• Who Else Wants To Know What A Musical Scale Is?

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    You arrived at this page because you want to learn about the musical scale.

    One of the first things beginners are introduced to while getting started with the piano is a musical scale. Most of the time, a vast majority of beginners get started with the C major scale:

    In other parts of the world, the scale is accompanied with a sound syllable for every note (aka – “solfeggio”.) For example, in the C major scale:

    C is do

    D is re

    E is mi

    F is fa

    G is sol

    A is la

    B is ti

    C is do

    If you’ve been around musicians in certain parts of the world, chances are there that you must have sang the syllables below:

    do re mi fa sol la ti do

    If you’ve ever done that, then you’ve sang a musical scale. Now you’ve known what a musical scale is, let’s go ahead and explore its definition.

    The Musical Scale – Defined

    There are so many ways to define a musical scale. There are scholarly definitions for advanced musicians and basic definitions for the layman.

    However, according to Jermaine Griggs, “a scale is a regular succession of notes in ascending or descending order, where the distance between successive notes is based on a fixed formula.”

    There are essential keywords in the definition of a musical scale, and they are as follows:

    Succession Of Notes

    Ascending or descending

    Fixed formula

    Before we proceed any further, let’s consider these keywords.

    “…A Succession Of Notes”

    There are twelve musical notes:

    …and the process of making music has to do with the organization of these tones and the relationship between them as well.

    There are basically two kinds of relationship that can exist between notes – melody and harmony.

    Melody is a product of the relationship between notes that are heard successively (one at a time), while harmony is the relationship between notes that are heard simultaneously (all at the same time.)

    From the definition of melody, we can clearly see the keyword successively, which is related to succession – the one we have in the definition of a scale.

    Suffice it to say that a scale is melodic in nature because the relationship between the notes of a scale (aka – “scale tones”) is in a regular succession. This explains why only one scale tone is heard at a time when a scale is played.

    So the keyword succession of notes reveals the nature of a scale as a melodic material. Consequently, a  scale can be said to be a product of the relationship between notes that are heard successively.

    “…Ascending Or Descending”

    The keyword ascending and descending describes the direction of a scale. There are basically two directions in music:

    The ascending direction

    The descending direction

    It is important to know that a musical scale moves in both directions – in the ascending and descending order.

    In the concept of scale, the ascending and descending form of are scale are of equal importance, and there are scales that have a descending form that differs from its ascending form.

    The most common example is the melodic minor scale. The C melodic minor scale in ascending form:

    …differs from its descending form:

    “…Fixed Formula”

    Every musical scale has its formula, which is derived from the distance between successive scale tones.

    For example, the formula of the C natural major scale:

    …can be derived from the distance between its tones.

    From C to D:

    …is a whole step.

    From D to E:

    …is a whole step.

    From E to F:

    …is a half step.

    From F to G:

    …is a whole step.

    From G to A:

    …is a whole step.

    From A to B:

    …is a whole step.

    From B to C:

    …is a half step.

    If ‘w’ is used to represent whole steps and ‘h’ is used to represent half steps, we’ll have the formula of the C natural major scale:

    W W h W W W h

    Knowing and mastering the formula of a given musical scale proves helpful in the transposition of that scale. Using the formula of the C natural major scale, the natural major scale can be played, starting from any note on the keyboard.

    Final Words

    Musical scales are at the second level of tonal organization. Scales are related to other musical elements like intervals, chords, chord progressions, and so on.

    The importance of musical scales cannot be over-emphasized. The knowledge of any given key depends of the knowledge of the traditional scale of that key.

    Now that you’ve seen the proper definition of a musical scale go ahead and explore the various classes of musical scales, until the next lesson where we’ll be learning the musical importance of scales.

    Thank you for your time and I’ll see you in another lesson.

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    Onyemachi "Onye" Chuku (aka - "Dr. Pokey") is a Nigerian musicologist, pianist, and author. Inspired by his role model (Jermaine Griggs) who has become his mentor, what he started off as teaching musicians in his Aba-Nigeria neighborhood in April 2005 eventually morphed into an international career that has helped hundreds of thousands of musicians all around the world. Onye lives in Dubai and is currently the Head of Education at HearandPlay Music Group and the music consultant of the Gospel Music Training Center, all in California, USA.

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


    { 1 comment… read it below or add one }

    1 Paul ifeanyi

    What are the importance and applications of scale


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