Introduction: How to Write a Major Scale in Music
Summary: Almost all music we're used to hearing in our daily lives is tonal, meaning that it sounds complete and like you'd expect the song to sound. After you complete this instructable, you will better understand how to construct a major scale, a pitch content that typically results in a happy sounding song. We will be constructing a C Major scale. To complete this task, you will need a blank piece of paper and a pencil (musicians never use permanent writing utensils like pens). If you want to make sure your staff lines are 100% straight, you might also want to have a ruler available to use.
1. Western music is limited to 12 notes. After the initial 12 notes, the notes repeat one octave higher. The interval labeled as an octave doesn't change the name of the note; it only changes how the note sounds. For example, one octave higher than a C is still called a C, but it sounds as a higher note. The 12 notes are A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, and G#. Major and minor scales both only include eight notes.
2. Parts of staff:
-Clef: the symbol that tells the musician the note names of the lines and spaces. We're going to use a treble clef. The treble clef tells the musician that's playing the music the notes that are associated with the lines and spaces on the staff. The treble clef can also be referred to as the G clef because the bottom curve of the treble clef wraps around the line of the staff where the note G is.
-Ledger lines: lines that extend the staff.
-Double bar line: two horizontal lines at the end of a composition to show the musician that the composition is complete.
Step 1: Understand the Major Scale Formula
Before starting to write out the scale, you first have to understand the major scale formula. The formula is on the basis of whole notes and half notes.
-Whole notes (typically noted by a W): notes 2 half steps apart
-Half notes (typically noted by an H): notes 1 half step apart
To count whole steps and half steps for our purpose, you start at the note you’ve chosen (C in our example of the C major scale) and count the half steps from left to right. One half step equals one note, and notes are both the white notes AND the black notes. For example, one half step up from G is G#. One whole note up from G is A.
**Direct your attention to the picture above. Using this labeled octave on a piano to help you, you are able to count half steps which will help you complete the major scale formula. Now, let’s count 1 half step up from E (ask yourself: what is the key to the right of E?). The next note is F. So, one half step up from E is F.
You have to use this method of counting half steps to use the major scale formula and to complete the scale. The formula for a major scale is W-W-H-W-W-W-H.
Step 2: Construct a Staff.
A staff is a set of 5 parallel lines on which music is written. Draw 5 horizontal lines parallel to each other to create a staff. Each line needs to be about 5 inches long and they should be evenly spaced apart. Here is where you might want to use a ruler if you choose to use one.
Step 3: Draw a Treble Clef on the Far Left Side of Your Staff.
A clef is the symbol on the staff that tells you where the individual notes are on the staff. We're going to use a treble clef. Follow the sequence above from left to right. When you’re finished, it should look like the treble clef on the right side of the picture above. As you go through the steps, each addition should be added to the one treble clef needed for your major scale.
Side note: To the right of the clef, the composer usually writes in a key signature. The key signature includes accidentals, notes which are altered to fit into the scale formula. Examples of accidentals would be A# or E♭. Luckily, in a C major scale, no accidentals are needed to complete the scale. The key signature for C major, therefore, shows no sharps (#) and no flats (♭). Essentially, no key signature is needed for a C major scale.
Bonus: If you’d like to practice drafting other major scales, the same process of using the major scale formula can be used. You just have to start on whatever note you choose as to build a major scale on, i.e. for an F# major scale, you'd start on F#; for an E major scale, you'd start on E; and for an A major scale, you'd start on A, etc.
Step 4: Begin to Notate a C Major Scale.
Since we've decided to build a C major scale, the first note of our scale is C. In other words, the name of the scale determines the note the scale should start on. Use the treble clef staff pictured above to find a C on your own blank staff. When writing the first note, be sure to include the ledger line so that the musician playing or singing your scale knows what note the scale begins on. Each note can be marked with an open oval like the C shown below or you can use quarter notes, closed ovals with vertical stems attached.
Step 5: Begin to Notate a C Major Scale.
Since we've decided to build a C major scale, the first note of our scale is C. In other words, the name of the scale determines its starting note. Use the treble clef staff pictured above to find a C on your own blank staff. When writing the first note, be sure to include the ledger line so that the musician playing or singing your scale knows what note the scale begins on. Each note can be marked with an open oval like the C shown above or you can use quarter notes, closed ovals with vertical stems attached.
Step 6: Draw a Double Bar Line to Signify That Your Composition Is Complete.
Once the major scale formula has been completed, you will have right notes on your staff, and your scale will be complete; however, the musician is unaware that the piece is finished unless you draw a double bar line. To draw a double bar, move all the way to the right of your scale and draw two vertical lines next to each other.
Step 7: Compare Your Scale to the One Pictured Above to Make Sure It Is Correct.
The picture above is an example of a correctly constructed C Major scale. Note that this example of a C Major scale uses quarter notes.