• Are you naming your scales correctly?

    in Scales

    For the past couple of days, I’ve been stuck on teaching you how to name chords correctly.

    Today, I want to shift the focus to scales because I’ve seen many people incorrectly write their major scales.

    For example, here are some common mistakes:

    F# major (incorrect)
    F# – G# – A# – B – C# – D# – F – F#

    Gb major (incorrect)
    Gb – Ab – Bb – B – Db – Eb – F – Gb

    Or worse…

    F# – Ab – Bb – B – C# – D# – F – F# (the popular incorrect “hybrid” way)

    Now, to be fair… and I always say it —

    There’s the “I just wanna play” method and there’s the “pass a music theory test” method.

    Even when I’m talking and I don’t want to say Cb or E# (because then I’ll have to explain it to the recipient and that’ll slow me down), I’m guilty of using the “I just wanna play” method. It’s not going to alter the way you play. As long as you have the RIGHT notes, it’s all going to come out the same way when played. We all know that.

    But why not spell it right? That’s always my underlying philosophy when I write about these sort of things. Why settle for bad musical grammar when you don’t have to? Especially when there are easy little rules to remember…

    So here are 4 simple rules to making sure your major scales are labeled correctly:

    1) Always use ALL alphabet letters (if even ONE letter is missing from your major scale, it’s WRONG)

    2) Never skip any alphabet letters (this one is like rule #1 because if you’re skipping something, it’s missing and that’s WRONG)

    3) Never duplicate any alphabet letters (only ONE unique alphabet letter per tone… if you’re duplicating, you’re most likely skipping another letter and that means it’s _________ … you know it! …WRONG!)

    4) In major scales, sharps go with sharps… flats go with flats! Don’t mix and match and you’ll be fine! (Note: Not all scales operate this way. For example, melodic and harmonic minor scales may have mixed sharps and flats, among others… but that’s another lesson).

    So let’s take our incorrect scales and figure out where they have broken the rules…

    F# major (incorrect)
    F# – G# – A# – B – C# – D# – F – F#

    In this scale, the letter “E” wasn’t used at all. That breaks rule #1. Why? Because we totally skipped it by using two “F’s.” That pretty much breaks rules 2 and 3.

    That “F” is the problem. We need to use some kind of E there. All letters are required or we fail the test. What can we do the E to make it sound like F?

    Answer: Sharp it! So we turn our E into E# and this helps our scale to be complete. Now we’re using all letters, and thus, not skipping or duplicating any.

    Correct way

    F# major (correct)
    F# – G# – A# – B – C# – D# – E# – F#

    *Another “unwritten rule” (not shown in my list, that is) concerns the number of sharps or flats a major scale has. Notice now that the F# major scale has 6 unique sharps (don’t include the second F# at the end). When we spelled it incorrectly, it only had 5 sharps. If you look at any circle of fifths chart, you will see that F# is supposed to have 6 sharps. So we pass that test, too!

    Gb major (incorrect)
    Gb – Ab – Bb – B – Db – Eb – F – Gb

    This scale has the same problem. We used the letter “B” twice and we skipped C altogether. Simply calling the “B” a “Cb” will solve this problem.

    Correct way…

    Gb major (correct)
    Gb – Ab – Bb – Cb – Db – Eb – F – Gb

    *And just like F#, Gb should have six unique flats. We weren’t getting that when we were spelling it incorrectly. Now we do. So spelling correctly has its benefits! :)

    So remember…

    There’s your “I just wanna play” method — and there’s your “pass a music theory test” method. Usually, I’m operating under the second but it depends on what my purpose is.

    I know that many people read this blog… mainly people who “just want to play.” And sometimes, if I have to throw a “C flat” out there on a lesson that is focusing totally on something else — as a teacher who doesn’t want anyone to be super confused, I feel like I have to STOP and explain that “C flat” if I’m going to throw it out there… or the whole lesson is messed up from that point on because someone who has never heard of C flat will be thrown off.

    So sometimes, I’m “innocently” guilty of just calling it “B” and moving on to the main meat of my lesson. But don’t worry, if I do it, I usually preface it by calling it the “informal” way.

    Even I have two natures so that’s why I come from BOTH places when I’m teaching. I know some people could careless if it’s called “B,” “C flat” or “Z.” They just want to know if it’s in their major chord and if it’s going to make them sound good. And I totally understand that. After all, we teach how to play by ear and most people who fall under our category just wanna play.

    So there you have it! A nice little lesson AND some insight into my teaching philosophy, too! :)

    Until next time —

    The following two tabs change content below.
    Hi, I'm Jermaine Griggs, founder of this site. We teach people how to express themselves through the language of music. Just as you talk and listen freely, music can be enjoyed and played in the same way... if you know the rules of the "language!" I started this site at 17 years old in August 2000 and more than a decade later, we've helped literally millions of musicians along the way. Enjoy!

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.


    { 20 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Missie

    You are the coolest teacher I’ve had! You like break down the rules very easily and defy all the normal, formal ways of explaining stuff. If everyone was like you, children would love music! LOVING IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


    2 John

    never knew these rules existed or at least no one has told me this. had i known about not skipping any letters, that alone would solve all my naming problems. i’m like many who just want ot play but i also wouldn’t mind being knowledgeable in what i play. so thnks a lot j


    3 Jermaine

    Thanks guys! Really appreciate it!


    4 ak (w/o_the_47)

    nope, WE are the ones who really appreciate it. :)



    Amen to that ! ;-)~>


    6 thandag

    Thanks again JG for such lesson you gave and now i knw that not only naming of chords has the rule but also in making scales. God bless you and your Hear and play team.



