Music theory is an essential tool for music producers and composers, as it provides a foundation for understanding and creating music. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced producer, understanding music theory can help you make better decisions about composition, arrangement, and production, and can enhance the emotional impact of your music.
This article is aimed at beginner music producers and its goal is to introduce notes, pitches, scales in music theory and show their implementation in music production.
We will explore in-depth about notes, pitch, scales, and how to use these basic music theory concepts in music production. By the end of this article, you will have an in-depth understanding of scales in music.
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Scales In Music Theory
In music theory, a scale is a group of notes that are put in order by pitch, either going up or down. Scales are what make melody and harmony possible in music.
A scale is usually described by its interval structure, which is the arrangement of intervals (the distance between each note).
For e.g. The major scale is a seven-note scale with the following interval structure: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 or whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half.
If we break down the C major scale - it is composed of the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, and B, with whole steps (W) between C and D, D and E, F and G, G and A, and A and B, and half steps (H) between E and F, and B and C. When a major scale is played in linear fashion it sounds Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti, Do or Sa,Re,Ga,Ma,Pa,Dha,Ni,Sa as per Indian system)
If intervals are confusing you, I recommend first you go through the lesson Unlocking the Secrets of Intervals in Music Theory for Beginner Producers.
The most commonly used scales in Western music are the major scale, the natural minor scale, and various modes of the major and minor scales.
As scales are used in melody and harmony in music, and understanding scales is fundamental to music theory and composition. To dive deep into scales, let us first start with understanding the chromatic scale.
En-harmonic Notes and Chromatic Scale
Music theory is built upon the foundation of understanding musical notes. A musical note is a symbol that represents a specific pitch and duration. In this section, we will understand en-harmonic notes, and the chromatic scale.
As also discussed in the lesson - Ultimate guide to Music Theory. The musical alphabet consists of seven letters - A, B, C, D, E, F, and G and five sharps/flats i.e. A#/Bb, C#/Db, D#/Eb, F#/Gb, G#/Ab. These letters are used to identify the different pitches in music.
Two notes that sound the same even though they are written differently are called "enharmonic notes." For instance, the notes C sharp(C#) and D flat(Db) are enharmonic notes, as they represent the same pitch. Understanding enharmonic notes is important for music theory and composition because it can help you come up with more complex and nuanced musical ideas. It also helps you understand scales better.
A chormatic scale is a set of twelve notes, each of which is a half step away from the next note in the scale (also called a semitone). The chromatic scale is made up of all 12 notes in western music. It is made up of the seven natural notes and the five enharmonic notes that correspond to them. For e.g. a C Chromatic scales consists of notes C,C#,D,D#,E,F,F#,G,G#,A,A#,B
A half step is the smallest interval that is often used in Western music. It is the distance between two keys on a piano keyboard that are next to each other.
Chromatic Scale Formula
We can use intervals to understand the chromatic scale by starting with one note and adding a half step to get the next note in the scale. Here's how C chromatic scales the lays down when broken down using intervals:
|C to C# (or Db)
|C# (or Db) to D
|D to D# (or Eb)
|D# (or Eb) to E
|E to F
|F to F# (or Gb)
|F# (or Gb) to G
|G to G# (or Ab)
|G# (or Ab) to A
|A to A# (or Bb)
|A# (or Bb) to B
As you can see, there is a half step between each note in the chromatic scale and it incorporates all the intervals, hence making chromatic scale the basis for much of Western music theory and composition. You can start with any note and keep on adding half-steps to build a chromatic scale.
Understanding chromatic scale in music theory is the first step towards a deeper understanding of music scales. You need to understand the chromatic scale because it is the basis for all other scales and modes. By learning about the chromatic scale, you will have a strong foundation for exploring more advanced music theory concepts.
Songs That Use Chromatic Scale
- "Purple Haze" by Jimi Hendrix starts off with a chromatic run up the guitar neck in the first riff.
- "Blackbird" by The Beatles has a guitar intro with a chromatic run that goes down.
- Ludwig van Beethoven's famous piano piece "Für Elise" has a part where the right hand plays a chromatic scale that goes down.
- "Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson has a chromatic scale that goes down in the bassline of the chorus.
- Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" - The piano intro features a descending chromatic scale.
- "Can't Stop" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers has a chromatic run that goes down in the guitar riff in the chorus.
Advantage of Learning Chromatic Scale For Music Producers
Music producers can benefit in several ways from learning the chromatic scale:
- The chromatic scale includes all the intervals between notes, which can help a musician train their ear for pitch and intonation.
