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Scales


A scale (It. for ladder or staircase) is a series of notes which progress up or down stepwise within an octave. Scales are used as the basis for musical composition and improvisation.

Each scale has a set series of steps (intervals) which can be used to remember the scale itself. Another way of remembering a scale is to learn it's pattern when played on an instrument.


Major Scale

The major scale is a diatonic scale containing seven notes.

Figure 1: The C major scale. (T, T, S, T, T, T, S)

Each degree of the major scale has a unique name:

Name Degree
Tonic 1
Subtonic 2
Mediant 3
Subdominant 4
Dominant 5
Submediant 6
Leading Note 7
Tonic 8


Minor Scales

There are three different minor scales: natural minor, harmonic minor, and melodic minor. All three are diatonic scales containing seven notes each.

Natural Minor Scale

The natural minor scale is relative to the major scale as it shares the same series of steps, but starts on a different degree.

Figure 2: The A natural minor scale (T, S, T, T, S, T, T).

Each degree of the natural minor scale has a unique name:

Name Degree
Tonic 1
Supertonic 2
Mediant 3
Subdominant 4
Dominant 5
Submediant 6
Subtonic 7
Tonic 8

Harmonic Minor Scale

The harmonic minor scale shares the same series of steps as the natural minor scale with the exception of the 7th degree, which is raised a semitone. This scale produces an Arabic-like sound.

Figure 3: The A harmonic minor scale (T, S, T, T, S, T, Aug. 2nd).

Each degree of the harmonic minor scale has a unique name:

Name Degree
Tonic 1
Supertonic 2
Mediant 3
Subdominant 4
Dominant 5
Submediant 6
Leading Note 7
Tonic 8

Melodic Minor Scale

The melodic minor scale shares the same series of steps as the natural minor scale with the exception of the 6th and 7th degrees, which are both raised a semitone while ascending. While descending, the 6th and 7th degree return to natural like in the natural minor scale.

This rule of altering the intervals while descending is made to avoid an aug. 2nd, which can be awkward to sing by vocalists.

Figure 4: The A melodic minor scale ascending (T, S, T, T, T, T, S).

Figure 5: The A melodic minor scale descending (T, T, S, T, T, S, T).

Each degree of the harmonic minor scale has a unique name:

Name Degree
Tonic 1
Supertonic 2
Mediant 3
Subdominant 4
Dominant 5
Submediant 6
Leading Note 7
Tonic 8


Major Pentatonic Scale

The major pentatonic scale is a five note scale which consists of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 6th degrees of the major scale.

Figure 6: The C major pentatonic scale (T, T, Min. 3rd, T, Min. 3rd).


Minor Pentatonic Scale

The minor pentatonic scale is a five note scale which consists of the 1st, 3rd, 4rd, 5th, and 7th degrees of the natural minor scale.

Figure 7: The A minor pentatonic scale (Min. 3rd, T, T, Min. 3rd, T).


Blues Scale

The blues scale is the same as the minor pentatonic scale, but adds in a sharp 4 while ascending, and a flat 5 descending.

Figure 8: The A blues scale ascending (Min. 3rd, T, S, S, Min. 3rd, T).

Figure 9: The A blues scale descending (T, Min. 3rd, S, S, T, Min. 3rd).


Chromatic Scale

The chromatic scale is a dodecaphonic scale containing twelve notes. It contains every pitch used in Western Music.

Figure 10: The C chromatic scale ascending (all semitones).

Figure 11: The C chromatic scale descending (all semitones).


Wholetone Scale

The wholetone scale progresses entirely in tones without semitones. This allows only two possible diatonic wholetone scales.

Figure 12: The C wholetone scale ascending (all tones).

Figure 13: The C wholetone scale descending (all tones).


Also see Modes | Arpeggios.


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