You could call a scale the big brother of a chord. Again, if you want to keep it simple a scale is a set of notes and these notes are selected following a certain formula.

How to build a scale?

The most common scales are the minor and major scale. They consist of 7 notes each. Starting from the base note you add six more notes that are a certain distance away from the base note.

Examples:

  • The A minor scale starts with the base note A. Then it covers all other white keys on a piano keyboard. The seven notes of the A minor scale are: A, B, C, D, E, F, G
  • The C major scale starts with the base note C. Interestingly, it also covers all white keys on a piano keyboard. The notes are: C, D, E, F, G, A, B.

In fact, there is not difference in the “note material” between these two scales, just the order is different.

There are other more exotic scale types:

  • The bebop minor or bebop major scale get one extra note and consist of 8 notes. For example the A bebop minor scale is:  A, B, C, D, E, F, F#, G.
  • The blues scale (ok, there are several blues scales) consists of only six notes. A, C, D, D#, E, G

MelodyBuilder’s chord and scale database already contains around 50 scale types. So, it shouldn’t get boring in the next few years or decades. 🙂

What are scales good for?

A scale provides the note material for your song. Like in a chord, the notes, because they are following a certain building formula, work together in a certain way. When you use a scale, you also only use chords that are using the notes of your scale. There are a lot of exception to this. Most “chart music” doesn’t use these exceptions and you can go a long way with the simple formula:

  • Pick a scale.
  • Build a chord progression from chords using only the notes of this scale.
  • Build your melodies only by using notes from this scale.

Also you might wonder why for the major and minor scale in MelodyBuilder’s chord database some chords are marked blue and have an extra roman number. These numbers refer to the so-called harmonic function of these chords. Using a minor or major scale, you usually can build exactly one chord for each note of the scale that is either minor, major, augmented or diminished. Ignore the other chords like sus2 or m7, they don’t count for that.

The first chord in a minor scale is always a minor chord. The last chord is always a major chord. Each of the 7 chords has a certain function according to the theory. For example, the first chord (called the tonic) acts as the resting point of a chord progression. Everything in the progression is more or less a movement towards the resting point. On the other hand playing the second chord you will create a lot of tension that in the ears of your listeners screams to be resolved, ideally by some movement back to the first chord.

A lot of people spent a lot of time over the past centuries to figure out which arrangements make sense. For example, independently of what scale you are using, playing the first, fifth, fourth chord always sounds good. These progressions are called cadences. Katy Perry’s Hot N Cold is the cadence I V II IV (first chord, fifth chord, second chord, fourth chord). A Google search for this topic will bring up a lot of more formulas for building these progressions. Or you try it yourself in MelodyBuilder, play around and look for something new and unusual.