- If you know how the chromatic scale works, you can better understand and analyse the harmonic and melodic structure of your productions.
- Knowing the chromatic scale, which includes all 12 notes in Western music, can help producers come up with interesting and unusual melodies and chord progressions.
- Sound design skills can be improved by learning the chromatic scale. By using different notes and intervals in a sound design or synthesiser patch, producers can make sounds that are more complex and intricate.
- If producers know the chromatic scale, they can use chromaticism and chromatic passages to make arrangements that are more interesting and varied.
Once you get a good hold of chromatic scales, next thing to understand is Major and Minor Scales
Major & Minor Scales in Music Theory
A major scale and a minor scale are the two most basic and important types of scales in Western music. Major scales have a bright and joyful sound, while minor scales have a sad and melancholic sound. Understanding the difference between major and minor scales is crucial for music theory, as it allows you to create the emotional impact you want in your compositions. So let us first understand in-depth about major scales.
What Is A Major Scale
A major scale is a diatonic scale with seven different notes that are spaced apart by whole steps and half steps in a certain way.
A diatonic scale is a seven-note musical scale that includes five whole steps and two half steps in a specific pattern. The term "diatonic" comes from the Greek word "dia" meaning "through" and "tonos" meaning "tone," indicating that the scale includes only whole and half steps.
In Western music, the most common diatonic scale is the major scale, which has the pattern of whole steps and half steps as follows: whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step.
For example, the C major scale consists of the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, and B, with the pattern of whole and half steps as follows: whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step.
Major Scale is a basic idea in Western music theory and one of the most common scales used in a wide range of musical styles.In Western music, the major scale is often the basis for many melodies, chord progressions, and harmonies. It is also used as a point of reference to learn about and study other scales and modes.
Learning the major scale is an essential part of music theory and is a fundamental concept for musicians of all levels and genres.
Major Scale Formula
Formula for building a major scale is whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step. The same is also abbreviated as WWHWWWH
Referring to intervals, major scale consists of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 ( alternatively: Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti, Do or Sa,Re,Ga,Ma,Pa,Dha,Ni,Sa as per Indian system)
In other words, the major scale is made up of eight notes, with the eighth note being a repetition of the first note an octave higher.
Below is how you can build C major scale using the Major scale formula:
|C to D
|D to E
|E to F
|F to G
|G to A
|A to B
|B to C
Major scale formula can be used to build major scale in any key. Start from any specific note and continue with the interval pattern of WWHWWWH to build a major scale in that key.
Here is how you can build D major scale using the major scale formula:
|D to E
|E to F#
|F# to G
|G to A
|A to B
|B to C#
|C# to D
So, the D major scale has two sharps—F# and C#—that are used to keep the pattern of whole steps and half steps. The D major scale is a common key in Western music. It is used in classical, folk, and pop music, among other styles.
All Major Scales
Here is a table of Major Scales:
|A - B - C# - D - E - F# - G#
|A# - C - D - D# - F - G - A
|B - C# - D# - E - F# - G# - A#
|C - D - E - F - G - A - B
|C# - D# - E# - F# - G# - A# - B#
|D - E - F# - G - A - B - C#
|D# - E# - F## - G# - A# - B# - C##
|E - F# - G# - A - B - C# - D#
|F - G - A - Bb - C - D - E
|F # Major
|F# - G# - A# - B - C# - D# - E#
|G - A - B - C - D - E - F#
|G# - A# - B# - C# - D# - E# - F##
All major scales adhere to the major scale formula of WWHWWWH or 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 intervals.
Note that the some scale includes double flats and double sharps to maintain the whole and half step pattern. For e.g. A# Major Scale. To simplify the notation, the A# major scale can also be written as the enharmonic equivalent of Bb major, which has the same notes and key signature:
Bb Major : Bb - C - D - Eb - F - G - A
Both A# major and Bb major are have the same tonality but are spelled differently. Same stands for other en-harmonic notes.
Sound and Characteristics Of Major Scales
The major scale is one of the most widely used and recognizable scales in Western music. It has a number of distinct characteristics that give it its unique sound, including:
- Sound that is happy or bright: The major scale is often said to have a happy or bright sound. This is because the spaces between the notes give a sense of stability and resolution, which can make you feel happy or joyful.
- Used in many different types of music. The major scale is used in pop, rock, country, jazz, and classical music, among others. The major scale is so useful because it can be used to make a wide range of feelings and moods.
- Melody and harmony are built on the major scale: In Western music, the major scale is often used to build melody and harmony. This is because the notes in the major scale work well with each other. This lets composers and musicians make musical phrases that sound good together and are easy to remember.
