Spelling Scales

Start out with a root note; in this example it will be A, as seen in FIGURE 3.3.

FIGURE 3.3 Building a Scale: Step One

Next, place the rest of the notes on the staff. Now, don't be too concerned about whether you have the correct intervals or even the right spellings, you just need to have one of each letter name, in order, up to the octave. So simply add B–C–D–E–F–G–A to FIGURE 3.4.

FIGURE 3.4 Building a Scale: Step Two

Now that you have added in the raw notes, you need to add the intervals. The formula is WWHWWWH, so add the intervals between the notes of the scale, as seen in FIGURE 3.5.

FIGURE 3.5 Building a Scale: Step Three

You're nearly done. Now just engage the intervals and make sure your scale is spelled correctly. Follow this process:

  • You need a whole step from A to the scale.

  • You need a whole step from B. A whole step away would be C, which you already have written down, so you don't have to change anything.

  • You need a half step from C. A half step away would be D, so put a flat in front of the D to make it D k

  • You need a whole step from D.

  • You need a whole step from E A whole step away is F, which you already have, so no change is needed.

  • You need a whole step from F. A whole step away is G, which you also already have, so no change is needed.

  • You need a half step from G. A half step away is A scale; every A in this scale is flat, so you could have just made it flat.)

Now, look at FIGURE 3.6.

FIGURE 3.6 Building a Scale: Step Four

That's it! You have an ascending scale that uses every letter of the musical alphabet once. The scale follows the pattern of WWHWWWH, which all major scales follow. Play it on your instrument just to be sure, and that familiar sound will tell you that you're correct.

Some Thoughts

You have now seen a couple of major scales in this chapter. This is a good time to pause and point out some very interesting characteristics about scales.

First, scales are unique. They are a bit like DNA and that makes them pretty easy to spot if you know what you're looking for. What does that mean? Well, each scale has a different pitch. No two scales look the same on the surface. Although each scale uses the same interval pattern, thatfact is not clear until you analyze the scale. The fact that each scale uses a unique set of pitches is what makes each one unique, and that is something that you can clearly see.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) composed in almost every genre of music, including piano sonatas, chamber music, nine symphonies, and an opera. Although born in Bonn, Germany, he moved to Vienna, Austria, as a young man, where he wrote his most celebrated works, including the famous Ode to Joy.

Second, did you notice that the scales that contain sharps use only sharps and never throw in a flat or two? Also, the scales that contain flats use only flats and never sharps? That's right, when you spell scales or analyze in music, you will notice that scales have either flats or sharps; you rarely see both sharps and flats in the same scale (see Chapter 4 for the rare exceptions to this rule, posed by the harmonic and melodic minor scales). These two points will help you understand scales so much better and make your life in music theory so much easier.

Based on which chromatic note the scale starts on, you may get a scale that spells pretty easily. On the other hand, certain scales contain double flats or double sharps in order to keep the WWHWWWH pattern going and use each note in the alphabet. Some spell easily and others are a pain. As a result, some chromatic major scales don't appear often; you typically see scales that spell without constant use of double sharps and double flats.

Due to enharmonic notes, scales can have the same sound but be spelled differently. A good example is A has four flats and isn't too hard to spell or read in. The key of G has six sharps and a double sharp. Which would you rather read in if both scales actually sounded the same? Even though there are twenty-four possible scales, there are only twelve chromatic notes in the scale, and you will find yourself reading in the easiest twelve keys. Remember, music isn't just for the composer; it has to suit the player as well.

Knowing that flats and sharps are mutually exclusive items in scales should help you spell your scales more accurately. If you're spelling a scale and you see a mixture of flats and sharps, something's wrong. If you see mostly flats and one sharp, something's wrong. Scales will always look cohesive, and that will make your job a bit easier.

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