By Patricia Lomako
In our first post we introduced some initial concepts of music theory – for instance what a Major scale is and how you can construct them. In this post we are going to discuss how to construct a Minor scale and have a closer look at scales in general as well as the concept of "scale spelling". We will also briefly discuss the creation of cool melodies using what we’ve learned about Major and Minor scales. Let’s start our engines!
As you may remember from the previous post (if you don’t I suggest you read that one again! Music Theory Part 1), to create a Major scale we need to know the specific order/pattern of gaps/steps or (in musical terms) “intervals” between notes. Also, these intervals are called “semitones”. The order/pattern for the Major scale is 2-2-1-2-2-2-1. That means that if we want to create a Major scale (starting from any note) we can simply follow the pattern as this governs how many semitones we need to go up our keyboard to reach the next note. With this in mind, how do we create a Minor scale? Well, the answer is obvious – we use exactly the same approach, but with a different specific order/pattern of gaps/steps. But before we move on to the Minor scale, there is another important concept I’d like to explain.
The concept I have in mind is “scale spelling”. As you know, all notes in a scale have letters. We have already seen that. We also know that there are 8 notes in a scale, with 7 distinct ones. Now, all notes/letters from the scale also have a corresponding number. These numbers are referred to as “scale spelling” (I know it is somewhat confusing as this spelling refers to numbers and not letters). Have a look at the image below:
D-Major scale: D-E-F#-G-A-B-C#-D
Here we have created a D Major scale. If you write all notes from the scale you will get D-E-F#-G-A-B-C#-D. Each note of the scale has it is own number, which we always write above the notes names. See below:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
D - E - F# - G - A - B - C# - D
Pretty simple right? The first note gets the number 1, the second number 2, and so on. Now, there is one thing to remember – this (numeric) spelling 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8(1) is the same for any Major scale. You probably wonder why you would need this? Aren’t patterns and gaps and intervals enough already? Well, hold on. This will become clear later. For now, just remember that a scale also has a (numeric) spelling and that the spelling for Major scales and Minor scales is different. You’ll see that in a minute.
Let’s move on to the Minor scale (finally). Please have a look at the keyboard again, specifically at note A.
We already know that the C Major scale only has white notes. And there is one Minor scale that has the same – the A Minor scale. If you press the keys from A to A you will actually hear the A Minor scale. That’s interesting right? But let’s have a look at the specific order/pattern for Minor scales. As I explained, this order/pattern is different than the one for Major scales. How do we determine it? Once again, all you need to do is look at the keyboard and count how many gaps/steps there are in between each note of the scale. Have a look at the picture below:
A-Minor scale: A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A
Great, it means that the specific note order is 2-1-2-2-1-2-2, which is the order/pattern of gaps/steps that applies to any Minor scale. With this pattern you will be able to construct any Minor scale!
As we’ve seen before, there is also something we call a “scale spelling” and I mentioned that the scale spelling for Minor scales is different than the scale spelling for Major scales. Have a look at the picture below. It shows you the spelling for the Minor scale.
1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 8(1)
A - B - C - D - E - F - G - A
Again, each note of the scale is identified by a number, just like for Major scales. It also goes from 1 to 8(1), but this time it has some strange “b” symbols in it. You can see them in front of the numbers 3, 6 and 7. This symbol is called a “flat”. So why is there a “b” in front of the numbers 3, 6 and 7? Well, that actually means that the third, sixth and seventh note in a Minor scale are 1 semitone below the note in the Major scale (the notes are flattened).
Let’s take a step back and put things in perspective. With what we have learned so far there are a couple of ways to construct a Minor scale:
You can apply the order/pattern of gaps/steps for Minor scales (you know, the 2-1-2-2-1-2-2 pattern). Using this you can start with any note on your keyboard and simply follow the pattern (going 1 or 2 semitones up).
You can take a Major scale and flatten the 3rd, 6th and 7th note (because that’s what the scale spelling for Minor scales tells us).
So it’s pretty handy to remember both the specific order/pattern for Major and Minor scales as well as their scale spellings.
There is another reason why the scale spelling is important. As you maybe remember, in our previous post we talked about the names of the black keys and that each black key actually has 2 different names. For example: The black key between C and D can be called C# (C sharp) or Db (D flat). Sharps (#) are responsible for bringing the note UP one semitone, whereas flats (b) are responsible for bringing the note DOWN one semitone. You may think ‘if there are 2 names for the same note, then what name should I use then?’ Well, this is where “scale spelling” really helps not to get confused. Let’s try to create B Minor scale. I suggest you write down the spelling 1-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7-8(1) first and below that all note names. Do not worry about the pattern for sharps or flats, we will add that shortly. It should look like this:
1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 8(1)
B - C - D - E - F - G - A - B
As you can see each note has a number. B=1, C=2, D=3 (with a “b” in front), etc.
Ok, let’s now finish our B Minor scale, using the specific order of gaps/intervals (2-1-2-2-1-2-2).
1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 8(1)
B - C# - D - E - F# - G - A - B
Now, as you can see there are 2 black keys and I have written C# and F# for them (and not Db and Gb). So why did I pick those names? Well, the reason is that you need to follow two rules when you construct your scale:
The letters (notes) MUST always correspond to the assigned number (spelling).
There may not be notes that share the same name in the scale.
Let’s take rule 1) first shall we? I did not write Db for my second note, because D is already associated with number 3 in the spelling. I may not use it for note number 2 as well. Regarding rule 2), using Db is not allowed as there would be 2 notes with the same name (Db and D, ignore the “b”).
For exactly the same reasons I picked F#. I may not use Gb for my 5th note, because the letter G is already related to number 6. This should be pretty clear. So that’s why I used C# and F# for the black keys in this example.
Alright, let’s call it a day for the theory part! I promised to talk a bit about melody composition. Now, in our “pocket” we have the 2 main scales that are used most commonly in modern music – Major and Minor. And a very important tip is to STICK TO YOUR SCALE (unless you deliberately want to go out if key). This is a very important lesson and I really recommend you to stay in key (stick to the notes in your scale). If you do this, you will always come up with nice sounding melodies and avoid odd sounding note combinations.
I suggest you go ahead and simply experiment with the Major key in your own DAW. Don’t stick to C Major, but also try some other ones. You know how to construct them right? For example, try D Major, which consists of D-E-F#-G-A-B-C#-D. Enter some notes in your DAW randomly and listen to the result.
Here are some examples as well: 2 bar melodies composed over a D Major scale. You can also download them as MIDI files so that you can import them.
By the way, what applies to Major scales applies to Minor scales as well. I will not provide sample melodies here, but simply leave it up to you to experiment. Let your imagination fly!
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