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Lesson 5 – Major Scale Theory

Sections

1. Major Scale Theory

2. Major Scale Formula

3. Cycle of Fifths

4. Cycle of Fourths

5. Key Signatures

6. Circle of Fifths

The purpose of this lesson is to familiarize the student with major scale theory. Constructing the major scale will enable you to understand how any given key generates the particular sharps and flats that are in the given key. Your knowledge of Major Scale theory and the key signatures has a wide range of very necessary/vital applications, i.e.; chord construction, sight reading music, improvisation, chord analysis, learning songs, composing music and more. You simply can’t fully understand what you’re doing in music without this fundamental knowledge/tool.

Major Scale Theory

The Major Scale can be considered the basic building block of all music theory. In the lessons that follow you will see just how important and true this really is. This lesson teaches you how to construct a Major scale in all twelve keys.

1. Other scales are derived from the major scale.

2. Chords are derived/extracted from the major scale.

3. This exercise will show you how each key will generate it’s own number of sharps (#’s) or flats (b’s) and what they are.

In Western music we have an agreed upon system whereby between E and F and B and C are natural half-steps, meaning these are the only pairs of natural notes that are only a half-step apart. All other natural notes are a full whole-step apart.

Major Scale Formula

Any major scale can be constructed by determining the root (key) and then using the major scale formula.

W = Whole step H = Half step

1. This formula is applied to all 12 keys.

2. In the Major scale, half-steps always occur between the 3rd. and 4th., and

between the 7th. and 8th. scale degrees.

Cycle of Fifths (sharps)

1. The CYCLE OF FIFTHS is a series of keys – each new key is 5 tones away from the previous key.

2. The CYCLE OF FIFTHS is the only order of keys that will generate (produce) one newsharp (#) in each NEW key in the series.

3. The new sharp for each key in the CYCLE OF FIFTHS is always the seventh scale degree.

Cycle of Fourths (flats)

1. The CYCLE OF FOURTHS is another series of keys – each new key is 4 tones away from the previous key.

2. The CYCLE OF FOURTHS is the only order of keys that will generate one new flat (b) in each NEW key in the series.

3. The new flat for each key in the CYCLE OF FOURTHS is always the fourth scale degree.

Key Signatures

Here is a system to help you memorize all the practical key signatures. Memorize the keys containing sharps (#’s) first – (CYCLE OF FIFTHS). Then memorize the keys containing flats (b’s) -( CYCLE OF FOURTHS).

GUIDELINES (CYCLE OF FIFTHS)

1. Memorize the order of keys – C G D A E B F# C#

2. Memorize the number of sharps in each key – For example: C = 0, G = 1, D =2, etc.

3. Memorize the actual sharps contained in each key:

a) Always repeat the previous key signature. For example: The key of G has 1 sharp (F#). So in the next key of the cycle we repeat the previous key signature. Key of D = F# + C#.

b) The new sharp (#) in each key will always be one half-step below the root of the given key – each new sharp is actually te seventh degree of the given key. For example: C# is one half-step below D.

GUIDELINES (CYCLE OF FOURTHS)

1. Memorize the order of keys – C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb Cb

2. Memorize the number of flats in each key – For example: C = O, F = 1, Bb = 2, etc.

3. Memorize the actual flats contained in each key:

a) Always repeat previous key signature. For example: Key of F has 1 flat (Bb). So i the next key of the cycle we repeat the previous key signature. Key of Bb = Bb + Eb.

b) The new flat in each key will always be the fourth degree of the given key. The new flat will always be the same note as the next key in the cycle.

Circle of Fifths

This diagram shows the relationship between the cycle of fifths and the cycle of fourths. Start at the C and move clockwise. Each note visited is the next in the cycle of fifths. Start at the C and move counterclockwise, and each note visited is in the cycle of fourths.

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