Before you begin your journey into scales in the first position, you need to understand the major and minor scale formula. Both major scales and minor scales are created by putting together a series of tones and semitones. Depending on whether the scale is major or minor, these tones and semitones are arranged in a different sequence.
Tones and semitones are commonly referred to as whole steps and half steps on the guitar. Both of these terms are scalar arrangements of pitches. It is important to have both terms in your musical vocabulary.
There are lots of good books on harmony, and it's not necessary now to know all the theory that goes into creating scales. If you're interested, you should take a look in Appendix C for some books you can start with. Basically, the major scale is a set pattern of notes that ascends by whole and half steps as follows: tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone, semitone. You can start on any note and follow this pattern to derive the major scale in that key.
The following example shows how to follow this pattern to build the major scale in the key of C:
• Start with C
• From C, go up a tone (whole step) to D
• From D, go up a tone (whole step) to E
• From E, go up a semitone (half step) to F
• From F, go up a tone (whole step) to G
• From G, go up a tone (whole step) to A
• From A, go up a tone (whole step) to B
• From B, go up a semitone (half step) to C
Natural or Relative Minor Scales
Each major scale has a corresponding minor scale (called the relative or natural minor). This minor scale follows the same pattern as the major scale, except that it starts with the sixth note of the major scale. In the case of the C major scale, the natural minor would start with A, as shown in FIGURE 6-7. Listen to this scale on Track 16 of this book's CD.
Harmonic Minor Scales
Besides the natural minor, there are two other types of minor scales that you can study: the harmonic minor and the melodic minor. Just as with the major scales, each of these starts with a certain note, which becomes the scale's key, and then follows a set pattern of tones and semitones. The harmonic and melodic minor scales are built slightly differently from each other.
The pattern for the harmonic minor scale goes as follows: tone, semitone, tone, tone, semitone, three semitones (minor third), semitone. The A harmonic minor scale is built according to this pattern as follows:
• Start with A
• From A go up a tone (whole step) to B
• From B go up a semitone (half step) to C
• From C go up a tone (whole step) to D
• From D go up a tone (whole step) to E
• From E go up a semitone (half step) to F
• From F go up three semitones (minor third) to G
• From G go up a semitone (half step) to A
The C harmonic minor scale progresses like so: C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. FIGURE 6-8 shows the C harmonic minor scale. Listen to this scale on Track 17 of this book's CD.
Melodic Minor Scales
A melodic minor scale is more complex because it is often played in classical harmony as ascending in one form and descending in another. However, for our purposes you'll learn it the same way going up and down. The melodic minor is built on the following progression: tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone, tone, semitone.
In the key of A, the melodic minor scale looks like this: A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A.
In the key of C, the melodic minor scale looks like this: C-D-E-F-G-A-BC. FIGURE 6-9 illustrates this scale, which you can listen to on Track 18 of this book's CD.