The Major Scale

Topics covered on this page: Structure of the major scale – Use of accidentals to form major scales on any note

A basic scale which has no sharps or flats that starts on the note C is called a C Major Scale. This scale has the interval characteristic of half steps between scale degrees 3&4 and 7&8. The picture below shows several ways to describe the same scale.

C major scale. C Ionian. Half/whole step pattern: W W H W W W H

Remember that this scale pattern of whole and half steps can be constructed on any starting note as long as the correct accidentals are used. Below are the whole and half steps occurring in a major scale:
One way of better understanding Diatonic scales is to divide them into two four-note scales. This is possible since the diatonic scale has 7 notes plus the first note an octave higher creating 8 notes. When the 8 notes are divided in half, a lower and a higher tetrachord is created (tetra means four so two tetrachords comprises the full scale). A whole step separates the two tetrachords.

Upper tetrachord:

Lower tetrachord:

The lower tetrachord has an interval pattern of WWH, the upper tetrachord has an interval pattern of WWH. A tetrachord with interval quality WWH may function as the upper or lower tetrachord of a major scale.

Below are a few examples of creating major scales on different notes by using accidentals.


Next section is The Minor Scale