chord theory 2: the C major scale

This whole series is a bid to consolidate my knowledge and serve as a resource for learning about chords, how they are built and named, and how you can share the notes of a chord across many musicians.  If you are new to music theory, don’t be daunted – I played the guitar for 25 years before even attempting to learn this stuff – my point being, you can enjoy playing instruments with little or no knowledge.  When you hit a wall though, it can be useful to further your understanding.

This article assumes you have a reasonable understanding of  the terms interval, semi-tone, tone and the twelve notes of the chromatic scale.  If you are not sure about any of these pre-requisites, have a look at chord theory 1: 12 notes

In chord theory 1: 12 notes, I state that the defining feature of the chromatic scale is that it is twelve notes long, and the interval between each adjacent note is a semi-tone:


A# or  Bb



C# or Db


D# or Eb



F# or Gb


G# or Ab

By definition, the major scale is eight notes long, with the following interval pattern.

tone tone semi-tone tone tone tone semi-tone

Where are the notes?  I have realised that by defining the scale in terms of its intervals, instead of learning notes by rote, I find I can work out a scale in any key, by simply applying the pattern to the twelve basic notes.

A Bb B C C# D D# E F F# G G# A Bb B C

Applying the pattern to find the C major scale, we start at C.  We move up a a tone (two semi-tones) to D.  We move another tone to reach E.  Now our pattern tells us to move a semi-tone – F.  Another tone – G, another tone – A, another tone – B, the final semi-tone – C.  

In this scale, the starting and ending notes are the same, but the end note is one octave higher than the starting note.  In this case, I have marked them both in red.  The first note may also be called the root note, meaning the lowest note in the scale, and later, the lowest note in the chord.

Why did I pick the C major scale to start with?  Firstly, there are none of the in-between notes – the sharps or flats.  Secondly, by no coincidence at all, the C major scale can be played on the piano by finding any C key, and playing only the white keys until you hit the next C along.

keyboard perfect

In the next article in the series, we can use an expanded table of our twelve notes, and the defining features of the major scale to work out all twelve major scales.

3 thoughts on “chord theory 2: the C major scale

  1. Pingback: chord theory 3: the 12 major scales | thoughtsfornaught

  2. Pingback: chord theory 4: understanding the C major chord | thoughtsfornaught

  3. Pingback: chord theory 5: 12 major chords for 12 major scales | thoughtsfornaught

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s