The Chromatic Scale, the Major and Minor Scales, and the Musical Intervals

By Sam Frantz © 2001

There are only twelve unique notes in the chromatic scale. The major scale sounds like ”Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do”, and it contains only seven unique notes. The letter names of the notes are not important in determining the structure of a scale, only the relative distances between the scale steps. The piano keyboard is laid out such that the white keys form a major scale beginning with C. But a major scale can be constructed in any key by following the same relative spacing of scale steps. Specifically, from the starting point, go up 2, 2, 1, 2, 2, 2, and 1. Notice that this adds up to 12, which means you end up exactly where you started, only one octave higher. +2 0 1 2 3 Chromatic Scale 1 0 Major Scale Step 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 0 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20… +2 +1 +2 +2 +2 +1

C I
Perfect Unison
(minor second)

D
Major Second

E

F
(diminished fifth)

G
Perfect Fifth

A
(minor seventh*)

B
Major Seventh

C

D

E

F

G

A

B

C

D

E

F

G

A

B

C

II III IV V VI VII I
Perfect Fourth Major Third Major Sixth Perfect Octave
(minor third) (minor sixth)

II III IV V VI VII I
Major Ninth Major Tenth Perfect Eleventh Perfect Twelfth

II III IV V VI VII
Musical Intervals

An interval describes the distance between two notes. Interval names are based on the scale step numbers, but are measured in (chromatic) semitones. +2 +1 +2 +2 +1 +2 +2

In common usage, perfect and major intervals are referred to by their simple numeric names – “second”, “third”, “fourth”, “fifth”, “sixth”, “octave”. The minor intervals are referred to by their full names (“minor third”, etc.). The exception is the seventh, where the minor uses the simple name, and the major is called “major seventh”.

A

B

C

D

E

F

G

A

Note that the minor scale can also be played on the white keys of a piano. The starting note is three semitones lower than the starting tone for the major scale, so the structure looks like this:

Major and Minor Chords in the Context of the Major Scale
0 4 7 0 3 7
A major chord consists of a major third and a perfect fifth. Major chords can be formed with the root note on the I, IV, and V step of the scale. A minor chord consists of a minor third and a perfect fifth. Minor chords can be formed with the root note on the II, III, and VI steps of the scale.

0

1 2 3

4

5

6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20…

1 0 2

3 4 5

6 7

8 9

10 11 0

1 2

3 4 5

6 7

8 9

10 11 0

1 2

3 4 5

6 7

8 9

10 11

I

II III IV V VI
4 5 4 5 7 9 11 7 9 11 7 9 11

I

II III IV V VI

I

II III IV V VI
+4=

0 C Major 2 D minor E minor F Major G Major A minor

I Major 0

4
+3=

+3=

7
+4=

II minor 2

5
+3=

9
+4=

III minor 4 12 14 12
+3=

7
+4=

11
+3=

IV Major 5 V Major 16 14
+3=

9
+4=

12
+3=

7

11
+3=

14
+4=

B diminished (G dominant 7th)

VI minor 9 17
(no perfect fifth)

12

16

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