Lesson 8: Major Scales

A scale is a series of notes that proceed up or down by step. ('Step' means by tone or by semitone). A major scale proceeds by following a certain pattern of tones and semitones. But we'll get to that in a moment. Make certain that you fully understand the difference between tones and semitones. If you're still a little rusty, go back to Lesson 7. Understanding scales depends on your knowledge of tones and semitones. Please note that when we say 'tone', we mean 'whole tone'.

We'll go through the process of writing a major scale step by step (no pun intended), and you'll see that writing scales is actually a fairly simple process! I would recommend getting a piece of staff paper and writing out the steps as you see them demonstrated here for you. It will help you to clearly visualize the entire process. We are going to write an F-major scale in the treble clef, ascending, using quarter notes.

Writing an F-Major Scale in the treble clef:

Draw a
treble clef on a staff. Then place an 'F' on the staff, the 'F' above middle 'C'.

Write a note on each line and space, ascending for one
octave. Remember, any note below the middle line 'B' should point its stem upward; any note above the middle line 'B' should point its stem downward. The 'B' itself can go either way.


You've now written a scale, but not necessarily a major scale. Major scales follow a certain pattern of
tones and semitones. Here is that all-important pattern:

Tone - Tone - Semitone - Tone - Tone - Tone - Semitone

We now have to examine the intervals between each and every note to see that they conform to this pattern. If they don't, we can use accidentals (sharps and flats) to make them conform.

We start by looking at the first two notes, 'F' and 'G'. What is the distance between these two notes? It is a whole tone. Therefore, the first interval in the pattern, 'Tone', is correct, and we can go on.

Now let's look at the 2nd and 3rd notes, the 'G' and 'A'. The distance between these two notes is a whole tone, so that conforms to the second interval requirement, tone. On we go!

Our next notes to examine are the 3rd and 4th notes, the 'A' and 'B'. This forms a whole tone. But our major-scale pattern says that there should only be a semitone between these two notes. No problem! We'll just lower the B to a B-flat, and now it's a semitone.

Here's what we've got so far:


We show whole tones with a square bracket and semitones with a slur (curve).

Just keep going, checking each interval between all notes in the scale. You will find that in this scale, the B-flat is the only accidental that we have to use. Here is the complete correct F-major scale:


An F-major scale, as you can see, has one flat. It is the only major scale that has one flat. All the different major scales use their own set of accidentals. In the next lesson, you'll learn how to make a proper key signature from the accidentals that are used.

Make sure that you write your scale using the process mentioned above. Start with one octave of notes, THEN make your adjustments if necessary.

For practice, try writing an A-major scale in the bass clef. Just go back to Step 1 and start on an 'A'. If done correctly, this is what it will look like:

If you are asked to write a scale in a descending pattern, you simply reverse the order of the Tone - Semitone pattern. Here is an A-major scale descending:

For more practice on major scales before you take the quiz, here is a practice sheet with another way of doing major scales (may take time to down load, large gif.). Here is another way of memorizing major scales:



To take the quiz, click "Quiz" above, then print the resulting page and complete it.

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