Scale Structure

A scale is a series of notes in which a musical composition or improvisation may be based. There are truly an infinite number of possible scales, each with their own personality depending on how many tones are present and spaced. This book along with a majority of popular, classical, and western music is primarily based upon the major scale.

The Major Scale contains 7 distinct tones plus an octave - making it "diatonic". Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti-Do. These 7 tones are spaced irregularly in order to take advantage of certain harmonic relationships (intervals) which occur naturally in sound. The 7 tones of the major scale are also embedded, and a part of, a regularly spaced chromatic scale of 12 tones. Fitting into this equidistant spacing is not harmonically perfect, but very practical.

Semi Tone: Half tone steps of the equidistant chromatic scale. A whole step is comprised of two semi-tones. One common way to describe the irregular spacing between tones is to use whole steps or half steps. Major scale: -w-w-h-w-w-w-h- (dashes represent tones).

Numeral: Roman numerals may indicate scale degrees, but are more commonly used to represent chord progressions.


Mode: A mode change refers to relocating a particular scale’s root note unto one of it’s scale degrees. Subsequently - scale degree distinctions shift accordingly, but the overall tone spacing remains intact. Since the Major Scale has 7 distinct tones, there are 7 distinct modes named according to the scale degree in which they are based. For example starting and stopping on the second degree of the Major Scale instead of the first, and reassigning the rest of the degrees accordingly is the Dorian Mode. Each of the 7 modes exhibit a characteristic sound depending on how the tones are spaced following the root note. The Minor Mode for instance starts and stops on the 6th degree of the Major Scale, and has a sad quality due to 3 of it’s tones which are flat in comparison to their Major Scale counterparts.

Synonyms: Often reffering to the respective scale degree's usage in chord construction.

Solfege: A technique for sight-singing in which each note is sung using a special syllable called a solfege syllable.

Description: In relation to the root note. From “John Curwen Standard Course” (1904)


Key: A key refers to a scale’s, chord’s, or progression’s tonal center. This diagram is presented in the key of C major. To change keys, think of this row along with it's overall shading as shifting left or right until the desired key’s note becomes aligned with the root note. As there are 12 tones in the chromatic scale, there are 12 keys to play in, each with it’s own distinct sound.

Interval: The difference in pitch between two tones represented here by ratios (nominally equal to fractions and decimals). The larger number refers to the particular tone, while the smaller number refers to the root note(?) The simpler the ratio, the more harmonic it will sound. The approximate order of increasing dissonance of these intervals are as follows: unison, octave, fifth, fourth, major sixth, major third, minor third, augmented fourth, minor sixth, minor seventh...

Cents: A measurement often used to measure musical intervals - based upon the equal tempered octave ranging from 0-1200%. Each of the 12 semi tones in-between increases in pitch by 100%.

Error: The margin of error between the 12 equidistant tones of the chromatic scale with the actual harmonic relationships they refer-to and align with. Measured in cents.




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