Intro to Scales #1: What is a Scale?

Glad you stuck it out and made it to the second chapter.  This is where the meat hits the sandwich.  

Undoubtedly you have heard about scales in one way or another, whether you are familiar with and practice them, or heard them used as buzzwords by some dicks who like to use music jargon to feel important.  

Double flat 7 Ultra Melodic Lydian Laser mode sure sounds interesting, and maybe we will get far enough together where we make such a scale exist.

But first, we should probably break down what a scale even is, and go from there.  Learn to walk before you run, and all that.

Let me lay out a scenario for you.

You've been messing around with your instrument, making some cool sounds, trying to write

You want to find new ways of approaching melodies or soloing, but you are stumped by other people’s flashy techniques.

Learning scales in the first place seemed kind of boring and you wanted to get right to rocking out.

Maybe you were afraid of looking dumb, or that you were way out of your depth

You spent so much time avoiding music theory, that now when you are looking to create something new and expand your playing, you have no clue where to start.

Well here is a tip that can help with that:

All music theory roads that lead anywhere start with scales.

A scale is a series of notes arranged alphabetically (the music alphabet, from A to G and starting over again).  

It will range from the TONIC (first note) to its OCTAVE (same letter named note, but higher pitch).  

Think of a scale like a ladder; each rung on the ladder is the next note higher on the scale.

There are two types of scales, chromatic and diatonic.  This chapter deals with different types of diatonic scales, and while the chromatic scale will be touched on in this chapter, it will be discussed again later.

Diatonic means "of the tonic ".  The Tonic being the first note of the scale, a Diatonic scale means the scale is related to that first note.

Scales come in Major or Minor qualities.

Basically, is the scale 'brighter' or happier sounding?  There's a good chance it is major.  

Is the scale 'darker' or sadder sounding?  It is probably a minor scale.  

And beyond this, there are various types of Major and Minor scales.

Take a breath.  It is ok to feel overwhelmed or alarmed that you have so much info coming at you.  

Remember this is just an intro, covering all of the general information that we will be discussing in later lessons.  Plus everything is right here for you to go over at your own pace.

Defining a scale requires several identifiers:

Tonic, Type, and Quality.  

Example: A Melodic Minor, G Harmonic Major.  

Not all three of these identifiers are required for you to have a scale.

Example: C Ionian is generally considered THE major scale, but F Lydian is ALSO a type of scale that is major by definition.  

Don’t worry, this will be discussed over the following several chapters.  

If you have the note name that starts the scale, the type of scale that will be built from the note, and if it is major or minor, then you have all the info you need to build that beastly scale, my friend.

There is always a desire to back off when there might be a lot of info to process.

Its always easier to just stick with what you already know because it worked up until now.

Scales are the basis of melody and harmony, therefore, most melodies and their accompanying chords start from a scale.  

Thus, it is a great place to start when trying to further wrap our brains around musical language.

When this becomes clear, your understanding of what you play and how you can mess around with it becomes more soli

You can go from someone who strums the guitar or makes cute loops to someone who plays music.

There are lot’s of halfway measures to take, and the fake it til you make is sentiment sure does rhyme, but you won’t become the musician you are supposed to be if you insist on disrespecting your art by ignoring the basics of how it works


A scale is just a set pattern of notes

It ranges from its tonic first note to its octave

Brighter sounding scales are major, sadder sounding scales are minor

the note name that starts the scale, the type of scale that will be built from the note, and if it is major or minor

Let us know in the comments why you have avoided learning music theory in the past, or what finally tipped you

Now go fix yourself a nice thick sandwich.  You've earned it, and I know you've been thinking about it since I made that sandwich metaphor all the way back at the beginning of the lesson.

It's fine.  I'll wait

Head over to the EXERCISES here and cover these topics:

Previous article:

Basics in Music Notation #5: Accidentals and Distances Between Notes

Next article in this chapter:

Intro to Scales #2: Scale Degrees

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Lazer Monk

Lazer Monk

Hamilton, Ont