What is a musical scale in music?

Musical Scales

A musical scale is a set of pitches (or a group of notes) that are arranged and played by increasing pitch (ascending) or decreasing pitch (descending) order.

There are many different types of music scales. The major scales and minor scales are the two most commonly used musical scales. Songs that are written in the major keys feel happy and bright. The minor scales, on the other hand, feel sad and have a dark and serious atmosphere. There are three kinds of minor scales. They are natural minor scales, harmonic minor scales, and melodic minor scales.

Major Scales

The major scale formula: W – W – H – W – W – W – H

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Natural Minor Scales

The minor scale formula: W – H – W – W – H – W – W

Harmonic Minor Scales

The harmonic minor scale raises the 7th note of the natural minor scale by a half step and has the following scale formula: W – H – W – W – H – W+H – H 

  • A Harmonic Minor Scale: A – B – C – D – E – F – G♯ – A 
  • E Harmonic Minor Scale: E – F♯ – G – A – B – C – D♯ – E 
  • B Harmonic Minor Scale: B – C♯ – D – E – F♯ – G – A♯ – B 
  • F Sharp Harmonic Minor Scale: F♯ – G♯ – A – B – C♯ – D – E♯ – F♯ 
  • C Sharp Harmonic Minor Scale: C♯ – D♯ – E – F♯ – G♯ – A – B♯ – C♯ 
  • G sharp Harmonic Minor Scale: G♯ – A♯ – B – C♯ – D♯ – E – F♯♯ – G♯ / A Flat Harmonic Minor Scale: A♭ – B♭ – C♭ – D♭ – E♭ – F♭ – G – A♭
  • D Sharp Harmonic Minor Scale: D♯ – E♯ – F♯ – G♯ – A♯ – B – C♯♯ – D♯ / E Flat Harmonic Minor Scale: E♭ – F – G♭ – A♭ – B♭ – C♭ – D – E♭
  • A Sharp Harmonic Minor Scale: A♯ – B♯ – C♯ – D♯ – E♯ – F♯ – G♯♯ – A♯  / B Flat Harmonic Minor Scale: B♭ – C – D♭ – E♭ – F – G♭ – A – B♭
  • F Harmonic Minor Scale: F – G – A♭ – B♭ – C – D♭ – E – F 
  • C Harmonic Minor Scale: C – D – E♭ – F – G – A♭ – B – C 
  • G Harmonic Minor Scale: G – A – B♭ – C – D – E♭ – F♯ – G 
  • D Harmonic Minor Scale: D – E – F – G – A – B♭ – C♯ – D 
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Melodic Minor Scales

The melodic minor scale raises the 6th and 7th notes of the natural minor scale by a half step when playing in ascending order. When the melodic minor scale is played in descending order, the notes of the scale are same as the natural minor scale.

  • A Melodic Minor Scale: A – B – C – D – E – F♯ – G♯ – A  
  • E Melodic Minor Scale: E – F♯ – G – A – B – C♯ – D♯ – E  
  • B Melodic Minor Scale: B – C♯ – D – E – F♯ – G♯ – A♯ – B  
  • F Sharp Melodic Minor Scale: F♯ – G♯ – A – B – C♯ – D♯ – E♯ – F♯  
  • C Sharp Melodic Minor Scale: C♯ – D♯ – E – F♯ – G♯ – A♯ – B♯ – C♯  
  • G sharp Melodic Minor Scale: G♯ – A♯ – B – C♯ – D♯ – E♯ – F♯♯ – G♯ / A Flat Melodic Minor Scale: A♭ – B♭ – C♭ – D♭ – E♭ – F – G – A♭ 
  • D Sharp Melodic Minor Scale: D♯ – E♯ – F♯ – G♯ – A♯ – B♯ – C♯♯ – D♯ / E Flat Melodic Minor Scale: E♭ – F – G♭ – A♭ – B♭ – C – D – E♭ 
  • A Sharp Melodic Minor Scale: A♯ – B♯ – C♯ – D♯ – E♯ – F♯♯ – G♯♯ – A♯ / B Flat Melodic Minor Scale: B♭ – C – D♭ – E♭ – F – G – A – B♭ 
  • F Melodic Minor Scale: F – G – A♭ – B♭ – C – D – E – F  
  • C Melodic Minor Scale: C – D – E♭ – F – G – A – B – C  
  • G Melodic Minor Scale: G – A – B♭ – C – D – E – F♯ – G  
  • D Melodic Minor Scale: D – E – F – G – A – B – C♯ – D  
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Other musical scales include the blue scales, pentatonic (major and minor), chromatic and whole tone scales. 

