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Understanding Music Scales

Musical scales are based upon a collection of ordered notes (by pitch) which form the basis for a musical melody. Most commonly, musical scales are based on ascending octaves – which is an increasingly class of notes that covers an entire scale. For example, an octave at C would also end at C – comprising 6 notes between the beginning and end, with 8 complete notes in the set.

There are various classes of musical scales, according to the types of intervals and pitch classes within each scale. Major examples of intervals include diatonic and chromatic intervals. A diatonic scale consists of five whole and two half steps, a pattern that re-occurs across the major and minor scales. In fact, you can form the major and minor scales from use of chromatic 12 note scales.

Traditionally western music is built on the idea of scales: the standard major and minor scales consistn of five tones (whole steps) and two half steps (semi-tones.) Recent development of new types of scales led to the development of the chromatic (12-tone) and pentatonic (five-tone, as played by the “black keys” on the piano) as well as the octatonic (diminished) eight-note scale.

Musicians use special terminology to discuss scales – the central (stable) note is known as the “tonic” while the secondary note is known as the second scale (and so on.) Additionally, some musicians use the term tonic, supertonic, mediant, etc. to refer to a scale. Transposed scales are generally shifted up, a process known as scalar shifting, which adds to the diversity of music.