Songs Using Major Scale
Here are some examples of songs that use major scales:
- "Happy" by Pharrell Williams is a happy song with a simple melody and chord progression based on the major scale. It is in the key of F major.
- "Shallow" by Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga This emotional ballad from the movie "A Star is Born" is in the key of G major and has a soaring melody that emphasises the major scale notes.
- Katy Perry's "Roar" is an empowering pop anthem in the key of Bb major with a catchy chorus that uses the major scale to create a feeling of victory.
- "All of Me" by John Legend is a romantic ballad in the key of Db major with a simple but effective chord progression based on the major scale.
Each of these songs uses the major scale in different ways to create different feelings and moods, but they all show how versatile and beautiful this basic musical structure can be.
When To Use Major Scales
The major scale is one of the most common and useful musical structures. It can be used in many different kinds of music, from rock and pop to jazz and classical. Here are some times when you might want to use the major scale in your music production:
- Making happy or uplifting music: The major scale is great for making happy or uplifting music because it has a bright and happy sound. The major scale is a good choice if you want your music to sound happy and upbeat.
- Making catchy melodies: The major scale is often used to make melodies that are easy to remember. Its simple, easy-to-remember structure makes it perfect for making songs that people will want to sing over and over again.
- Building chord progressions: Many common chord progressions in popular music are based on the major scale. The major scale is a good place to start if you want to write a chord progression that sounds familiar and comfortable to listeners. We will learn more on the same in upcoming lessons.
- Modulating to related keys: The major scale is closely related to a number of other scales, such as the natural minor scale and the Mixolydian mode. If you want to move from one key to a related key in your music, the major scale can help you do it in a natural way. We will learn more about modes and related keys in advanced chapters.
- Adding contrast: You can add tension and interest to your music by using the major scale in contrast to other parts of music, like a minor chord or a dissonant melody.
In the end, whether or not you use the major scale in your music production will depend on your artistic goals and how you want your music to sound. But the major scale is a basic tool that can help you make a lot of different musical effects and feelings in your productions.
What are Minor Scales
A minor scale is also a diatonic scale that consists of 7 notes. Unlike major scales, which are generally associated with a happy or uplifting mood, minor scales often evoke a sad or melancholy feeling.
There are several types of minor scales, but the most common are the natural minor scale, the harmonic minor scale, and the melodic minor scale. Here is a brief description of each:
- Natural minor scale: This is the most basic form of the minor scale, and is sometimes referred to as the Aeolian mode(more about modes later). It is built on the sixth degree of the major scale, and has a pattern of whole steps and half steps that goes like this: W-H-W-W-H-W-W. For e.g. C Natural minor scale is C - D - Eb - F - G - Ab - Bb - C
- Harmonic minor scale: This scale is similar to the natural minor scale, but with one important difference: the seventh degree is raised by a half step. This creates a unique interval between the sixth and seventh degrees of the scale, which gives it a distinct sound. The pattern of whole steps and half steps for the harmonic minor scale is: W-H-W-W-H-WH-H. For e.g. C Harmonic minor scale is C - D - Eb - F - G - Ab - B - C
- Melodic minor scale: This scale is a bit more complex than the other two, as it has a different pattern of ascending and descending notes. When ascending, the sixth and seventh degrees are both raised by a half step, but when descending, the scale reverts back to the natural minor pattern. The ascending pattern is: W-H-W-W-W-W-H, and the descending pattern is: W-W-H-W-W-H-W. C Melodic minor scale ascending is C - D - Eb - F - G - A - B - C whereas while descending it becomes C - Bb - Ab - G - F - Eb - D - C.
These three types of minor scales are used extensively in various genres of music, including classical, pop, jazz, blues, metal and rock.
|Natural minor scale
|1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7, 8
|Harmonic minor scale
|1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, 7, 8
|Melodic minor scale ascending
|1, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
|Melodic minor scale descending
|8, b7, b6, 5, 4, b3, 2, 1
Sound and Characteristics of Minor Scales
The sound of minor scales is different from the sound of major scales. Most of the time, major scales make people feel happy or upbeat, while minor scales make them feel sad, lonely, or mysterious. Minor scales sound different because the intervals between the notes are not the same as those in major scales.
Depending on the type of minor scale, they can have a number of different traits:
- Natural Minor Scale : The natural minor scale is often said to have a dark, sad, or eerie sound. With its raised seventh degree.
- Harmonic Minor Scale : the harmonic minor scale creates a feeling of tension and anticipation that can be used to build drama and intensity.
