Scales

This website deals primarily with the PENTATONIC, HEPTATONIC and CHROMATIC scales.  There are lots of other scale types floating around in the global ether that you may want to explore at a future date, but you have to learn to walk before you can run.

This page contains the following sections:

These scales (along with a couple of blues variations) are responsible for 99.99% of the music you’ll hear on most radio stations and of primary interest to the majority of readers.  The scale diagrams on this page are in OCTAVE form.

THE CHROMATIC SCALE

The name CHROMATIC comes from the Greek word for color (chrôma) and seems a strange choice for a scale name given that the term is synonymous with “color” and not sound.  But, since the CHROMATIC scale contains the palette of notes that all modern musicians use to paint their sonic landscapes, it actually does make a certain amount of sense.

chromatic-scale-octave

To play, the CHROMATIC scale by itself is kind of boring and monotonous.  It doesn’t really matter what note you start on, it will always contain the same notes and is considered ENHARMONIC.  In some respects it’s similar to the other derivative scale types, but they have the advantage of an underlying HARMONIC element in the form of CHORD QUALITY thanks to the HEPTATONIC scale and the scale DEGREE.

And strangely enough, even though the PENTATONIC scale was around long before the CHROMATIC scale (think about the simplistic nature of primitive instruments and you’ll understand why), it’s the CHROMATIC that all DIATONIC scales can be most easily related to and the one I use as a reference point when describing the other scale types.

HEPTATONIA PRIMA

The HEPTATONIA PRIMA scale (AKA HEPTATONIC or DIATONIC) is comprised of 7 tones (hepta is Greek for 7) and is easily the most important scale type to learn and understand.  It starts with the TONIC (or ROOT) and proceeds to the LEADINGTONE or SUBTONIC scale degree.  Unlike the CHROMATIC, the HEPTATONIC scale contains both HALF-TONES and WHOLE TONES.  The following graphic shows the C MAJOR scale, but it wouldn’t matter if if started on any other ROOT note.  the INTERVAL pattern stays the same for ALL MAJOR SCALES!  Start on the ROOT note, play the proper finger pattern for the intervals and you’re golden!

c_major_scale_intervals

Stacked Intervals: R, M2, M2, m2, M2, M2, M2, m2 (R2212221)
Rooted Intervals: R, M2, M3, P4, P5, M6, M7, P8
Integer: 0, 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 12

The C MAJOR scale is used as the starting point for all DIATONIC scales because it contains neither sharps nor flats.  The C MAJOR scale graphic above represents a single complete octave.

More on scales and octaves can be found in the INTERVALS section.

PENTATONIC SCALES

The PENTATONIC scale (penta is Greek for 5) is the same as the HEPTATONIC scale minus 2 notes.

First up is the MAJOR PENTATONIC scale.

Notice in the following graphic how the IV and vii scale degrees have been dropped thereby reducing the number of notes played from 7 to 5.  In this case, the notes for the C MAJOR PENTATONIC scale are C-D-E-G-A.  The notes that were dropped were F and B.

c_major_pentatonic

Stacked Intervals: R, M2, M2, m3, M2, m3 (R22323)
Rooted Intervals: P1, M2, M3, P5, M6, P8
Integer: 0, 2, 4, 7, 9, 12

For the minor PENTATONIC, you drop the ii (2nd) and VI (6th) scale degrees as shown below.  Which are the same notes as the MAJOR scale, but occurring at different scale degrees.

The A minor scale was used in this example because it is the relative minor of the C MAJOR scale.  There’s much more on the MAJOR/minor relationship in upcoming sections.

a-minor-pentatonic-scale

Stacked Intervals: P1, m3, M2, M2, m3, M2 (R32232)
Rooted Intervals: P1, m3, P4, P5, m7, P8
Integer: 0, 3, 5, 7, 10, 12

One of the reasons the PENTATONIC scale is so incredibly popular (and powerful) is the fact that the harshness created by the minor 2nd (m2) INTERVALS in both the MAJOR and minor scales has been removed. Put more succinctly, the PENTATONIC removes all single half-tone INTERVALS leaving only those that have 2 or more. This allows it to work wonderfully over a lot of different chord progressions.

MINOR BLUES

The most common blues scale on the Delta (or anywhere else for that matter) is simply the minor Pentatonic with an added note in the form of a flat 5th scale degree (the “blue note”) occurring between the SUB-DOMIANT and DOMINANT scale degrees.  You can also think of this as a HEXATONIC (hexa is greek for 6) scale. As an example, the above A minor PENTATONIC would become: a-C-d-eb-e-G-a

a_minor_blues

What the PENTATONIC taketh away (single half-tone INTERVALS), the MINOR BLUES giveth back!

Stacked Intervals: P1, m3, M2, m2, m2, m3, M2 (R321132)
Rooted Intervals: P1, m3, P4, A4, P5, m7, P8
Integer: 0, 3, 5, 6, 7, 10, 12

SUMMARY

The HEPTATONIC scale is easily derived from the CHROMATIC scale.  The MAJOR and minor PENTATONIC scales are based on the HEPTATONIC scale with certain notes removed.  The minor blues scale is the minor PENTATONIC with an added note in the form of a flat 5th scale degree making it a HEXATONIC scale (5 + 1).