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Week 22: More About Scales

In Week 20 we started discussing the use of the major scale. Since scales are really the basics of all music theory understanding, let’s get the New Year off to a good start by exploring these basics.

Before going any further I want to clarify one point. When I start talking about scales, I’m sure I’m going to scare off some people who equate scales with tedious classical music studies. So I will go on the record as saying that I am strictly a non-classical, pop piano kind of guy. I do not know how to read music. I never had a formal music education. I’m just a fun time fakin’ it, by ear, rock and roll, country and western, gospel, latin, blues, and boogie-woogie piano pounder who has delusions that some day he’ll actually grasp jazz.

Yet I worship scales.

On the other hand I played professionally in bands and as a solo player for a number of years before I learned my first scale. I’m not saying you can’t reach your dreams musically unless you know all your scales. I’m just saying that if you really want to understand what you’re doing, scales are a must.

OK, on with the show.

I copied the chart I included last month that showed the C, G, and F scales and their numbered positions. Let me suggest right now that you forget all about Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti, and Do and replace those meaningless syllables with 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 1.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1
G A B C D E F# G
F G A Bb C D E F

Strive to associate each letter name of each scale with its number. In Week 20 we learned that we can make any major chord by combining notes 1 - 3 - 5 from any scale. The other numbers have some significance too.

For example, add the 7th note of any scale to the rest of the major chord (often referred to as the major triad) and you,ve reading a major seventh chord.

Word of caution: The Major Seventh chord is NOT the same as the much more common “seventh” chord (which is more precisely known as the “dominant seventh” chord.

There is a world of difference on many levels between a C7 and a Cmaj7 (called a C Major Seventh). To make a Cmaj7 look at the chart and simply add the seventh note of the scale to the first, third, and fifth. Thus, a Cmaj7 is spelled C - E - G - B.

The much more common C7 doesn’t even contain a seventh at all. It’s actually the flatted seventh of the scale or B flat. Thus a C7 is C - E - G - B flat. You can still use the scale chart to figure out (dominant) seventh chords. You just have to alter the seventh note by lowering it a half step.

Thus to make a G7 you add an F to the G major chord. To make an F7 you add an E flat note to the F major chord.

We’ll delve a little deeper into scales next time.

For further information on basic chords see Popular Chord Style Piano.

For more information on scales see How to Play Piano by Ear.

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