Pop Music Theory


9: Scales

Lesson 9: Scales

A scale is a particular sequence of pitch names, arranged in order from low to high. Scales are the foundation for understanding chords and melodies.

You will need to know your half-steps and whole-steps for this lesson. If you don't know them well, then first go back to Lesson 8: Steps Game (or further back if you need to).

Here are some examples of scales and the pitches in them:

Scale Name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
B major scale: BC♯D♯ EF♯G♯A♯
B natural minor scale: BC♯D EF♯GA
D♭ major scale: D♭E♭F G♭A♭B♭C

Here are some important basic facts about the most common scales (some of these things are not true of all scales):
  • These common scales each contain 7 different pitches, numbered 1-2-3-4-5-6-7.
  • A scale's numbered pitches are called the degrees of the scale. For example, from the table above we can say that "the 3rd degree of the B major scale is D♯".
  • A scale's starting pitch is called the tonic.
  • A scale's name is its tonic (its starting pitch, like B or D♭) plus its scale type (like "major scale" or "natural minor scale").
  • These common scales use each letter-name (A, B, C, D, E, F, G) exactly once. What makes each scale different from the others (besides which pitch it starts on) is the flat (♭) or sharp (♯) (or neither) on each pitch.
  • For these common scales, the distance between each degree of the scale is (usually) either a whole-step or half-step.
  • The thing that makes one scale type different from another is its order of half-steps and whole-steps. For example, "for the major scale scale type, is the distance from degree 3 to degree 4 a half-step or whole-step?".

When you understand these basic facts about scales, then you can start learning about the major scale (the most "fundamental" scale type) in Lesson 10: Major Scale 1-2-3.


1: Introduction
2: Pitch & Keyboard
3: Pitch Names
4: Letters Game
5: Sharps & Flats
6: Half-Steps
7: Whole-Steps
8: Steps Game
9: Scales
10: Major Scale 1-2-3
11: Major 1-2-3 Games
12: Major Scale 1-5
13: Major 1-5 Games
14: Chords: Major Triads
15: Major Triad Games
16: Minor Triads
17: Minor Triad Games
18: Major Scale 1-8
19: Major Scale Games
20: What Next
21: Keys
22: Pitch & Frequency

© 2017 Conrad Albrecht. All rights reserved.