Definition of the scale

You have most likely come across the term ‘scale’ when playing music.

Scales are a set of notes spaced apart by semitones or whole tones. More often than not, a scale contains 7 notes. Pitch of the notes increases in the scale order, going from the first note to the last note. And vice versa – the pitch of the notes decreases going in the opposite direction. 

The great example of a scale is the C major scale – on the piano keyboard, this is every white key from the C to the B note. The C major scale has 7 different notes (C, D, E, F, G, A, B), separated from each other by a whole tone (WT) or semitone (S).

As you can see in the picture above, after the B note comes the C note again. So, there is another C major scale starting from this C note. As you can imagine, there are many C notes on the piano keyboard, so therefore there are many C major scales. It’s good to know that the musical interval between two C notes, coming after each other, is called an octave (see the picture above). 

But what is the difference between all these C major scales on the piano keyboard, you may ask? The difference is in pitch. For instance, the first C major scale, located on the very left side of the keyboard, sounds very low and heavy. And the C major scale, located on the very right side of the keyboard, sounds very high, thin and light.

In order to distinguish all these octaves and to know which scale to play, each octave was given its own name. Here are the most used octaves (from the left side of the keyboard to the right side): Sub contra; Contra; Great; Small; 1 Line; 2 Line; 3 Line; 4 Line; 5 Line. The scale within each octave is notated in different musical clefs and on different lines. In the picture below, you can see the C major scale in the 1 Line octave. 

How we can use scales in music

Reflect the musical context

Scales can reflect the musical context – for instance, when chords from a certain chord progression belong to a certain key. For all chords from this chord progression, we can use a scale of the tonic chord. So you can use notes from this scale to compose a melody over this chord progression or to improvise. 

For instance, a classic turnaround in songs, based on I, IV and V chords (chords of the first, fourth and fifth degrees), looks like this:

This turnaround is in the key of C, therefore the C major scale can be used over all these chords: G, F and C. You can use any notes from that scale to compose a melody for this chord progression or to improvise.

Reflect the chord

Scales can reflect a certain chord – knowing which scale can be used for a certain chord, you can use different notes from that scale to expand the chord.

For instance, here is the C major 7 chord:

The C major scale can be used over this chord. So, we can add any note from this scale to this particular chord. Notes C, E, G and B are already there. For instance, we can add a D note to the chord. Then we’ll get the Cmaj7(add9) chord:

Scales are an important addition to your music knowledge, expanding your musical vision and understanding.

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