• Here’s A Method Helping Musicians Master Traditional Scales By Learning Only 50% Of Them

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    In this lesson, you’ll be learning how master traditional scales.

    Every serious musician must know traditional scales because they are the source of most of the intervals, chords, chord progressions, and songs we play. For musicians that are classically trained, traditional scales are an integral part of the daily warm-up exercises.

    If you give me the next 15 minutes or so, I’ll be sharing an easier approach to the learning of scales that has helped me and several other musicians master traditional scales.

    Let’s get started by taking a look at what traditional scales are.

    A Review On Traditional Scales

    Let me start by giving you a simple definition of scales:

    A scale is a succession of notes that are played in ascending or descending order.

    Playing all the white notes on the piano from C to C:

    …in a regular succession produces the C natural major scale, which is the scale that most beginners get started with.

    Let’s proceed by taking a look at the relationship between scale and key.

    The Relationship Between Scale And Tonality

    The concept of tonality is the establishment of a given note as a key, consequently, other notes relate to it as the key center or tonal center.

    Notwithstanding that there are twelve notes, there are 24 keys – 12 major and 12 minor keys and each key (aka – “tonal center”) has its scale.

    The scale of a key can also be an outline of the tones in that key, from the first to the eighth tone. The scale that outlines the notes of the major key is the natural major scale. The C natural major scale:

    …gives you an idea of the notes in the key of C major.

    The notes of any given minor key is outlined by its natural minor scale. From the first(A):

    …to the eighth (A):

    …tone of the A natural minor scale:

    …are an outline of the notes of the key of A minor.

    Attention: There are two other variants of the natural minor scale – the harmonic and melodic minor scales and they are also used to outline the notes of the minor key.

    The relationship between scale and key cannot be denied. Tonality is the environment, while the scale is like a map that shows all the areas in the key.

    A Short Note On Traditional Scales

    The relationship between scale and key has existed since the 17th century and has been passed down from one generation to another.

    Over these centuries, the scales designated for the major and minor keys have increased in popularity, usage, and are considered as traditional scales.

    Traditional scales are long-established scales in music and are used for technique development, ear-training purposes, and in the formation of various class of intervals and chords.

    There are four traditional scales:

    …one for the major key and three for the minor key.

    There are 12 notes on the piano and 4 traditional scales. So, if you do the math, that’s 48 scales put together. If you play one traditional scale for an hour, it will take two days (non-stop) of practice to exhaust the list of all traditional scales.

    Submission: Although I love practicing because of it’s benefits, you can’t catch me doing this 2-day (non-stop) practice. :)

    Long story short, there are 48 traditional scales every serious musician must learn and master; believe it or not, that will take a lot of mental and physical effort.

    “I’ve Got Good News For You…”

    In the remainder parts of this lesson, I’ll be showing you a reliable method that helped me master 100% of traditional scales by learning only 50% of them.

    The 50% You Need To Know

    Although there are four traditional scales, if you learn these two…

    …you can easily derive the remaining.

    The Natural Major Scale

    The natural major scale is the traditional scale of the major key. Apart from the half steps between the 3rd & 4th and 7th and 8th (or 1st) degrees, the natural major scale consists of whole steps.

    In the C major scale:

    …E to F:

    …the 3rd to the 4th tones and B to C:

    …the 7th to the 8th tones are a half step apart while the rest of the tones are a whole step apart.

    Here’s the natural major scale in all twelve keys…

    The C natural major scale:

    The Db natural major scale:

    The D natural major scale:

    The Eb natural major scale:

    The E natural major scale:

    The F natural major scale:

    The Gb natural major scale:

    The G natural major scale:

    The Ab natural major scale:

    The A natural major scale:

    The Bb natural major scale:

    The B natural major scale:

    Attention: If you’re familiar with the natural major scale, then you have what it takes to take care of 50% of traditional scales. I’ll talk more about this in the next segment.

