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Major Scales Explained

Major Scales Explained



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Published by: api-3840017 on Oct 19, 2008
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Major Scales Explained

Well, here is my next installment of the Explained series on Music Theory. In this installation you will learn
how to construct a major scale, apply it into music, how to construct a natural minor scale by using the
major scale, and how to apply the natural minor scale into music. For now, I hope all of you beginners
into the field of music theory understand this semi-lesson on one of the first things you need to know to
begin your study of the art.

Constructing The Major Scale.
I'm pretty sure most of you have seen the posts in this forum about the WWHWWWH or TTSTTTS stuff.
Well, let me explain that to you. In the WWHWWWH example, W means whole, or whole step (2 frets
distance on guitar/bass). The H means half, or half step (1 fret distance on guitar/bass). So, the
WWHWWWH example basically means 2 frets, 2 frets, 1 fret, 2 frets, 2 frets, 2 frets, 1 fret. Remember,
all of this 2 frets/1 frets information means that you move down the fretboard towards the bridge 2 frets
or 1 fret. Now for the TTSTTTS example. The T means tone, or one whole step, or 2 frets distance on
guitar. The S means semitone, or half step, or 1 fret distance on guitar. So, it's basically the same thing,
but with a different wording. Most people have varying ways on how to present the major scale using the
WWHWWWH/TTSTTTS example. But for this lesson, I'll be using WWHWWWH (because I was taught that

Fig. 1-1
G major scale on one string (low E)
The notes are above, whole/half below.
G A B C D E F# G
This box is just a starting point, it's not to be used all of the time. There are more ways then one to play a
major scale, and I chose this pattern here to show you.
Fig. 1-2
G major scale box, 6 string root.
Red notes are G, the root of this example.


In figure 1-1 I explained the major scale on one string. The major scale on one string is probably the
easiest way to envision it. But, that won't help you're playing much at all, so, I also included the major
scale on 6 strings, in a box position in Figure 1-2. So, for better soloing technique and playability, use the
figure 1-2 when you're messing around, not Figure 1-1.

Applying The Major Scale.
Without actually applying theory to your music, knowing it is useless, so, now you know what's going to be
explained in this part. Hopefully those of you that are reading this know how to play the major pentatonic
and atleast one of its positions. Well, the major pentatonic is just the same as a major diatonic (a
diatonic scale is a seven note scale) except the pentatonic does not include the 4th and the 7th of the
major sclae. Because the major pentatonic is the same as the major diatonic - minus those notes - you
can play the major scale anytime that you can play a major pentatonic. So, if a chord progression is in the
key of C, you can play the C major scale to give your solo, lead, or riff a little bit more color. Now, when
you are making your lead or solo or riff just remember that simply going up and down the major scale is
not cool, so don't do that. Going up and down the scale just removes the tastefulness and makes it sound

very uncreative. To get the major scale to sound good you have to have a melody and the notes have to
be juggled. To juggle the notes around, simply don't play them in order.

Constructing The Natural Minor Scale.
Like the major scale, there are two ways you can think about when constructing the natural minor scale.
The first of which involves the W's and H's and the second looks at thinking of the natural minor scale as
an altered major scale by using scale degrees. Okay, here is the first method I mentioned. To make the
natural minor scale use this:

WHWWHWW; instead of this: WWHWWWH. Notice that the natural minor scale W's and H's start on the sixth note of the W's and H's of the major scale. Here I'll present them in a way in which you can tell the difference.


So, to construct the natural minor scale take that pattern and apply it along one string. You should be
able to hear the difference between a major scale on one string, and that of a natural minor on one
string. Any minor, musical melody (try saying that three times fast) will sound sad, while a major, musical
melody will sound joyous and happy.

Here is the second in which the natural minor scale can be presented: not everything in music can be
related back to one scale of one key. Therefore when we go from the key of A to G, you don't have to go
back to your scale charts to figure out the G major scale or the A major scale. You can think of it as in
degrees. Doing it this way is so much easier for you to switch music to another key, or to help in your
solos. So, here is a little example of the degrees of a G major scale.

G A B C D E F#
1 234567

Every major scale has those same degrees, no matter what key it is in. But, to create the natural minor scale, we're going to have to alter some of those degrees. Any minor melody sounds lower than its major counterpart of the same note, so, one can only guess how we're going to alter these notes (flatten=lower, sharpen=higher). So, we take the scale degrees of the major scale and we're going to flatten the third, sixth, and seventh one half step, or one fret distance. Here is the G natural minor scale and then the G natural minor scale compared to the G major scale.

Major: G A B C D E F#
Minor: G A Bb C D Eb F
So, to convert to the Minor pentatonic (the most overused scale ever) just take every note except the
second and sixth of the natural minor scale.

Applying The Natural Minor Scale.
Just as the major scale can be substituted for the major pentatonic, the natural minor scale can be
substituted for the minor pentatonic. Like I mentioned earlier, the minor pentatonic is heavily used in
rock music, blues music, and just about any type of music today. While it isn't the only one used, it is used
more than 3/4 of the time when soloing. So, when you want to use the minor pentatonic, rethink that
idea, and try the natural minor scale. The natural minor scale includes the notes that add flavor and
interest to the audience's ears. The notes excluded from the minor pentatonic (2nd and 6th) are farther
on in the tonal strenghts of a chord. So, playing them over the chord would add something that intrigues
the listeners leaving them in shock and awe, while the notes in the pentatonic sound so dull because
they're overused.

Note: while the natural minor scale can be used in substitution over the minor pentatonic, there are other
minor scales you might want to try as well. You have the melodic minor and harmonic minor you can use
to help venture further into the depths of music.

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