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MUSIC THEORY: PART 1 - NOTES, SCALES AND MAJOR SCALE
midichords // almost 3 years ago //

By Patricia Lomako

If you have a passion for music and want to express your ideas, thoughts and feelings, it is not always quite enough to be an expert in "music technology" (anything related to your DAW, different plug-ins, how to create cool effects, etc.). If you really want to express your ideas and be able to create cool tracks, it is extremely helpful to understand the basics of music theory. For many people “Music Theory” sounds scary and complicated, but in a reality it isn't, depending on the way it is explained of course. We will do an attempt here on Midichords to explain the subject and help those of you who have no or little knowledge of music theory, but are looking for improving their composing/music production skills. So let’s start our musical journey, shall we?

In this first post we are going to learn about the placement of notes on the keyboard, as well as their names, what a major scale is and how to create any major scale. Before we continue, however, I suggest you open your DAW or any other virtual keyboard (e.g. online). It is not required, but it is simply nice to follow along with a keyboard in front of you.

Have a look at the image below. It represents a keyboard. Each key has a letter and those letters represent the actual name of the notes.
 

 

Keyboard and note names

 

It is pretty easy, as there are only 7 letters/notes that you need to learn in this particular order:  C-D-E-F-G-A-B.  This sequence repeats again and again across the entire keyboard: C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. And if you try to press the keys in this order C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C you will actually hear what we call the C Major scale. Note “C” and the “C Major scale” are really the starting point for all other notes and all other scales. Indeed, note “C” is the beginning point of learning music theory.

Now, you probably wonder “what is a major scale?” And “why is this order C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C called the ‘C Major scale’?” Let me explain:

First of all, what is a music scale? Well, in simple words, a music scale is actually a melody that consists of 7 different notes (actually 8 notes, but the 8th note is always the same as the 1st note) that is always arranged in ONE SPECIFIC ORDER.  This concept of a music scale’s order is actually very simple. If you look at all the white notes on the keyboard, starting from C, then all you need to do is just go up, one letter (note) at a time, only pressing the white keys C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. These white keys, played from C to C and one by one, create the C Major scale. Also, it represents a specific note order which can actually help you to create any major scale. But more about that later.

Now, about the Major scale. As you’ve probably heard, there are two families of music scales – Major and Minor. The Major scale represents a happy sound, whereas the Minor scale represents a sadder, dramatic sound. Have a listen to the audio files to hear the difference.  The 1st example is the C Major scale, whereas the 2nd example is the C Minor scale.
 

 

 

I am sure that you can hear that the first example sounds happier than the second example.  It sounds different because it has another specific note order. Both scales go from left to right (if you're sitting in front of your keyboard), but a bit differently. We will learn more about the Minor Scale in a different post.

So how do you create a major scale? The key to this is to know the SPECIFIC ORDER of notes. To understand more about this note order, which will allow us to create any major scale, please have a look again at all white notes from C to C.  See the illustration below:

 

Note order, tones and semitones

 

If you look at all white notes from C to C (C Major scale), I am sure that you understand that we left out all black keys. These actually represent the necessary gaps to get this nice melodic sound. For example: D (white key) follows C, but notice that there is a gap which is the black key in the middle, which is called C#/Db.

These gaps between keys are called “tones” and “semitones”.  I also call these gaps “steps” to make it easier to understand. For example:  1 semitone is one step between each key, whereas 1 tone = 2 semitones or two steps between keys. 

For example, I want to figure out how many steps there are from the C to D note. On my keyboard the journey from C (white key) to D (white key) first brings me to the black key in the middle. This is the first step/semitone. Next I arrive at the white D key, which represents another step/semitone. This journey means that there are 2 semitones between the C note and D note. 

Please look again at the picture shown above, specifically at the calculated semitones between each note.  For example, there is only 1 step/semitone between the E and F note, because there is no black key in between. The same applies to B and C.  So it is a matter of  counting - to 1 and 2. Anyone should be able to do that right? ;)

Ok, now we have calculated steps/gaps between each note of the C Major scale (the all white note scale) and we got the following order:  2-2-1-2-2-2-1. THIS IS THE SPECIFIC PATTERN/ORDER for any Major scale. You can use this pattern to create any Major scale starting from any note that you want. Let’s try to create a D major scale together, just to practice.

Now, we know that we need to follow the pattern of 2-2-1-2-2-2-1 of steps/gaps to create another major scale.

You can write the 8 letter/note progressions on a piece of paper, starting from D and going up until we reach D again. This would look like:  D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D.

As we already know how to achieve a Major scale sound, we need to make proper steps/gaps between notes/keys relying on the specific order that I mentioned (2-2-1-2-2-2-1).

Ok, we are starting from D and according to the order our next note of the scale will be 2 steps/semitones away from the starting point. If we start from D and go up with 2 steps (the first step will be from D to black key D#, the 2nd step will be from D# to E), we reach our destination – note E.  According to the order, the next step you need to make consist of 2 semitones again, so from the note E we need to go up with 2 steps, which makes our destination F#. When you complete all steps to your last D, your written music scale will look as follows:

 

D Major scale: D-E-F#-G-A-B-C#-D

The main advantage of knowing how to create music scales is that once you have created a music scale, you’ve arranged and selected the notes with which you will be working and that will simply work. YOU CAN NEVER GO WRONG IF YOU USE THE 7 DIFFERENTS NOTES OF THE SCALE in your own music.

In the next post I will tell a bit more about how to use Major scales to compose nice melodies, but if you can't wait – just open your DAW and try to experiment yourself.

All posts in this series

Music Theory: Part 1 - Notes, Scales and Major Scale

Music Theory: Part 2 - Minor Scale, Scale Spelling and Composing Melodies

Music Theory: Part 3 - Chord Construction, Chord Symbols and Pattern in the Key

Music Theory: Part 4 - Pattern in the Key part 2 and 7th Chord Construction

Music Theory: Part 5 - Chord Spelling, Intervals and Creating Chord Progressions

Music Theory: Part 6 - Relative Keys and Contrasting Music Pieces

Music Theory: Part 7 - 6th Chords and Sus Chords

Music Theory: Part 8 - Composing a Chord Progression Around a Melody

Music Theory: Part 9 - Inverted Chords - Creating Smooth Chord Progressions

Music Theory: Part 10 - Discovering New Scales And How To Compose Blues

 

Patricia Lomako - also known as Patricia Blush - is a professional singer, composer, music producer and music tutor. She finished the BMus Degree in Contemporary Performance (Vocals) at the Academy of Contemporary Music (Guildford, UK) and holds a Higher Certificate in Contemporary Vocal Teaching. She composes and produces various styles of music for video's, blogs, websites, etc. She also produces electronic music (mainly pop, but influenced by and mixed with House, Deep House, Drum and Bass and Electro). Her tracks are used in playlists for retailers, restaurants, gyms around the globe. Some of her clients are: M&S, SportsDirect, KFC and Clas Ohlson. Visit her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/officialpatricialomako You can listen to some of her tracks on her soundcloud page:  www.soundcloud.com/patriciablush

 

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