- Melodic Minor Scale : With its unique patterns of going up and down, the melodic minor scale offers more melodic flexibility and variety. The raised sixth and seventh degrees of the melodic minor scale create a sense of brightness and lift that is not found in the natural minor scale. This makes the melodic minor scale more suitable for creating positive or uplifting moods, in contrast to the somber or melancholy feelings often associated with the natural minor scale.
Most of the time, minor scales are used to add depth, drama, and contrast to music. They can be used to make people feel a wide range of emotions, from sadness and melancholy to mystery, tension, and excitement. Minor scales are used in many different kinds of music, like classical, jazz, blues, rock, and metal.
Songs Using Minor Scales
Minor scales are used in a lot of different kinds of music, so there are a lot of songs that use them. Just a few examples are:
- "Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin - uses the A minor scale
- "Yesterday" by The Beatles - uses the F minor scale
- "Nothing Else Matters" by Metallica - uses the E minor scale
- "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess - uses the D minor scale
- "Shape of my Heart" by Sting - uses the F# minor scale
- "I Put a Spell on You" by Nina Simone - uses the Bb minor scale
- "All of Me" by John Legend - uses the A minor scale
- "Say You Love Me" by Fleetwood Mac - uses the G minor scale
- "The Man I Love" by George Gershwin - uses the Bb minor scale
- "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen - uses the F minor scale
These songs show how minor scales can be used to make a wide range of feelings and moods in music, from sadness and melancholy to drama and tension.
When To Use Minor Scales
Minor scales can be used to create a wide range of feelings and moods in music and songwriting, from sadness and melancholy to tension and mystery. Here are a few examples of when minor scales can be especially useful:
- To make a sense of drama and tension: The raised seventh degree of the harmonic minor scale is a great way to add tension and anticipation to music. This can be used to add drama and intensity to a song or to make the listener feel uncomfortable or on edge.
- Mood of sadness: With its lower third, sixth, and seventh degrees, the natural minor scale can be used to create a mood of sadness or melancholy in music. This can work well in slow songs or ballads that are about loss or longing.
- To make music sound mysterious or foreign: The melodic minor scale, with its unique patterns of going up and down, can be used to make music sound jazzy or foreign. This works especially well in world music, fusion, and modern classical music.
- To add contrast and depth: Minor scales can be put next to major scales or other modes to add contrast and depth to music. This can help make more complicated harmonies or bring attention to certain parts of a song.
Overall, minor scales can be used in many different ways to make music and write songs. They can be used to make different feelings and moods, and they can give a song depth and make it more interesting.
By exploring major and minor scales, modes of the major scale, and understanding scale degrees, you will have a deeper understanding of how to create the musical ideas you want in your compositions. With this knowledge, you will be able to analyze and understand existing music, and also create your own unique and interesting musical ideas.
Now you understand the basics of scales in music theory and learn in depth about major and minor scales. Next important thing to learn is Scale Degree.
Scale degrees refer to the individual pitches within a scale, and they are named according to their relative position within the scale. Simply put, scale degrees refer to the different positions of the notes in a scale relative to the tonic (the first note of the scale). To analyse melodies and harmonies, as well as to write and arrange music, you need to know how scale degrees work.
In Western music, scale degrees are usually written as numbers next to the notes of a scale. For example, the names of the notes in the C major scale are:
|Note In C Major Scale
|1st degree (tonic)
|2nd degree (supertonic)
|3rd degree (mediant)
|4th degree (subdominant)
|5th degree (dominant)
|6th degree (submediant)
|7th degree (leading tone)
Each scale degree has a unique function in the harmony of the music. Each scale degree has a unique function in the harmony of the music, which is based on its relationship to the tonic (the first note of the scale).
Here are some examples of how each scale degree in the major scale can be used in its own way:
- 1st Degree (Tonic): The tonic is the "home" or "root" note of the scale. It gives a sense of stability and resolution. The tonic is where most melodies and chord progressions begin and end.
- 2nd Degree (Supertonic): The supertonic is one step away from the tonic, so it often makes people feel excited or tense. It is often used to give melodies and chord progressions a sense of movement.
- 3rd Degree(Mediant): The mediant gives the tonic a sense of balance and contrast. By adding new chords and tonal centres, it is often used to add harmonic interest.
- 4th Degree (Subdominant): Because it comes before the dominant, the subdominant is often used to build tension or anticipation. It is often used to add movement and drive to chord progressions.
- 5th Degree (Dominant): The dominant chord is strong and creates both tension and release. It is often used to lead back to the tonic, giving a sense of closure or resolution.