    The Natural Minor Scale

    The natural minor scale is the traditional scale of the minor key. Although it has two chromatic variants – the harmonic and melodic minor scales – the natural minor scale cannot be substituted with these variants.

    The natural minor scale consists of whole steps save between its 3rd & 4th and 5th & 6th degrees. For example, the A minor scale:

    …has half steps from B to C:

    …and E to F:

    …its 2nd & 3rd and 5th & 6th tones respectively.

    Kindly check out the natural minor scale in all twelve keys…

    The C natural minor scale:

    The C# natural minor scale:

    Here are the remaining…


    The D natural minor scale:

    The Eb natural minor scale:

    The E natural minor scale:

    The F natural minor scale:

    The F# natural minor scale:

    The G natural minor scale:

    The G# natural minor scale:

    The A natural minor scale:

    The Bb natural minor scale:

    The B natural minor scale:

    “In a nutshell…”

    If you learn the 12 natural major scales and 12 natural minor scales (24 diatonic scales altogether) we covered in this segment, the remaining 24 scales (12 harmonic and melodic minor scales) can be derived with the greatest ease.

    In the next segment, I’ll be showing you how to derive the remaining 24 scales from the 24 traditional scales we covered in this segment.

    The 50% You Can Derive

    The melodic and harmonic minor scales are the two chromatic variants of the natural minor scale. I’ll be showing you step-by-step in this segment, how you (or anyone) can derive them from the natural major and minor scales.

    The Melodic Minor Scale

    The melodic minor scale is formed from the natural minor scale by raising its 6th and 7th degrees. If the 6th and 7th tones of C natural minor scale:

    …which are Ab and Bb:

    …are raised by a half step to A and B:

    …this produces the C melodic minor scale:

    The C melodic minor scale:

    …is closely related to the C natural major scale:

    Both scales have six notes in common. The clear difference between both scales are in their third tones.

    The C natural major scale:

    …has an E tone:

    …while the C melodic minor scale:

    …has an Eb tone:

    At this point, it is clear that lowering the third tone of the C major scale:

    …from E:

    …to Eb:

    …produces the C melodic minor scale:

    “In a nutshell…”

    Lowering the third tone of any natural major scale by a half step produces the melodic minor scale.

    Lowering the third tone of the Eb natural major scale:

    …which is G:

    …to Gb:

    …produces the Eb melodic minor scale:

    Check out the melodic minor scale in all twelve keys…

    The C melodic minor scale:

    The Db melodic minor scale:

    The D melodic minor scale:

    The Eb melodic minor scale:

    The E melodic minor scale:

    The F melodic minor scale:

    The F# melodic minor scale:

    The G melodic minor scale:

    The Ab melodic minor scale:

    The A melodic minor scale:

    The Bb melodic minor scale:

    The B melodic minor scale:

    The Harmonic Minor Scale

    The harmonic minor scale can be derived from the natural minor scale by raising its 7th tone by a half step. Raising the 7th tones of C natural minor scale:

    …which is Bb:

    …by a half step to B:

    …produces the C harmonic minor scale:

    Following the same procedure, you can form the harmonic minor scale from the natural minor scale by raising its seventh tone by a half step.

    Here’s the harmonic minor scale in all twelve keys…

    The C harmonic minor scale:

    The C# harmonic minor scale:

    The D harmonic minor scale:

    The Eb harmonic minor scale:

    The E harmonic minor scale:

    The F harmonic minor scale:

    The F# harmonic minor scale:

    The G harmonic minor scale:

    The Ab harmonic minor scale:

    The A harmonic minor scale:

    The Bb harmonic minor scale:

    The B harmonic minor scale:

    Final Words

    One of the easiest way to learn is by association. Associating the harmonic and melodic minor scales with the natural major and minor scales makes the job easier for you.

    This is one of the smartest ways to learn traditional scales and I’m privileged to share this with you. We’re not done with traditional scales yet; we’ll continue our discussion in another lesson.

    Until then, thanks for the time you invested reading this blog.

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as a music consultant and content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with thousands of musicians across the world.

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