Chapter Two

Scales

A scale is a list of notes arranged in ascending order according to pitch. Simply put, scales are used to create music. To understand and compose music, one must first have a sound understanding of scales.


Because music is based on scales, we should be able to derive a scale by analysing a piece of music. What scale is used in the below piece of music?

MIDI FILE

The first step is to determine which note to start on. This will usually be the last note of the piece of music and it is typically referred to as the keynote. The last note of this piece of music is C. Thus, our keynote is C. The keynote provides a sense of finality to a piece of music. Music which does not end on the key note usually provides a hanging feeling. Thus, one can often determine the key of a piece of music by looking at the last note (ie keynote).

In our example, find the next note in the musical alphabet and you will have the second note. Continue this for each note of the piece of music. Your scale would look as follows.

Midi File

There are only five notes in this scale. This is a pentatonic scales (penta meaning five and tonic meaning tone).

To understand scales, and thus understand music, you must understand intervals. An interval is the distance between two notes. We'll begin with the half step and the whole step.

A half step is the interval between two adjacent notes. This is the smallest step in Western music. On a piano, the half step interval occurs between any two adjacent keys. The adjacent keys may be black and/or white.

A whole step consists of two half steps. On a piano you move a whole step by skipping over one key, regardless of whether it is black or white.

Notice that half steps occur between the notes E and F. Half steps also occur between the notes B and C. The distance between any other adjacent letters of the musical alphabet are whole steps.

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