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The Structure of Major and Minor Scales

by KicknGuitar

19 Dec 2007
Views: 47533

Here, we will learn the Major scale & Minor scale's structure in music theory. You will be walked through one approach to find a Major scale on your own. Feel free to play the notes on the guitar as you follow along.
This lesson assumes you know all twelve notes chromatically and understand accidentals (sharps, # and flats, b).
i.e. D, D#/Eb, E/Fb, E#/F, F#/Gb, G...

This lesson also assumes you have some basic experience with Half and Whole steps.
i.e. B to C is a Half step. F to G is a Whole step. G# to Bb is a Whole step, etc.

The Major Scale: Foundation to Music

The Major scale is a specific pattern. This pattern is applied to many branches of music, especially other scales and chords.
This pattern uses "Whole Steps" (W) and "Half Steps" (H) between each interval in the scale.

Interval: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8(1)
Steps: W W H W W W H

W-W-H-W-W-W-H-W-W-H-W-W-W-H-W-W-H-W-W-W-H... and so on.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

1st and 2nd Intervals: a Whole step
For our first example we will use C as the first interval. From C we go up a whole step. C to C#/Db is a half step, and C# to D is another half step, giving us one whole step between C and D.
2nd and 3rd intervals: a Whole step
D to E is yet again another whole step (D,D#/Eb,E).
3rd and 4th Intervals: a Half step
E to F is a half step. Remember, E to F and B to C do not contain any space in between, thus they are a half step away from each other.

Continue this pattern and write down the notes you come up with for each interval starting with the first, C. Check your results with the following,

Interval: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8(1)
Steps: W W H W W W H
Note: C D E F G A B C

Side note:
It is important to remember C is always the first interval since scales change. But it's always the first interval in the C Major Scale.
Same goes for remembering any other note with any interval. Make sure you are referring to the proper key. C may be the first in C Major, but is it really the first in E Major?

The Major Scale pattern you just learned using whole and half steps can be used to find the notes in any Major and minor scale. In fact that is the next part of this lesson, learning the minor scale pattern. You may wish to focus on the Major scale a little longer before continuing to minor.

The Minor Scale: The Relative of the Major

We've already studied the major scale pattern and should have it down pat. Now we need to find the minor scale pattern which starts on the sixth interval of the Major scale.

Interval: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1
Steps: W W H W W W H W W H W W W H

From here, we merely recount our intervals starting on the 6th interval of the Major scale (but counting from 1 for our Minor scale),

Interval: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1
Steps: W W H W W W H W W H W W W H
Interval: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

With the newly organized interval scheme, we must look over the steps,

Steps: W H W W H W W
Interval: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

As you can see, we didn't really change the pattern, we merely started at a different part of the Major pattern. The new order, W-H-W-W-H-W-W is the Minor scale pattern. Let's apply this to our C Major scale.

Our C Major scale is,

Interval: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8(1)
Steps: W W H W W W H
Note: C D E F G A B C

As stated from before, starting on the sixth interval gives us a minor scale. The sixth interval of the C Major scale is A. We start on A and of course, end on A,

Interval: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1 2 3 4 5
Steps: W W H W W W H W W H W W
Note: C D E F G A B C D E F G A
Interval: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

We now have what we call the "Relative minor" of C Major. Every sixth interval of any major scale gives us the relative minor of that key.

The relative of C Major is A minor.

Interval: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8(1)
Steps: W H W W H W W
Note: A B C D E F G A

Give this formula a try with G as the first interval. Then try it for D, then A, E, B. The try it on the accidental notes like A#. You can check your scales by looking at bodom's lesson on Keys found here,

I hope you now understand Major and minor scales. Feel free to question, comment and Kvetch.

Last Edited on April 14th, 2010.



this has cleared alot of my frustrations alot, big thanks man


Great lesson easy to follow, I noticed though in the second paragraph you state that G# to Bb is a half step, I thought it would be a full step (G#-A-Bb/A#)


Thanks for the correction, must have slipped whenever I bothered to even look over this.



I didnt understand anything will you teach da easy way


Thank you, I never really knew there was a connection so simple like that between major and minor scales


You use the word 'interval' a lot. 27 times in this article, to be precise. Unfortunately, I think your usage of the word is quite incorrect, as 'inter' is greek for 'between', thus in this case the word means something like 'distance between two notes'.
In stead of 'notes', you say 'interval' :/

So for example the first interval (C to D) is indeed a whole step, but C is not an interval. This also means that you must line up the interval numbers with the steps (W and H) in stead of lining them op with the notes in the light colored table-like boxes.


Marijnvdzaag, You're correct. However simply because I did not specify the quality of the interval is something I have never heard anyone complain about. I subconsciously figured interval would be better used to prep anyone into learning the quality of intervals.

See here for where I define the quality intervals,


Hello KicknGuitar,

Great lesson !

I have something to ask but let me first share a point with you.

Learning this stuff is easy theoretically but applying it practically in all guitar positions is quite hard and take a long time to organize. However, i noticed that these sequences of Whole and Half steps can be summarized into 5 forms or shapes of the Major or Minor scale. (Even any scale)

Sure! these shapes are the result of the mentioned sequences. I can tell you that i can play good solos right after memorizing those shapes.

So, my question is:

Is memorizing these 5 shapes enough to produce nice solos? or do i need to learn some other stuff to improve my solo? ... I know I know! Improvisation is a must. However, Improvisation is to be felt more than to be studied.

For example, I know the 5 forms of the Major and Minor Pentatonic scales as i know my name. I can now play most of pink floyd, Eagles, Guns N Roses, ... etc, solos without a single mistake just because i know the 5 forms. But, i can't tell you which Whole step or Half step in a certain position. I just know them by their shapes, that's all. And because my ear is good in music, i can shift between the 5 forms easily in all the positions.

Is this a professional way to learn solos?



hi dear KicknGuitar
how can I underestand the scale of a song with earing or from its note sheet ?

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