A scale is a group of notes that are arranged by ascending or descending order of pitch.
In an ascending scale, each note is higher than the last one and in a descending scale, each note is lower in pitch than the last one.
C Major Scale
If we play all the white notes starting on C until we reach the next C we would have played C major scale.
The major scale is constructed by using a certain combination of semitones and tones.
That combination is:
Tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone, semitone but you'll often see it abbreviated it to the first letters:
T T S T T T S for short.
Side note: In the US they refer to it in whole steps and half steps:
Whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half or W W H W W W H for short.
You can use this combination of semitones and tones to make a major scale starting on any note.
But, C major is the only major scale that doesn’t use any black notes.
G Major Scale
If we wanted to play a major scale starting on the note G we have to put an F sharp (F#) in to keep the order of tones and semitones as T T S T T T S.
We use F sharp (F#) rather than G flat (Gb) because in a scale we have to have one note on every line or space of the stave.
The word scale used to mean ladder so think of it as the rungs of the ladder and you need to have a note on every single one.
This is how we determine whether a major scale has sharps or flats.
If we used G flat we wouldn’t have a note on every rung.
You can see here that there is no note on F, sharp, flat or natural and so this would be wrong.
A major scale will only use either sharps or flats.
D Major Scale
The scale D major has two sharps (F# and C#) to maintain the T T S T T T S series.
F Major Scale
Lastly, the scale F major has one flat (Bb) to maintain the T T S T T T S series.
Major Scales For Grade 1
These four scales, C major, G major, D major and F major are the only scales that you need to know for the ABRSM grade one theory exam.
For grade one you just need to remember:
- There is a note in every space and on every line of the stave
- A major scale ALWAYS follows the T T S T T T S pattern
- There is a semitone interval between the 3rd and 4th notes
- There is a semitone interval between the 7th and 8th notes
- All the other intervals are tones
These are what makes a scale major as opposed to a minor scale, but we don’t need to know about minor scales in grade one, we’ll cover those in grade two.