MSC 1003 - Music in Civilization

Scales, Part II: What do we need to do
This is part two of three on the subject of scales.

Part I covered a lot of important concepts in a video lecture.

Part III offers worksheets, web pages, and apps that you could use to play around with scales.

Meanwhile, Assignment #21 wants to ask you 12 questions about Parts I and II. Link opens in a new tab.

In the assignment we will look at some scales and judge whether they are a major scale or not. This is a simple matter of counting the keys on the piano.

Whole Steps and Half Steps

First, we need to learn how to measure the distance between notes. Scales proceed in small increments called whole steps and half steps.

Half Steps

A half step is the smallest move you can make on a piano. I like to say that "any two keys that touch each other" are a half-step apart. Here is a diagram that shows some half steps.

Usually you'll make a half step by moving from a white key to a black key, or vice-versa. Also, in the weird areas of the keyboard where there is no black key, the distance from one white key to the next is a half step.

I say that "any two keys that touch each other" are a half-step apart, but of course that can be a little misleading. Most white keys appear to touch other white keys, but it's an illusion! There is a black key in between. The only place where white keys touch each other is in the weird areas where there is no black key.

Here is a video where we creep up and down the piano in half steps.

Whole Steps

A whole step is just two half steps. Here we will make bolder moves, from white to white, black to black, or across the weird areas of the piano where you have to count carefully.

Here is a video of some whole steps, you can hear that they sound more like normal music.

The Pattern

Each kind of scale (major, minor, or what-have-you) has its own unique pattern of whole or half steps. The pattern for a major scale is:

This may look daunting, but it is actually kind of catchy to say and easy to memorize. "Whole whole half, whole whole whole half." That's it. I will always include the pattern on the screen when you are doing your homework.

The pattern is also built into the white keys on the piano, from C to C. The "weird areas" are where the pattern makes a half step.

Making a scale other than C major

There are twelve different places on the piano where we can build a major scale. The procedure is simple - you find your starting note and count out the WWHWWWH pattern. Here is an example of a G major scale.

You can see that we needed a black note (F#) to complete the pattern properly. Each major scale uses a different combination of white and black notes.

Making minor scales

We aren't going to worry about minor scales. They have a different pattern (WHWWHWW) which isn't quite as catchy, and there are two "variants" that theory classes teach which makes it even more complicated.

I actually like to teach it as a transformation of the major scale. Make a major scale, then lower your third, sixth, and seventh note. Now it's minor!

Exercise #21 and Part III

So, we'll do Assignment #21 which will ask you 12 questions on Part I and Part II.

Part III offers some activities that could get you making and playing real scales. This includes some worksheets we used to do in class, a web page and a few apps. This part is optional, but I highly recommend it. Everybody is making scales at home these days, it's the hot new thing.

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