Musical Scales Chart
The chart above shows Major Scale patterns. I learned this chart back in high school, from our band director, Mr. Nitterhouse. I have never seen it anywhere else, which is why I am mentioning his name, since he very well may have invented it. I have always found it useful. As long as you can remember the pattern B E A D G C F, it is pretty easy and quick to draw it out or visualize it in your head.
For those of you new to music, what the chart does is show the major scales along with the notes, within that scale, that are either flat or sharp. The rest of this article will explain some basic music notation, such as flats and sharps, as well as some basic information about the major scale.
The white keys on the piano are what are called natural notes. There are seven different natural notes, C D E F G A B, which then repeat as you move along the keyboard. The keys to the right are higher notes (higher pitch) and so as you move in that direction, you are going up the keyboard. The notes to the left are lower notes (lower pitch) and so as you move in that direction, you are going down the keyboard.
Each key on the piano plays a different tone. The white keys with black keys in between them do not play adjacent tones even though they touch. The black keys play tones that are in between the two. If it is easier to visualize, you can picture the keyboard like this:
Moving from one key to the next moves you what is called a half-step or a semi-tone. To move a half-step higher is to make a note sharp, which we denote by the symbol #. To move a half-step lower is to make a note flat, which we denote by the symbol b. On the keyboard below are some examples of half-step movements. A half-step sharp (higher) of a C is the note C# (which we call a C-sharp). A half-step flat (lower) of a B is the note Bb (which we call a B-flat). And moving from an E to an F is also a half-step.
The flat b and sharp # symbols are called accidentals. Think of them as instructions - they are telling you to do something. in the case of a sharp, for instance, it is telling you to move a half-step higher. So, when you see a C#, it is telling you to start at the natural note C and move up a half-step. So what the heck is a C##? Well, just use the same process as before. Start at a C natural move a half-step up to a C# and then another half-step to a D. How about a Cb#? Whoa, that's weird! It's okay, it just means move down a half-step then back up a half-step to put you where you started from. You won't ever actually see a Cb#, I was just using it to make a point. A C##, however, does exist. The double sharp symbol is called a double accidental.
There is no way to insert the actual symbols for the accidentals in this text, so am instead using the number symbol '#' for sharps and the lowercase letter 'b' for flats. The actual symbols for the accidentals are shown below.
Notes with Two names
You have probably noticed that notes can have two different names. Moving a half-step up from an A to an A# puts you on the same note as moving down a half-step from B to a Bb. So is that note an A# or a Bb? Well, it's both - an A# is a Bb. Similarly, an F can be an E# or an E can be an Fb. There are reasons why a composer might have it as one or the other but that is a more advanced music theory lesson.
Two halves make a whole; similarly, two half-steps make a whole-step. On the keyboard below you can see that moving up two half-steps, or one whole-step moves a C to a D or moves a B to a C#. I am representing half-steps as dashed lines and whole-steps as solid lines
A major scale follows a specific pattern of whole-steps and half-steps. Representing whole-steps with a W and half-steps with an H, the pattern is as follows: W-W-H-W-W-W-H. What this means is that from the first note you move a whole step to the second note of the scale, another whole step to the third note, a half-step to the fourth, etc. The C major scale is shown as an example below. The C Major scale consists of the 7 natural notes and does not have any notes that are flat or sharp.
F Sharp Major Scale
This one is a bit more difficult, but follow the major scale pattern and you'll be fine.
Major Scale Construction
It can be difficult to construct scales in your head just by following the major scale pattern. That is where the chart comes in handy. In order to figure out a scale, first write out the natural notes of the scale, and then find from the chart the notes in the scale that are sharp or flat and apply the accidentals to them. below is an example of the F# scale.
F# Major Scale
And here's one more:
Db Major Scale
Building the chart
Now, I am going to show you how to build the chart. It doesn't have to be fancy of course, I have in my time scribbled a bunch of these out on napkins and such. First, the chart starts and ends with a C and has a C in the middle. Then, fill in the letters in between the Cs by following the pattern B E A D G C F.
Next, we are going to populate the boxes. Remember the order of the flats are B E A D G C F and the order of the sharps is backwards, F C G D A E B. Put the flats on the right and the sharps on the left
Finally, if the root note (the notes in the top line) are found in the list of sharps or flats beneath it, you have to change the root note to match. I've highlighted the ones that need to be changed.
Here is your final chart!
You may have noticed that there are only 12 unique major scales, and yet the chart shows 15 major scales. The reason for this is because there are three pairs of scales on the chart that are the same; the C# / Db, the F# / Gb, and the B / Cb. What I mean by the same is that when you play them, you use the exact same keys. We would also say that they are enharmonic, which means they sound the same, but are written differently. There are reasons for both to exist but that is a music theory lesson beyond the scope of this article (and beyond the scope of me).
Hopefully, this major scale chart will help you out. It has always worked really well for me.
Questions & Answers
What is the name of the scale CC#EFGAA#C?
C Mixolydian b9 (as best I can tell). Pattern is H-(W+H)-H-W-W-H-W. That is not a major scale and is a bit beyond the basics.
What an interesting pattern. Who came up with the musical scale chart discussed in this article?
I learned it from my band director way back in high school, but I don't know if he came up with it or learned it somewhere else. I've never seen it anywhere else, so he might be the originator.