Basic Scales

Topics covered on this page: Structure of the basic scales – Modes – The keynote

When tones are arranged in a stepwise progression within an octave it is called a scale. “Stepwise” is just another way saying the series of tones follows in an alphabetical fashion (DEFGABCD, or ABCDEFGA, etc.)

Another term for the stepwise series of tones formed from seven basic notes and including the octave is the diatonic scale.

There must be the seven basic tones as well as the octave of the first note to form this scale. This makes a total of eight notes (with the first and last being the same) which must be in alphabetical order.

Diatonic scales:

Chromatic scales include all notes contained in an octave and repeat the first note which creates 13 tones.

Ascending chromatic scale:

Descending chromatic scale:

There are 7 basic diatonic scales which use notes that are unaltered. What makes each scale different from another is the whole and half step pattern of the seven notes.

We will use a “W” for whole steps and an “H” for half steps in analyzing the following scales

Interval patterns of whole and half steps create unique sounding scales and each has a modal name. Take a look at the examples below showing the basic scale, the whole/half note pattern, and accompanying modal name.

Modal name: Ionian – whole/half step pattern: WWHWWWH

Modal name: Dorian – whole/half step pattern: WHWWWHW
Modal name: Phrygian – whole/half step pattern: HWWWHWW
Modal name: Lydian – whole/half step pattern: WWWHWWH
Modal name: Mixolydian – whole/half step pattern: WWHWWHW
Modal name: Locrian – whole/half step pattern: WHWWHWW
Modal name: Aeolian – whole/half step pattern: HWWHWWW

Modal scales, just like chords can be constructed on any starting note if the correct accidentals are used. It is important to master the each modal scale’s pattern of whole and half steps so that more advanced topics can build upon it.


Next section is The Major Scale