Musicians know the importance of memorizing scale positions on their instruments in order to facilitate playing, but what about knowing how they are constructed? Here’s the kicker: all major and minor scales are built off the SAME formula! If you know how to construct a scale from scratch, it’s less about memorizing positions as much as it is placing the scale skeleton over a certain note. Whatever you learn in one key (or scale) will continue to apply to others. You should still memorize scales, but if you’re backed into a corner and can’t remember a key, you can always take it back to basics and look at whole steps and half steps. What do I mean by that? Take a look below!
The Major Scale
The major scale is defined by the distance between the 7 notes and the octave. The formula of “whole whole half, whole whole whole half” or wwhwwwh in between each note creates the scale. Beginning with C major scale for the sake of ease, since it contains no sharps and flats, it would look like:
C Major Scale
From observing this, we can conclude that there are naturally half steps (with no sharps and flats identified) between:
EF and BC
The Minor Scale
The minor scale is defined by the distance between the 7 notes and the octave as well. The formula of “whole half, whole whole half whole whole” or whwwhww in between each note creates the scale. Beginning with a minor scale, since it contains no sharps and flats, it would look like:
Since C Major and A minor both contain no sharps and flats, they are called relative keys to each other. A minor is the relative minor of C major, and C major is the relative major of a minor. This means that the note choice is the same, but how you use the notes to determine the harmonic palate will express which is harmony is more appropriate.
Also; A is the 6th scale degree in C major – the 6th diatonic major scale degree will always be the relative minor (sharps and flats included). Similarly, C is the 3rd scale degree in A minor. The 3rd diatonic minor scale degree will always be the relative major.
What’s the takeaway?
Major - wwhwwwh
Minor - whwwhww
Natural Half steps - EF and BC
Here is a link to the PDF version of the explanation above