    WOW! Thanks Master Jermaine Griggs. I have learned a lot from those mistakes. Look what so important lesson you prepared for us. Do you know what I am planning to do? I will buy a binder to keep hard copies of all your piano lessons. I am just a bigginer and don’t have much experience in the piano, but I easily understand the music concepts when you explain it.

    Your music expertise encourage me to go ahead and never look back. And not only that! Your seriousness, your responsibility, your ongoing effort in helping people to understand the music field, your transparency when teaching what you know and your way of giving all for nothing is very much appreciated.

    Thanks Jermaine for all of these things that you are doing. I give you my support, my admiration and my prayer to God for you. God bless you all the time.


    8 Jermaine

    @Ak, brian, thangdag, and alberto: Thank you a lot for your encouragement!

    Keep up the good work —



    9 Eresmas

    I like he way you say ‘I’m “innecently” guilty’.
    Great work Jermaine. We could never pay you back for what you’re doing man.
    God bless ya.


    10 Joe Washington

    Hey Jermaine,

    I’ve been playing for forty years and I also have a few students. I’m guilty as charged as far as using notes that are not “theoretically” in various scales when explaining things to my students sometimes. This blog has inspired me to do the right thing by them and myself by using the correct spelling of notes in chords and scales. The rules you listed will really make it easier for me to explain this to my “I just wanna play” students. LOL. Thanks Man, you’re the best. God Bless.


    11 Jermaine

    @Eresmas: Haha! You like that oxymoron up there? At first I had “guilty” but then I was like……. “Hmmm, I do it to keep things simple so that means I’m innocent but guilty at the same time…” LOL… thus “innocently guilty.”

    I guess that’d make me a “utilitarian music teacher”


    12 Jermaine

    @Joe “727” Washington! Good to see you posting here! You stayed true to your promise on the radio show!

    I hear ya… we all have. Who wants to have to explain something over and over that the student may never encounter in “I just wanna play” environments.

    But then again, it’s like teaching someone how to talk and not write. I know many older folks like that (I won’t say any names… they may be “half-reading” my blog, LOL). But I guess the idea is to have knowledge and knowledge is power. And if someone wants to get into composing music and wants to have a really good conversation about music, they will be prepared.

    So I’m like you doc! I got one philosophy — two active versions of it, and like I said above… I’m a sort of a utilitarian (as it relates to music and teaching), where I believe the “worth of an action is solely determined by its contribution to overall utility.” The ends justify the means. or the greater good to the greatest amount of people.

    Let me stop!!!!!!!!!!! I sure woke up in a super energetic mood!


    13 Roland

    This is good.
    Speaking the same language leads to a better understanding.


    14 Eresmas

    Wow, i never heard of that word oxymoron before. But i’ll add it to my vocab. Ha ha, i wonder how i’ll use it though.

    Anyway, i was thinking about the correct way of naming scales. Yesterday i looked at a staff (I don’t know how to read that much of it anyway) and i discovered that if i name my scales wrongly, then it is going to be pretty tricky to put that on the staff.

    Like in F# MAJOR (named incorrectly) it would look crazy to put F and F# (two notes of the same scale) on one line.I wish i could draw here to emphasise it, but i hope it makes sense.

    Cheers man.


    15 ak (w/o_the_47)

    @Eresmas. your observation is very correct… and it is very likely that writing the notes of the scale onto the staff motivated all these rules… but I may be wrong.

    (u don’t have to read the following “long” example)
    I remember when I had to write a scale on the staff (for say Fsharp), instead of drawing a circle (whole note) on F, putting a sharp next to it to get F#, and then doing the same with G and putting a sharp next to it to get G#…. and so on

    I cheated by first drawing a bunch of circles (whole notes), starting from F, and then proceeding with another on the next line up, then space, line, space… (i.e. F G A B C D E F), because i knew EACH ALPHABET HAD TO BE REPRESENTED IN THE SCALE)

    after I’m done drawing all 8 circles, I use the rule of key signatures (6 sharps for F#) to fill in the sharps… so I would put a sharp on F,C,G,D,A and E (realize its in circle of 5ths order). COMPLICATED!

    Thanks to God I don’t have to worry about all that anymore cuz now, I just wanna hear it… and play it!


    16 Jermaine

    @Eresmas: You hit on something very interesting. It goes hand in hand with this concept. Plus, in F#, the sheet music would dictate 6 sharps which means anytime one sees the F note, they play it as a sharp. However, if someone incorrectly used “F,” how would that work? They would then have to use a natural sign and then a sharp sign on the next F and it gets really weird… all because they didn’t use the correct spelling.

    Haha, you can use “oxymoron” everywhere. It’s two things that kinda contradict each other:

    “bitter sweet”
    “act natural”
    “awfully good”
    “clearly misunderstood”
    “constant change”

    I got these from this page:



    17 Eresmas

    Thanks ak (w/o_the_47) for the contribution.

    Jermaine, thanks for the examples of oxymorons. You could also make an excellent language teacher. I actually wanted a chance to use the word oxymoron itself just to show off a lil since i can bet not many people have heard of the word.
    I hadn’t thought of using the natural sign to correct the scale but then again it would still be messy, so better do things the right way instead of coming to correct later.


    18 fenell



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    20 Malka Searl

    Some really superb posts on this website, regards for contribution. “Once, power was considered a masculine attribute. In fact, power has no sex.” by Katharine Graham.


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