Now that you know which notes there are, we can look at scales. Scales are specific combinations of notes that sound musical together. The most common scales in the Western world are Major and Minor. By far the most Western music is made with either of those two scales.
The major scale sounds generally happy and uplifting. This is most commonly used for uplifting music and children’s music. For example “Katy Perry – Firework” is written in Ab Major, and “Mary Had A Little Lamb” is written in C Major.
The minor scale can sound sad, dark, serious, motivating, among other things. This scale is used for most music that can sound more serious, like rock, EDM, hip hop, metal, and bass music. For example “Eminem – Lose Yourself” is written in D Minor and “Metallica – Nothing Else Matters” is written in E Minor.
But when do you use the major scale, and when do you use the minor scale? When making music, you can choose one scale that you want the song to be in. So if you’re going for happy/uplifting, you likely choose major, and if you go for more serious, you choose minor. Every melody and chord in your song is going to be in that scale. You also choose the root note (beginning note) of the scale for your song. For example, you can start at C or A#, or any other note. Counting the steps from there, you know which notes are in the scale and which notes are not. For every element in the song, you only use the notes that are in that scale. Melodies that are in that scale will fit with each other, and melodies that are not in the scale will sound off.
The scale and note you choose for your song is called the key of the song. The key consists of the note, for example C, and the scale, for example minor. So your song is then in the key of C minor. If you know the key of the song, you know which scale to use to make melodies and chords. Usually, when the key of the song is in major, it is not written down. So for major scale-songs, the key is usually just written C, D, E etc. Other examples are D, A# minor, F, G minor, Bb, C minor, D#, etc.
The scales are made of a combination of half steps and whole steps. The steps are always in the same order, no matter on which key you start. So when you press a random key on the keyboard, you can start counting the steps from there. The Major and Minor scale both have a distinct combination of steps.
- Major scale: Whole step – whole step – half step – whole step – whole step – whole step – half step. So for example, when you start at C, you make a whole step to D, a whole step to E, a half step to F, etc. If you start at G#, you make a whole step to A#, a whole step to C, a half step to C#, etc.
- Minor scale: Whole step – half step – whole step – whole step – half step – whole step – whole step. (You can remember the first two whole-half-whole combinations as two hamburgers. Then at the end there is an extra bun). So when you start at C, you make a whole step to D, a half step to D#, a whole step to F, etc. Or if you start at G#, you make a whole step to A#, a half step to B, a whole step to C#, etc.
Remembering the steps is the best thing you can do to learn music theory.
If you remember the steps from the major and minor scale, you can start at any note and make melodies within the scale.