You've probably heard the term major scale many times. Many of you play scales in some shape or form and may not even realize it. Although scales were mentioned earlier, now it's time to look at them more closely. For starters, a scale is a grouping of notes that makes a key. Most of the scales you will encounter have seven different pitches (but a total of eight notes, including the repeated octave). Some scales contain more than seven notes, and some contain fewer. A scale is defined as a series of eight notes (seven different pitches) that start and end on the same note, which is also called the root. The root names the scale. If a scale starts and ends on C, the root is C and the scale's name is the C something (major, minor, etc.) scale. What that something is depends on its intervallic formula. Aren't you glad you know a thing or two about intervals? Since this chapter focuses on major scales, take a look at a very basic C major scale in FIGURE 3.1.
FIGURE 3.1 The C Major Scale
As you can see, the scale starts and ends on C and progresses up every note in order. Since C major contains no sharps and no flats, it's an easy scale to understand and remember. On the piano, it's simply all the white notes. The C scale contains seven different notes: C, D, E, F, G, A, and B. Although the last C isn't counted because it's a repeated note, the major scale has eight notes in total.
What makes this a major scale is not the fact that it uses the notes C–D–E–F–G–A–B–C. That only tells you that it's one particular key. Music theory looks for larger-scale ideas and tries to tie them together. What makes that scale a major scale are the intervals between the notes. If you look at the distance from each note in the scale to the next, you see a pattern of half or whole steps in a series. This series, which you can also call a formula, is exactly what you are going to learn about now. FIGURE 3.2 shows the C major scale with the intervals defined.
FIGURE 3.2 Intervals of the C Major Scale
What you come up with is the interval series of Whole, Whole, Half, Whole, Whole, Whole, Half, or WWHWWWH. This is what makes one scale different from any other: the formula of the intervals. As long as that interval formula is present, you have a major scale. It's a perfect system, because you can start on any of the twelve chromatic notes and follow these rules:
Pick a root note.
Progress up seven notes until you reach the octave.
Use the formula of WWHWWWH between your notes to ensure that you have the correct spelling.
Make sure that you use any letter only once before the octave.
If you can follow these rules, you can spell any scale. Here's how.