to apply these different scales takes time and practice, but it’s an essential component to being a musician. Exploring and growing your scale vocabulary and application within the context of the music you love and want to play is a great place to start!

Learn to play what YOU like to hear.

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