What Are Major Scales: Explainer

Major scales are a fundamental building block of music. So if you're asking just what are major scales, it's important for you to know. 

From a major scale you can understand keys or key signatures, have something to practice as a warm up, and they are also really great to know to help you figure out chords or when improvising. 

Video Explainer: What Are Major Scales

The Pattern Behind It All

Like pretty well everything in music (aside from the expression and creativity used to play it), major scales are formed by a pattern. This pattern is based on whole tones and semi-tones. 

On the piano, a whole tone is like C to D or E to F#. We skip a note in between. 

A semi-tone is C to C# or E to F. It is the very next note, whether white or black. 

Whole Tones and Semi-Tones

The Major Scales Pattern

The major scale itself is built off of a pattern of whole tones and semi-tones. Every major scale has this pattern, no matter which note on the piano you start with. 

You can create a major scale by choosing any starting note and then using this pattern of whole tones and semi-tones. 

(Note: WT = whole tone, ST = semi-tone)

The Major Scale Pattern:

WT - WT- ST - WT - WT- WT - ST

Major Scales Pattern with whole tones and semi tones

I've answered more on what is the formula for piano scales here. 

The 2 Groups of Major Scales

Major scales come in two main groups - ones with sharps and ones with flats. C major however has no sharps and no flats. 

There is a pattern for both groups of sharps and flats and a few different ways you can learn the patterns and which scales are in which key. If you've ever heard of the circle of fifths or circle of fourths, this is where that applies. 

If you haven't heard of that, we'll work on that later.

Key point: major scales will have only sharps or only flats - never both. 

When you learn major scales, you generally start with C and then a few of the easier ones from the major scale groups. By easier, I mean ones with less sharps and flats. 

A major scale will have between 1 and 7 sharps or between 1 and 7 flats. (Except C, which has neither.)

Major Scales Have Specific Names

While you can technically build a scale starting on any note, there are specific major scales.

They are as follows:

C major scale (no sharps or flats)

Major Scales with Sharps:

Major Scales with Flats:

The piano scales for beginners I recommend are C, G and D major to start with. You can also find the scale fingering for piano here.

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So What Are Major Scales (Summary)

Major scales are a set of 8 notes created from a specific pattern of whole tones and semi-tones. Aside from C major, they will have either sharps or flats in the scale. 

Where To Next?

If you're not sure if you should spend time learning scales, go to Why Learn Scales?

If you'd like to learn scales and aren't part of the 8 Weeks Major Scales Challenge, you can join in here

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