What is a Scale?

Basics      What is a musical scale, basic description

It's nothing to do with fish!  

Here's the simple ireadmusic definition of a scale:

A scale is a group of notes that sound great together

That's it!

Now, as you might have guessed, that's not quite the whole story! There are of course much more technical descriptions, and a representation of scales on the stave.

But it's important to grasp the essence of what a scale actually is before proceeding on to the theory about how people write and read them.

Interesting Fact: Who invented the major scale?

The major scale was arguably invented more than a millenium ago, in about 1000AD by Guido d'Arezzo (the same genius to invent the stave). He came up with the system of vocal sounds: do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, that cover the 7 unique notes of the major scale

When good old Guido first contemplated the major scale, I bet he wasn't thinking about how good it would look on paper. That would be silly!  

I bet he was inspired by the beautiful sounds created by combining sounds of certain pitch, and felt moved to find a formula by which one could communicate that to others.

Music is all about creating great sounds that move and inspire ourselves and others. If you ever forget that, I've failed you!

Scales are subsets of notes that work particularly well together, each scale having its own characteristic feel.

Major and Minor scales, with Famous Examples:

Major Scale

Has a bright and optimistic sound. Most commercial songs that sound happy are written using this scale: Here Comes the Sun by the Beatles , or Perfect by Ed Sheeran and Beyonce are examples of contemporary pop that use the major scale.

Classical music examples include No 1 Prelude by Georges Bizet , The Blue Danube Waltz by Johann Strauss , or the chorus of I Giorni, by Ludovico Einaudi ,   

Minor Scale

The Minor Scale has a more sombre, sinister or mysterious style. As in the case of the major scale, use of the minor scale is extremely widespread. Examples in contemporary music include Wonderwall, by Oasis , and All By Myself, by Eric Carmen .

Classical Music Examples include the haunting  The Heart Asks Pleasure First, by Michael Nyman and one of the most widely known pieces of classical music: {link fur-elise-beethoven Für|Elise,|by|Ludvig|Van|Beethoven|modal}

How do I play scales on my instrument?

Now that you have a basic understanding of what a scale actually is, we can help you to start playing them on your chosen instrument!

See our upcoming guides on the major scale and the minor scale.