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If you don't remember what a major scale is, we suggest you go back to The Scale to refresh your memory. So, you may be wondering why we decided to revisit the major scale. The reason is that there were some important things that we purposely didn't mention in Lesson 3 because they were a little too advanced at that point. Now, though, we all know enough to fully understand the major scale revisited!

The Major Scale Revisited

Audio Clip (MIDI): 'C' Major Scale by us. Simple major scale

lesson31.mid

So what is a major scale? In Lesson 3, we talked about some of the uses of major scales, but we didn't go into too much depth on what a major scale is. Let's look again at the C Major Scale. Now, in What are Intervals?, we discussed how any two notes in music are separated by a certain number of whole steps and half steps. Major scales also follow this rule.

 

 

C Major Scale

Let's take a look at this 'C' Major Scale graphic. Here, we've shown you where all the half steps and whole steps are by putting the letter 'H' where the notes are a half step apart and the letter 'W' where the notes are a whole step apart.

No matter what note the scale starts on, this set of whole steps and half steps remains constant. So, as we said in Lesson 6, musicians can easily describe intervals by just saying the number of notes in the major scale that it would take to fill that interval. For example a whole step would just be a "second" because the first two notes in the major scale are equal to a whole step. A "third" would be two whole steps because the distance between the first note in the major scale and the third note is two whole steps. A "fourth" would be two whole steps and a half step since the distance between the first note in the major scale and the fourth note is two whole steps and one half step.

OK, this seems pretty simple now. But what happens if a musician wants one whole step and one half step? Suddenly, our system fails because there is no note in the major scale that is one and a half whole steps away from the first note. This note is in between the second and third notes in the major scale.

Again, musicians have devised a solution to this problem. When a note fits perfectly on the major scale, musicians call the note a major interval. For example, two whole steps would be a major third. However, if the interval is a 4th or a 5th, the interval is called a perfect interval. For example, two and a half whole steps would be called a perfect fourth.

So, back to the problem of the note that is one and a half whole steps away from the first note in the scale. Musicians can lower the width of the interval by a half step by saying the word minor. So, a note that is one whole step and one half step away is a minor third.

 

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