Well, you have all heard of the term “scale”. But what exactly is a scale and how are guitar scales formed? You know, in my development as a guitar player, I often stumbled upon these important notions without really knowing what they actually are. This is one major goal of this site, to explain the basic notions and free the developing guitarists from these weak points as to be able to release the creativity.
The scales are, put simply, a succession of notes, which are determined by a formula. Every song is based upon a certain scale, or even more than just one. There are infinite possibilities of available scales, but the mother of all scales will always be the major scale. Every scale is based upon the intervallic relationships between its notes. The major scale has the following formula :
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
W W H W W W H
What do those weird symbols mean? The numbers represent the steps of the scale, whilst W means whole step and H, half step.
So, keeping in mind these facts, let’s construct the C Major Scale:
We start from the root of the scale, which is C.
We go one step further ( 2 semitones ), and we get the D note.
We go another whole step further, and we get the E.
We go a half step further ( 1 semitone ) and we get the F.
We go another whole step, where we find the G.
We go another whole step, and we stumble upon the A.
We go a whole step once more, and yes, you got it: the B
Finally, we go a half step, where we find the C, which is one octave higher than the first C.
Now, another important scale you have all heard about is the minor scale. There are actually 3 types of minor scales, but the general term refers to the natural minor scale. Besides the natural minor, there are also the harmonic minor scale and the melodic minor scale. To check those two out, please go to the scales section. Now, let’s focus on the natural minor scale, which has the following formula:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
W H W W H W W
As you can see, in the natural minor scale, the semitones are found between the 2nd and 3rd notes of the scale, as well as between the 5th and the 6th notes of the scale. Given this fact, let’s construct the A natural minor scale, following the same procedure as with the C Major. The result will be:
A B C D E F G A
What does this scale have in common with the C Major? Well, quite simply, the notes! That’s also the reason why it’s called the relative minor of the C Major scale. It is the only minor scale with no flats or sharps! As you probably have already guessed, every major scale has its relative minor scale. To find it, simply go 3 semitones down from the root of the major scale whose relative minor you want to find. When I realized these simple facts, I found myself asking two simple questions, that nobody seemed to concretely answer:
1) Ok, then what’s the difference between a major scale and its relative minor? In our case, the C Major and the A minor scales.
2) How can the fact that they have the same notes help me?
I will answer these questions now, in a very understandable way, as for you not to go through the frustrations that I did. For the first questions, the answer is the harmonic context. You see, the intervallic relationships between the notes of a scale determines the way the scale sounds and what chords can be formed from it. So, in a minor sounding song, the atmosphere will most likely be nostalgic, or melancholic, it’s very well suited for ballads. In a major scale song, the effect will be quite the opposite. For further understanding, please go to the section called Forming chords from a scale.
As for the second question, the answer is: hey, if they have the same notes, than it means they have the same patterns. Yes, if you learn the 7 patterns of the major scale, then you have already learnt the minor scale! For example, on the site you can find the 7 patterns for C Major scale. As a matter of fact, by learning those, you also learn its relative minor scale, which is, of course, A minor. This applies for every major scale and its relative minor.