The next step
In our last foray into this topic, we had JUST gotten into intervals, which are made up of half steps and whole steps. We also briefly talked about how scales are made up of eight(8) pitches. We also mentioned the “formula” for scales. Don’t look now, but there’s more to the formula. Lets try and piece all of this together in a nice, neat, cohesive thought process so we don’t walk away scratching our heads and wondering what day it is. Deal? Ok, let’s go!
Furthering the formula
The 8 pitches you will need to create a scale are a combination of a series of half steps and whole steps. This combination of half steps and whole steps is what I lovingly refer to as, “the formula”. But before we go into that, I want to give you an understanding as to exactly what a scale is(we’re going to separate our minds from half steps and whole steps for a minute and then use them to finalize our scale later).
A scale is a succession of eight(8) pitches that very simply, produce a certain sound. For now, I am going to deal with a major scale and we are going to use letters to help us understand it. The musical alphabet is made up of the letters A through G or, A-B-C-D-E-F-G. Each one of these letters represents a specific pitch on your instrument.
We are going to use this to make our preliminary scale. Starting at “A”, we have A-B-C-D-E-F-G. “But wait, that’s only seven pitches there and you said a scale has eight! Tell me the truth!” Excellent observation, ye skilled follower of the conversation. The eighth pitch is actually a repetition of the FIRST pitch, only an octave higher. Octave means “eight”, so when we say octave, we are meaning the same letter name, but eight notes above the original pitch(counting the first pitch as one(1)).
The floor analogy
Think of it like a building with eight floors. The 1st floor is floor A, the 2nd is floor B, the 3rd is floor C, and so on and so forth until the eighth floor which we rename floor A. Each floor has different components, colors, and layout which makes them unique, EXCEPT for 8th floor A. Its almost exactly the same as 1st floor A. Now, an important distinction here: 8th floor A is still seven floors above 1st floor A.
There is a physical distinction to be made here. It may be painted the same, have the same layout, and be made of the same components, but 8th floor A is still vertically higher than 1st floor A. So ultimately we have A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A. Is this making sense? I hope so!
So now that we understand that Scales are made up of eight pitches(which we identify as letters), we have to implement the interval formula for scales. First, understand that there are many different types of scales that you can make. But each scale uses half steps and whole steps to construct itself.
Understand that some scales will sound better than others to you initially. The one we will be focusing on today is the Major scale. Another important note: you MUST pick a starting pitch. None of this makes any sense without a starting pitch. To make our lives simpler, we are going to choose the C note to start on(I’ll explain why this is easier, later.)
We have to stop here again to discuss a naturally occurring phenomenon in western music. In western music, we use letter names assigned to pitches. If we decide to just walk from an A to a G in the musical alphabet, we will arrive at NATURALLY occurring half steps and whole steps.
Half steps and whole steps
Here’s what you need to memorize: half steps naturally occur between B and C, and E and F. In other words, there are no other pitches or intervals between these notes. They sit right next to each other. They are half steps apart. Half steps occur between any two keys on the piano that touch each other. If you add two half steps together, you get a whole step.
In guitar terms, they are frets that are literally right next to each other. On the piano, they are keys that sit right next to each other and are not separated by black keys. Black keys will be either sharps or flats. For this reason, we are going to choose to start on the letter C, because it means we can wait to talk about sharps(#) and flats(b) until later.
How to make a major scale in C
The major scale has an interval formula of: whole-whole-half-whole-whole-whole-half. So if we start on the C note, we will add a whole step above C, which is D. Then we will add a whole step above D, which is E. Then we will add a half step above E, which is F. Then we will add a whole step above F, which is G. Then we will add a whole step to G, which is A. Then we will add a whole step to A, which is B. Then we will add a half step to B, which is C. In summation, C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. Use the piano key graphic to visually help you walk through the C major scale.
We used the key and scale of C major because there are no naturally occuring sharps or flats. All the notes are “natural”. This makes understanding their relationships a bit easier. Additionally, if you’re wondering where these notes are located on the violin, use the fingerboard note locater graphic seen earlier in this article.
Remember, you must start counting ON the starting pitch on which you are building your interval. Count the first pitch as one(1). Start your interval construction at your starting pitch. So very basically, every whole step is made up of two half steps and therefore, everywhere there’s a whole step, there’s actually a pitch we are skipping to get to the one we want. That’s it for now. I hope this helps everyone!