- 6th Degree (Submediant): The submediant gives the tonic a sense of balance and contrast. It is often used to make people feel calmer or more stable after a time of stress.
- 7th Degree (Leading tone): The leading tone is a half-step below the tonic, which creates a strong sense of tension and anticipation. It is often used to give a sense of motion and drive, which leads back to the tonic.
Scale degrees are also used to analyze melodies and chord progressions. For example, a melody may start on the tonic (1st degree) and then move to the dominant (5th degree) to create tension, before resolving back to the tonic. Similarly, a chord progression may use the subdominant (4th degree) and dominant (5th degree) to create a sense of tension and resolution.
Understanding scale degrees is essential for musicians, as it allows them to analyze and understand the harmonic structure of music, and to use this knowledge in their own compositions and arrangements. It also helps you to create more complex musical ideas, such as chord progressions, by using scale degrees as a foundation.
Now you know to a great extent about scales and music theory. Time we explore some other commonly used scales and their formulas.
Other Common Scales
There are many scales used in music, beyond the major and minor scales. Here are some other examples of scales that are often used:
- Pentatonic Scales: Pentatonic scales are made up of five notes and are used in a lot of different kinds of music, like rock, blues, and folk. The pentatonic scale is made up of the first, second, and third degrees of a major scale, along with the fifth and sixth degrees of the same scale. For example, the C major pentatonic scale would consist of the notes C, D, E, G, and A. This formula can be used to build pentatonic scales starting on any note.
- Blues Scales: Blues scales are a variation of the pentatonic scale that add a "blue" note, which is a note that is lowered by a half step, to make a unique sound used in blues music. The blues scale is made up of the first, flat third, fourth, flat fifth, fifth, flat seventh, and octave notes of a scale. For example, the C blues scale would consist of the notes C, Eb, F, Gb, G, Bb, and C. This formula can be used to build blues scales starting on any note.
- Augmented Scales: Augmented and diminished scales are often used to make dissonant and atonal sounds in jazz and modern classical music. The augmented scale is made up of alternating minor thirds and half steps. Intervals - 1, b3, 3, 5, b6, 6, 1 (or alternatively: 1, 3, b5, #5, 7, 1) For example, the C augmented scale would consist of the notes C, Eb, E, G, Ab, Bb, an
- Diminished scales: A common formula for the diminished scale is 1, b2, b3, 3, #4, 5, 6, 7 (or alternatively: 1, 2, b3, 4, b5, b6, 6, 7). For example, the C diminished scale would consist of the notes C, Db, Eb, E, Gb, G, A, and Bb.
- Whole Tone Scales: Whole-tone scales are made up of only whole steps. This creates a sense of symmetry and tension that is often used in impressionist and modern classical music.
Overall, music uses a lot of different scales, and each one sounds and feels different. Learning about these different scales can help you make new and interesting music and try out different styles of music.
Creating a scale is a very advanced concept but you can even create you own scales by experimenting with intervals and altering already existing scales. Add a pinch of mathematical principles, such as ratios and fractions, to create take things up a notch and create new tuning systems and scales.
How to Use Scales in Music Production an Songwriting
This section just introduces you to how scales act as a building blocks for songwriting for producing music. We will learn each discussed point in depth in later lessons.
Scales can be used in various ways in music production and songwriting. Here are a few ways in which scales can be useful:
- Scales can help you write melodies by showing you how to put notes together. By sticking to the notes in a certain scale, you can make a melody that goes well with the chords in your song.
- Using scales to make chord progressions is another way to do this. You can make chords that sound good together by using the notes in a certain scale. For instance, in the key of C major, the chords that fit harmonically with the C major scale are C major, D minor, E minor, F major, G major, A minor, and B diminished.
- Scales can be used as a starting point for improvisation. If you know the notes in a scale, you can make up solos and riffs that fit that scale.
- Scales can be used to change the key of a song by modulating it. If you use a scale that has some of the same notes as the original key, you can move from one key to another smoothly.
- Scales can be used to make musical motifs, which are short pieces of music that repeat. By using a certain scale, you can make a motif that can be played over and over again to keep the song going.
Overall, scales can be helpful for making music and writing songs because they give you a structure for making melodies, chord progressions, and improvised music. However, it's important to remember that music is not just about following rules and formulas. Breaking the rules can sometimes lead to sounds that are new and interesting.
Hope this article helped you gain a lot of insights to scales in music theory and how they are formed using the basics of intervals.
In the next lesson learn about Modes in music theory.
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