0.5 Scales Explained


In western music, we use “scales”. They are a group of notes that can vary between 4 and 8 notes but are generally 7. Each of these groups will give you a certain sound. For instance when you play the notes in a minor scale they may sound a little dark but if you play the notes in a major scale they will not clash as much and sound more together.

The way we work out these groups of notes is by using intervals [link here].

Let’s take a look at the major scale. This is a great place to start as most of the music you have heard will relate back to this in some way. So when we make a 7 note scale, we use the following intervals:

Root   2   3   4   5   6   7

These are called the scale degrees. This is important as we will be referring to them as scale degrees from now on. Each of the intervals above need to be Major, Minor, Perfect, Augmented, or Diminished.

The Major scale uses only Major and Perfect intervals, and this is great because it makes working out the scale super easy.

If we follow our rules of intervals [link here] we can work out where the major and the perfect names go. For Major, we know that the 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 7th scale degrees can only be major or minor, so every one of them is major. That nearly does all of the work for us! We will use large ‘M’s for Major intervals, and small ‘m’s for Minor intervals.

Root   M2   M3   4   5   M6   M7    Octave

We only have 4th and 5th scale degrees to add now, and we know they are perfect so we can put them in to our diagram. We will also add the semi-tones under it too so we can see how to play it on our guitar.

Major Scale

Root   M2   M3   P4   P5   M6   M7    Oct.

           W     W     H     W    W     W     H  Whole/Half steps

            2      2      1      2     2      2           semi-tones between intervals

            2      4      5      7     9     11          semi-tones from root note


Why is it important?

If we know the intervals and how they work, we can use them to play with a different feeling. If we just used the same intervals like the Major scale and we wanted to play something quite dark and sad, the Major scale would not work as well because all of the notes sound happy and fit with the key. If we play a scale with lots of minor intervals and maybe some diminished ones too, we would get a set of notes that don’t fit the music completely and clash a little bit, which is the sound we think of when we hear sad or dark songs.

The more we know about the notes we play, the more we can use them in our playing to send a feeling to the listener.

If we take some darker scales such as the Minor scales, we have a different sound because the notes we are using clash a little more.

Natural Minor Scale

Root   M2   m3   P4   P5   m6   m7   Oct.

           W     H     W     W    H     W     W  Whole/Half steps

            2      1      2      2     1      2           semi-tones between intervals

            2      3      5      7     8     10          semi-tones from root note

Notice how many more minors there are in this scale compared to the major? The 3rd, the 6th, and the 7th have all changed and that changes the sound of the scale but not too much as the Perfect intervals are still the same. There are 2 variants of the minor scale that sound even darker than that and they are often used in Heavy Rock and Metal music because of their dark sound. We will only focus on one of them for now as the 2nd one is a little more complex as it changes depending on whether you are ascending or descending.

Harmonic Minor Scale

Root   M2   m3   P4   P5   m6   M7    Oct.

           W     H     W     W    H   W+H    H   Whole/Half steps

            2      1      2      2     1      3              semi-tones between intervals

            2      3      5      7     8     11             semi-tones from root note

Fortunately for us, this scale is the most common out of the two. The other minor scale is called the Melodic Minor Scale and was mainly used in classical music. Whilst you can still find pieces of music that use it today, it isn’t nearly as common as the Harmonic Minor scale. 

You can also get 5 notes scales which are quite common too, most notably the Pentatonic scale. This is based on 5 notes (scale degrees) and the pattern looks like this:

Minor Pentatonic Scale

Root     m3     P4     P5     m7   Oct.

           W+H    W      W      W     W   Whole/Half steps

              3        2       2        2            semi-tones between intervals

              3        5       7       10           semi-tones from root note