Tones and Semitones
The smallest interval in Western music is the semitone, which is the twelfth root of two, as mentioned before. The tone, on the other hand, is the same as two semitones. A semitone is also referred to as a half step and a tone is referred to as a whole step. They are very important in describing scales and music theory in general.
Accidentals are symbols placed preceding a note to bring the pitch of the note lower or higher by a half step or semitone. They are always placed on the same line or space as the note.
The two basic accidentals are the flat and the sharp. The flat lowers the pitch of a note by a semitone. Thus, a Db is one semitone lower than a D.
The sharp brings the pitch of a note higher by a semitone. Thus a D# would be one semitone higher than a D.
The double flat lowers the pitch of a note by two semitones or a full tone. So a Dbb would be a full tone lower than a D.
The double sharp brings the pitch of a note higher by a full tone. Thus a Gx would be a full tone higher than a G.
The natural is the neutralizing symbol. It cancels out all accidentals. When you want to cancel just one sharp of a double sharp or one flat of a double flat, however, you must place a sharp or flat next to the natural.
Enharmonics and Spelling
You may have noticed that with accidentals, there are overlapping notes. These notes are called enharmonics. Enharmonics are simply defined as different notes with the same pitch. For example, Bb has the same pitch as C and Dx has the same pitch as E. Although it is not necessary for a musician to make this discrimination when playing music, the spelling of a note is very important in music theory at a higher level. It is imperative that one knows the difference, for example, A# has the same pitch as Bb, but its spelling holds a completely different meaning (similar to saying to, too, or two). In scales, spelling is important because scales are constructed with consecutive letter names. For example, you can construct a C scale with the sequence: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and C, not with C, Ebb, E, E#, Ab, Cb, and C. This is simply incorrect notation.
The Major Scale
To build a major scale, you begin with any note. This will be the first note of the scale and the scale will be named for the note. Then the second note should be a tone above the first note. The third note should be a tone above the second note. The fourth note should be a semitone above the third note. The fifth note should be a tone above the fourth note. The sixth note should be a tone above the fifth note. The seventh note should be a tone above the sixth note. Finally, there is a semitone between the seventh note and the last note, which is the same note as the first note except an octave higher. The pattern is more simply described below.
T T S T T T S
The Minor Scales
There is actually no one minor scale. There are three: natural, harmonic, and melodic. We will first concentrate on the natural minor scale, whose pattern is shown below:
T S T T S T T
The harmonic minor scale is the same as the natural minor scale except with a raised seventh note. When we use the term raised, we mean that the note is raised a semitone. Thus, the pattern is changed so it does not have simple tone and semitone intervals anymore, as the interval between the sixth and the seventh note is a tone and a half.
T S T T S 3S S
The melodic minor scale is the same as the natural minor with both a raised sixth and a raised seventh note.
T S T T T T S
Not all scales have notes that are right next to each other (in terms of ledger lines). There are special scales like those described below.
This scale takes the major scale that you know of and takes out the fourth and seventh notes, thus taking away all the “tension” in the scale. That tension was there because of the semitones, between 3 and 4 and 7 and 8, were pulling towards 3 and 8.
Pentatonic scales have only five different notes and are special in that they are the basis for Eastern Music Theory.
T T 3S T 3S
C D E G A C
Like the major pentatonic, the minor pentatonic takes the natural minor scale and takes away the tension built into its semitones. However, because it is a minor scale, the semitones are between 2 and 3 and 5 and 6, thus we take out the 2nd and 6th step to form the minor pentatonic.
3S T T 3S T
A C D E G A
You may have noticed that the C major pentatonic and the A minor pentatonic scales have the same notes. This means that they are modes of each other, like the A minor scale is the mode of the C major scale. They are relative major and minor pentatonic scales.
Japanese scales belong a group of scales called exotic scales. These are non-Western scales and can be used in compositions as well as analysis. The root of Japanese scales is not the first note, but the third note. This is because as the center note, the third note better fulfills the Japanese sense of balance.
In Sen Scale
C In Sen
S 2T T 3S T
C Db F G Bb C
The In Sen scale is used to tune wind chimes. As you can see, there are only five different notes in the Japanese scale instead of the seven different notes of the major or minor scales. This is one of the reasons why these scales belong in the pentatonic category. Each of the five different notes is given either a female or male characteristic and has a symbolic role as the five Japanese basic elements: earth, wood, fire, metal, and water.
