Intro To Building Major Scales And Keys, Short intro on how to build major scales and figure out key signatures
Jan 27 2013, 12:27 PM
Theory Instructor
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From: Manchester UK
For those that are working on learning how to build major scales, and we'll be doing in-depth lessons on this subject in the future, here is a quick reference guide so that you can practice writing out and memorizing the different keys for the major scale.

There are two ways to build a major scale.

The first is using the interval pattern that I wrote out just below.

You simply start on the root note that you have in mind, then follow the following interval pattern in order to build the major scale.

W - W - H - W - W - W - H

Where W = Whole Step, two frets on the guitar, and H = Half Step, 1 fret on the guitar.

You can see this applied to a C major scale like so.

C (W) D (W) E (H) F (W) G (W) A (W) B (H) C

Try writing out a few keys of the major scale using this system in order to memorize the formula, and get used to applying it to different root notes on the go.

The second way to think about major scales, and how to build them, is to memorize what's called the key signature.

This is the number of sharps or flats any major scale has in it's construction.

As a quick reference, if you want to explore this approach further, here are all the sharp keys and which notes are sharp within the major scale.

C - none
F - Bb (1)
Bb - Bb, Eb (2)
Eb - Bb, Eb, Ab (3)
Ab - Bb, Eb, Ab, Db (4)
Db - Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb (5)
Gb - Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Cb (6)
Cb - Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Cb, Fb (7)

An easy way to apply this system is to memorize the order that flats are added to the different scales:

Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Cb, Fb

And then to find the key, you just count up the order of flats and add one more after you come to the key that you are on.

So, if you are wondering how many flats are in the key of Ab, you count up the order of flats until you hit Ab

Bb, Eb, Ab

Then just add one more and that's how many flats you have in that key

Bb, Eb, Ab, Db (4)

This means that the Ab major scale contains the notes:

Ab Bb C Db Eb F G Ab

The “white notes” on the piano plus the 4 flats that we figures out above.

So, the key you are looking for, is always the second last note in the order of flats.

Here is the same idea but with sharp keys.

C - none
G - F# (1)
D - F#, C# (2)
A - F#, C#, G# (3)
E - F#, C#, G#, D# (4)
B - F#, C#, G#, D#, A# (5)
F# - F#, C#, G#, D#, A#, E# (6)
C# - F#, C#, G#, D#, A#, E#, B# (7)

To figure out how many sharps a key has, if it is one of the "sharp" keys, you first memorize the order that sharps are added to each new key.

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

Then, you find the key you wan, say D, and go down 1 half-step, that will be the last # in the order.

So for D, you look at the note 1 half-step lower, C#, and that is the last # from the list above.

Therefore, the key of D major has 2 Sharps, F# and C#.

D E F# G A B C# D

The D major scale has all the “white notes” of the piano, plus the 2 sharps that we figured out above, F# and C#.

Try to write out a number of major keys that contain sharps to practice memorizing the order of sharps, as well learning to figure out the key signature and notes with any given major scale on the spot

We are going to continue to explore building major scales in further posts, so this is a short primer to get you started and to help you find a few tricks of the trade to write out, or memorize the key signatures, for the different major scales.

If you have any questions post them below and I'll be happy to answer them.

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Jan 27 2013, 01:10 PM
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So, as I showed you how I learned figuring out sharps with circle of fifths, we can figure out flats using circle of fourths, right? We can turn every fourth note in the key to a flat and then change those notes to flats in all the keys below, right?

C D E F G A B C
F G A Bb C D E F
Bb C D Eb F G A Bb
Eb F G Ab Bb C D Eb
Ab Bb C Db Eb F G Ab
Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb C Db
Gb Ab Bb Cb Db Eb F Gb

Like that? So we can use circle of fifths to figure out sharps and circle of fourths to figure out flats!

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Jan 27 2013, 01:13 PM
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Joined: 8-January 13
From: Manchester UK
QUOTE (sammetal92 @ Jan 27 2013, 12:10 PM)
So, as I showed you how I learned figuring out sharps with circle of fifths, we can figure out flats using circle of fourths, right? We can turn every fourth note in the key to a flat and then change those notes to flats in all the keys below, right?

C D E F G A B C
F G A Bb C D E F
Bb C D Eb F G A Bb
Eb F G Ab Bb C D Eb
Ab Bb C Db Eb F G Ab
Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb C Db
Gb Ab Bb Cb Db Eb F Gb

Like that? So we can use circle of fifths to figure out sharps and circle of fourths to figure out flats!

That's it! Totally works. Then after doing this for a bit you will just memorize how many flats are in each key, or how many sharps, and you will be able to recall them on the spot without the grid. But in the meantime, the grid is a great way to learn the order of sharps and flats as well as work out key signatures.

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Jan 27 2013, 01:16 PM
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Brilliant! Thank you professor!

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Jan 27 2013, 01:17 PM
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From: Manchester UK
QUOTE (sammetal92 @ Jan 27 2013, 12:16 PM)
Brilliant! Thank you professor!

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Jul 23 2015, 08:45 AM
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From: India
what is a key signature?is it the flat or sharp notes in the scale?

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Thanks and regards,

Ayan
Jul 25 2015, 12:20 PM
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QUOTE (AyanG @ Jul 23 2015, 09:45 AM)
what is a key signature?is it the flat or sharp notes in the scale?

That is a good question!

I'm not a theory guru and that being said I would (personally) see a "key" as a main chord (or tonality) around a group of other chords are formed. When you play any of those chords in any specific order (chord progression), you'll be surely playing within the same key. This means that if you build a chord progression using only chords found within a certain key, that those chords should work together and sound nice in a song.

Of course, as mentioned in this lesson/topic we can also see a key as a main note and a group of other notes (none, sharp or flat) that form each key.

If you are wondering how to find chords in C major key for example, I've made this bass lesson (it applies to guitar too, read the text below video part 1), check it out here: https://www.guitarmasterclass.net/misc-less...ng-major-scale/

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