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Major scale

Musical scale made of seven notes / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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The major scale (or Ionian mode) is one of the most commonly used musical scales, especially in Western music. It is one of the diatonic scales. Like many musical scales, it is made up of seven notes: the eighth duplicates the first at double its frequency so that it is called a higher octave of the same note (from Latin "octavus", the eighth).

Quick Facts Modes, Component pitches ...
Major scale
ModesI, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII
Component pitches
C, D, E, F, G, A, B
Number of pitch classes7
Maximal evenness
Forte number7-35
Major scales beginning with white keys

The simplest major scale to write is C major, the only major scale not requiring sharps or flats:

\override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f
\relative c' { 
  \clef treble \time 7/4
  c4 d e f g a b c
} }

The major scale has a central importance in Western music, particularly that of the common practice period and in popular music.

In Carnatic music, it is known as Sankarabharanam. In Hindustani classical music, it is known as Bilaval.


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The pattern of whole and half steps characteristic of a major scale

The intervals from the tonic (keynote) in an upward direction to the second, to the third, to the sixth, and to the seventh scale degrees of a major scale are called major.[1]

A major scale is a diatonic scale. The sequence of intervals between the notes of a major scale is:

whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half

where "whole" stands for a whole tone (a red u-shaped curve in the figure), and "half" stands for a semitone (a red angled line in the figure).[2]

Whole steps and half steps are explained mathematically in a related article, Twelfth root of two. Notably, an equal-tempered octave has twelve half steps (semitones) spaced equally in terms of the sound frequency ratio. The sound frequency doubles for corresponding notes from one octave to the next. The ratio is 3/2 = 1.5 for a perfect fifth, for example from C to G on a major scale, and 5/4 = 1.25 for a major third, for example from C to E.

A major scale may be seen as two identical tetrachords separated by a whole tone. Each tetrachord consists of two whole tones followed by a semitone (i.e. whole, whole, half).

The major scale is maximally even.

Scale degrees

 {\n\\override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f\n\\relative c' { \n  \\clef treble \\time 15/4\n  c4-1 d-2 e-3 f-4 g-5 a-6 b-7 c-8 b-7 a-6 g-5 f-4 e-3 d-2 c-1\n} }\n

The scale degrees are:

Triad qualities

 {\n\\override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f\n    \\relative c' {\n        \\clef treble \\time 7/1\n        <c e g>1_\\markup I\n        <d f a>_\\markup ii\n        <e g b>_\\markup iii\n        <f a c>_\\markup IV\n        <g b d>_\\markup V\n        <a c e>_\\markup vi\n        <b d f>_\\markup vii°\n    }\n}\n

The triads built on each scale degree follow a distinct pattern. The roman numeral analysis is shown in parentheses.

Seventh chord qualities

 {\n\\override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f\n    \\relative c' {\n        \\clef treble \\time 7/1\n        <c e g b>1_\\markup IM7\n        <d f a c>_\\markup ii7\n        <e g b d>_\\markup iii7\n        <f a c e>_\\markup IVM7\n        <g b d f>_\\markup V7\n        <a c e g>_\\markup vi7\n        <b d f a>_\\markup viiø7}}\n

The seventh chords built on each scale degree follow a distinct pattern. The roman numeral analysis is shown in parentheses.

Relationship to major keys

If a piece of music (or part of a piece of music) is in a major key, then the notes in the corresponding major scale are considered diatonic notes, while the notes outside the major scale are considered chromatic notes. Moreover, the key signature of the piece of music (or section) will generally reflect the accidentals in the corresponding major scale.

For instance, if a piece of music is in E major, then the seven pitches in the E major scale (E, F, G, A, B, C and D) are considered diatonic pitches, and the other five pitches (E, F/G, A, B, and C/D) are considered chromatic pitches. In this case, the key signature will have three flats (B, E, and A).

The figure below shows all 12 relative major and minor keys, with major keys on the outside and minor keys on the inside arranged around the circle of fifths.

The numbers inside the circle show the number of sharps or flats in the key signature, with the sharp keys going clockwise, and the flat keys counterclockwise from C major (which has no sharps or flats.) The circular arrangement depends on enharmonic relationships in the circle, usually reckoned at six sharps or flats for the major keys of F = G and D = E for minor keys.[3] Seven sharps or flats make major keys (C major or C major) that may be more conveniently spelled with five flats or sharps (as D major or B major).

Broader sense

The term "major scale" is also used in the names of some other scales whose first, third, and fifth degrees form a major triad.

The harmonic major scale[4][5] has a minor sixth. It differs from the harmonic minor scale only by raising the third degree.

 {\n\\override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f\n\\relative c' { \n  \\clef treble \\time 7/4\n  c4^\\markup { Harmonic major scale }  d e f g aes b c\n} }\n

The melodic major scale is the combined scale that goes as Ionian ascending and as Aeolian dominant descending. It differs from melodic minor scale only by raising the third degree to a major third.[6]

 {\n\\override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f\n\\relative c' { \n  \\clef treble \\time 7/4\n  c4^\\markup { Melodic major (ascending and descending) }  d e f g a b  c bes aes g f e d c\n} }\n

The double harmonic major scale[7] has a minor second and a minor sixth. It is the fifth mode of the Hungarian minor scale.

 {\n\\override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f\n\\relative c' { \n  \\clef treble \\time 7/4\n  c4^\\markup { Double harmonic major scale }  des e f g aes b c\n} }\n

See also


  1. Benward, Bruce & Saker, Marilyn (2003). Music: In Theory and Practice, Vol. I, p.52. Seventh Edition. ISBN 978-0-07-294262-0.
  2. Drabkin, William (2001). "Circle of Fifths". In Sadie, Stanley; Tyrrell, John (eds.). The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2nd ed.). London: Macmillan Publishers.
  3. Rimsky-Korsakov, Nikolai (2005). Practical Manual of Harmony. Carl Fischer, LLC. ISBN 978-0-8258-5699-0.
  4. Tymoczko, Dmitri (2011). "Chapter 4". A Geometry of Music. New York: Oxford.
  5. " - Free Sheet Music and Play-Along Soundfiles". Archived from the original on 2014-03-11. Retrieved 2014-03-13.
  6. Stetina, Troy (1999). The Ultimate Scale Book. p. 59. ISBN 0-7935-9788-9.

Further reading