S 2T T S 2T
C Db F G Ab C
The Hirajoshi scale is the basis for many Japanese folk tunes. You may recognize such tunes as the one below:
Sakura: F F G F F G F G Ab G F GFDb C Ab C Db C CAbG
This scale was developed in China and, like the Japanese scales, is used in traditional Chinese compositions. Most Asian music is developed from the pentatonic scale, as you may have noticed.
F Chinese Scale
T T 3S T 3S
F G A C D F
This is another Eastern exotic scale.
C Oriental Scale
S T S S 3S S S
C Db E F Gb A Bb C
Spanish or Jewish Scale:
This scale is another exotic scale, as it does not follow the Western musical structure. The Jewish scale evolved in Spanish Sephardi Jewish culture before their expulsion in the 15th century. The unique quality of the scale is the small and large intervals between consecutive scale degrees, rather than generally even intervals as we have seen.
S 3S S T S T T
C Db E F G Ab Bb C
This scale is the basis for the popular “Hava Nagila”
C C E Db C E E G F E F F Ab G F E DbDb C
Hungarian Minor Scale:
Another exotic scale, the Hungarian minor scale is found in many Hungarian traditional works of music.
C Hungarian Minor
T S 3S S S 3S S
C D Eb F# G Ab B C
There is a curious detail about the Hungarian minor scale. Since there is a mixture of sharps and flats (done to avoid using different accidentals on the same note) the key signature is affected. As a general rule in classical music theory, keys or scales must never have mixed sharps and flats. However, this is mainly to keep notation easy to read for the musician. Thus, sharps and flats can be mixed in situations that call for it, such as the Hungarian minor scale.
This scale is based entirely on whole steps and here spelling does not count. There are only six notes all spaced one whole step apart. This scale gives for that “dream sequence” feeling. The whole tone scale is one of the group of symmetric scales, meaning that more than one root will give you the same set of notes. For example, the D and E whole tones scales have the same notes.
T T T T T T
D E F# G# A# C D
This scale is made up of alternating tone and semitone intervals. Like the whole tone scale, spelling here does not count. There are only three possible sets of notes made by diminished scales, based on the root. Thus, it is another symmetric scale.
T S T S T S T S
C D Eb F Gb Ab Bbb B C
There is, of course, an augmented scale as well. This scale alternates with three semitone and one semitone intervals.
3S S 3S S 3S S
C D# E G Ab B C
Note that there are fewer notes in the augmented scale than there are in the diminished scale. This is because of the intervals involved and how many can fit in the 12 semitone range of a scale.
This scale alternates between semitones and whole tones. Thus there are two versions, A and B, with A starting on a semitone and B starting on a whole tone. Again, spelling is arbitrary.
The chromatic scale is a series of every note in an octave played consecutively. This means, of course, that the notes are all spaced one semitone apart.
There are literally hundreds if not thousands of different special scales, so it is impossible for us to list them all here. Different cultures all have their different scales, and often one culture will have several scales. The study of scales is very useful for musicians, especially guitar players seeking to create new chords and melodies.
Scale degrees are the names for the different notes of a scale. They are a more correct method of naming each member of a scale than out previous method. To remember scale degrees, one can think symmetrically, as we will show in the following lesson.
The importance of the Roman numeral notation is only for triads or diatonic chords. Since this is a topic taught in a more advanced section of the website, we recommend that you concentrate more on the verbal and not the numerical names for now.
The most important note is, of course, the tonic (1): I. This is the first note of the scale, the note that the scale is named for.
Then there is the dominant (5): V, which is a fifth up from the tonic
The next most important degree is the subdominant (4): IV, which is a fifth down from the tonic.
So far we have:
IV I V
Then we have the mediant (3): III, which is in between the tonic and dominant
and the submediant (6): VI, which is in between the tonic and subdominant
IV VI I III V
Then comes the supertonic (2): II, which is the note above the tonic
and the leading tone (7): viiº, or the subtonic (7):VII, which are both the notes underneath the leading tone, except the leading is a semitone away from the tonic, and the subtonic is a whole tone away. The leading tone is usually used to melodically lead to the tonic.
IV VI VII I II III V