The Blues Scales

The blues scale on piano consists of six notes: The root, flat 3rd, 4th, flat 5th, 5th and flat 7th notes of the major scale.

There are twelve blues scales: C, C♯, D, E♭, E, F, F♯, G, A♭, A, B♭, B:

  • C blues scale: C – E♭ – F – G♭ – G – B♭ – C
  • C Sharp blues scale: C♯ – E – F♯ – G – G♯ – B – C♯
  • D blues scale: D – F – G – A♭- A – C – D
  • E Flat blues scale: E♭- G♭- A♭- A – B♭- D♭- E♭
  • E blues scale: E – G – A – B♭- B – D – E
  • F blues scale: F – A♭ – B♭ – B – C – E♭- F
  • F Sharp blues scale: F♯ – A – B – C – C♯ – E – F♯
  • G blues scale: G – B♭- C – D♭- D – F – G
  • A Flat blues scale: A♭ – B – D♭- D – E♭- G♭- A♭
  • A blues scale: A – C – D – E♭- E – G – A
  • B Flat blues scale: B♭- D♭- E♭- E – F – A♭- B♭
  • B blues scale: B – D – E – F – F♯ – A – B
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Major Pentatonic Scales

The pentatonic scale has the least number of notes, it has only five notes per octave.

The major pentatonic scale: The root, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th notes of the major scale. (The 4th and 7th notes are removed.)

The major pentatonic scale formula: W – W – W+H – W – W+H

There are twelve major pentatonic scales: C, C♯, D, E♭, E, F, F♯, G, A♭, A, B♭, B:

  • C major pentatonic scale: C – D – E  – G – A  – C
  • C Sharp major pentatonic scale: C♯ – D♯ – E♯  – G♯ – A♯ – C♯
  • D major pentatonic scale: D – E – F♯  – A – B  – D
  • E Flat major pentatonic scale: E♭ – F – G – B♭ – C – E♭
  • E major pentatonic scale: E – F♯ – G♯ – B – C♯  – E
  • F major pentatonic scale: F – G – A – C – D – F
  • F Sharp major pentatonic scale: F♯ – G♯ – A♯ – C♯ – D♯  – F♯
  • G major pentatonic scale: G – A – B  – D – E  – G
  • A Flat major pentatonic scale: A♭ – B♭ – C  – E♭ – F – A♭
  • A major pentatonic scale: A – B – C♯  – E – F♯ – A
  • B Flat major pentatonic scale: B♭ – C – D  – F – G – B♭
  • B major pentatonic scale: B – C♯ – D♯ – F♯  – G♯  – B
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Minor Pentatonic Scales

The minor pentatonic scale: The root, flat 3rd, 4th, 5th and flat 7th notes of the major scale. (The blues scale is the minor pentatonic plus the flat 5th.)

The minor pentatonic scale formula: W+H – W – W – W+H – W

There are twelve minor pentatonic scales: C, C♯, D, E♭, E, F, F♯, G, A♭, A, B♭, B:

  • C minor pentatonic scale: C – E♭ – F  – G – B♭ – C
  • C Sharp minor pentatonic scale: C♯ – E – F♯ – G♯ – B – C♯
  • D minor pentatonic scale: D – F – G – A – C – D
  • E Flat minor pentatonic scale: E♭- G♭- A♭ – B♭- D♭- E♭
  • E minor pentatonic scale: E – G – A – B – D – E
  • F minor pentatonic scale: F – A♭ – B♭ – C – E♭- F
  • F Sharp minor pentatonic scale: F♯ – A – B – C♯ – E – F♯
  • G minor pentatonic scale: G – B♭- C – D – F – G
  • A Flat minor pentatonic scale: A♭ – B – D♭ – E♭- G♭- A♭
  • A minor pentatonic scale: A – C – D – E – G – A
  • B Flat minor pentatonic scale: B♭- D♭- E♭ – F – A♭- B♭
  • B minor pentatonic scale: B – D – E – F♯ – A – B
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The Chromatic Scale

The chromatic scale is made up twelve notes, each note is a half step away from the other note.

The chromatic scale formula: H – H – H – H – H – H – H – H – H – H – H – H

The whole tone scale has six notes. It is often used in romantic and jazz music.

Whole Tone Scales

The whole tone scale formula: W – W – W – W – W – W

There are only 2 whole tone scales: C, D♭:

  • C whole tone scale: C – D – E – F♯ – G♯ – A♯
  • D Flat whole tone scale: D♭ – E♭ – F – G – A – B