Learning The Major Scales: A Complete Guide

As we covered in our beginner’s guide to musical scales, a scale is a group of notes arranged in ascending or descending order of pitch. There are lots of different kinds of scales with some sounding happy and some sounding sad.

In this post, we’re going to look at one type of scale called the major scale which is probably the first scale most people learn.

What is a major scale?

The major scale is one of the most widely used types of scale in western music. You would have heard it hundreds of times, maybe without realising it. When you first start learning an instrument, a major scale is typically the first thing that you’ll learn to play.

If you’ve not seen the film The Sound Of Music then the song Do-Re-Mi explains the major scale very well!

The song Do-Re-Mi is constructed using a system called Solfa. It’s another way of describing the degrees of the scale.

Major scales are a type of diatonic scale this means that they contain seven notes and are made up five intervals of a tone and two intervals of a semitone.

How do you form a major scale?

To make a major scale we just have to follow a very simple formula of semitones and tones (whole steps and half steps) between each note.

That formula is:

T T S T T T S

Or in whole and half steps a major scale would be this formula:

W W H W W W H

Using this combination of intervals we can then make a major scale starting on any note. Let’s try it.

Making C major scale

We’re going to start on the note C and make a major scale by following the order of semitones and tones mentioned above.

So from C, we need to go up one tone (whole step) to D:

From D we go up another tone (whole step) to E:

From the E we have to go up one semitone (half step) to F:

Next, we go up a tone (whole step) to G:

From the G we go up another tone (whole step) to A:

Almost there now, from A we go up a tone (whole step) to B:

And lastly, from the B we go up one semitone (half step) to C:

There we have C major scale which sounds like this on the piano:

C major is the only major scale that doesn’t need any sharps or flats.

Major scale vs ionian mode

The music modes are a series of scales based on the major scale. The first mode is called the ionian mode and it’s exactly the same as the major scale. There is no difference at all, other than the name!

Overview of all major scales

Below are all the different major scales with examples in the treble clef.

C major

C# / Db major

D major

Eb major

E major

F major

F# / Gb major

G major

Ab major

A major

Bb major

B major

KeyNotes in the major scale
CC – D – E – F – G – A – B – C
C#C# – D# – E# – F# – G# – A# – B# – C#
DbDb – Eb – F – Gb – Ab – Bb – C – Db
DD – E – F# – G – A – B – C# – D
EbEb – F – G – Ab – Bb – C – D – Eb
FF – G – A – Bb – C – D – E – F
F#F# – G# – A# – B – C# – D# – E# – F#
GbGb – Ab – Bb – Cb – Db – Eb – F – Gb
GG – A – B – C – D – E – F# – G
AbAb – Bb – C – Db – Eb – F – G – Ab
AA – B – C# – D – E – F# – G# – A
BbBb – C – D – Eb – F – G – A – Bb
BB – C# – D# – E – F# – G# – A# – B

Dan Farrant

Dan Farrant

Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 10 years helping thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. Since then he's been working to make music theory easy for over 1 million students in over 80 countries around the world.

3 thoughts on “Learning The Major Scales: A Complete Guide”

  1. In the picture of all the scales at the bottom, in the Gb key isn’t the ‘C’ supposed to be ‘Cb’?

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