# Idiots guide to scales!

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by patrickroberts, Mar 5, 2001.

1. ### patrickroberts

Aug 21, 2000
Wales, UK
I have playin' a year and haven't learnt scale can someone help giving me an idiots guide to scale' cheers

2. ### bsplyr54Guest

Mar 3, 2001
Champaign, IL
yeah check out the "stuck in a rut" thread, in the same forum as this one. i did a quick overview of all the modes pplus the minor scales. if you have any questions, post them on this page. also, the major pentatonic has an intervali structure of wwtwt where the t stands for three half steps. the minor pentatonic has an intervallic structure of twwtw. modes can also be created from this using the same technique on the other thread, but are less common. also what might be helpful to you is the blues scale which is constructed twhhtw. hope this helps. any questions, just ask.
-paul

3. ### yawnsie

Apr 11, 2000
London
Well, the most basic definition of a scale that I can think of is a group of notes that belong in a certain key. There are many different scales and modes, which can define certain styles of music. The most common scales, and the ones you should learn first, are the major and minor scales.

The major scale is the natural C scale - when played in the key of C, all of the notes occur naturally (that is, without any sharps or flats). This means the scale reads, surpise, surprise, C D E F G A B C. Although tab is not really recommended, this is an overview of how to play the C major scale:

g 2 4 5

d 2 3 5

a 3 5

e

The good thing about these scales on a bass is that they are easily transposable - that is, they can be moved to any position on the neck to be played in a different key. By moving that shape above up by two frets, you get the D major scale, the notes of which are D E F# G A B C# D. You can use this to work out the notes that make up the major scale in any other key. This can also begin on any other string (although if you start it on the D or G string, you're obviously not going to be able to play the same shape.)

The minor scale is the A natural scale, or aeolian. (but that's going into modes) So, the notes of this in the key of A are, guess what, A B C D E F G A. Note how they are the same notes that make up the C major scale, but beginning in A. This is because A is the relative minor of C. The sixth note of the major scale in any key is that key's relative minor. Again, these are things you'll learn about eventually. (hopefully!) The A minor shape is:

g

d 5 7

a 5 7 8

e 5 7 8

Again, this can be played in any position to change the key. If we look at this scale in the key of C, just to compare the differences between the major and minor scale, we get C D Eb F G Ab Bb C. So, the differences are a flattened third, sixth, and seventh.

Play around with those scales, and the theory behind them until you get an idea of what you're doing. To be honest, that may not be 100%, and maybe I should have left this to more experienced and knowledgable posters, but hopefully it will be of some use. If any of it's wrong, I'm sure someone will put you, and me, right.

Good luck!

4. ### Usul

Shhhhh! Don`t let Jason Oldstead hear you say that or you will get a stern talking to young man!

This is the book I picked up from Barnes & Nobles(they may have to order it for you):Scales & Modes for the Bass by Steve Hall & Rob Manus.

This book is easy to use and covers most of the scales/modes you will need.Jason recommended this book to me and it`s only \$4.95.Hope that helps!

5. ### BoplicitySupporting Member

Here comes Jason--The Scale Ogre!

Actually, the reason I am such a stickler for learning scales is that scales show you where chords come from. You need chords too, maybe even more, depending on your style of music.

If you would like an Internet site that gives you scales, their chords and modes in every key, go to:

http://www.activebass.com

Click on "Bassics." Then you will be able to choose the scale, choose the key, choose the chords, see a fretboard diagram and choose whether you want the name of the note, the scale degree, or just dots. You can even hear how it sounds.

Still, I like the book mentioned above. It is a good basic book, easy to understand. You say you don't know any scales, so I assume you don't really want a jazz theory book yet.

Good luck. If you have any questions, come back here. Lots of folks will be glad to help you.

JO

6. ### sn0wblind

Apr 20, 2000
I just remember the "finger patterns" of each scale, like this simplified verson I did....

Major Scale:
steps(W,W,H,W,W,W,H)
|----|---|---|---|---|
|---|-x-|-X-|---|---|
|-x-|---|-x-|---|-x-|
|-X-|---|-x-|---|-x-|

--this can be played any where on the fretboard..

just remember this is a simplified version, if you would like I can send you all 7 modes, or post them or sumthing , just let me know....

7. ### BoplicitySupporting Member

Patrick, I've been giving some thought to your situation. I'll get my butt kicked for this, but I know the book, "The Jazz Theory Book' by Mark Levine is venerated here. I'm sitting here with the book in front of me. By page 15 it is already discussing modes. Also, it is a hefty forty dollar investment.

You've played a year and don't yet know a scale. I just really believe that for you a basic book would be a far less intimidating start. I will suggest two books here that are basic, plus I still like the one mentioned above, "Sacale and Modes for Bass."

"Play Electric Bass from Chord Symbols" by Roger Filiberto, Mel Bay \$4.95

This book has both standard notation and tab. It gets you thinking in terms of chords and gives you simple patterns you can apply readily beyond just root playing. It starts with simple root/five combinations, then moves on to more interesting combinations.

"Harmonic Colours for Bass Guitar" (with CD) by David Gross, Warner Brothers \$19.95

Written in both standard notation and tab, it has simple theory, explains scales, intervals, and chords without getting into jazz levels. If you took even a year or more to work your way through this book, you'd have an excellent foundation to then move on to more challenging books like Levine's. Also the CD is a tremendous help in interpreting the "feel" of the exercizes.

Whatever you do choose to do ultimately, remember there are many bassists here that can answer your questions. Good luck.

JO

8. ### jazzbo

Aug 25, 2000
San Francisco, CA
I liked some of the above explanations, but he did ask for an "idiot's guide," so I thought I'd explain the conceptual piece a little. If this is too basic, I apologize.

Music is music, and is pretty wide opened, but learning the language of Western Tonal music is based in learning scales. There are twelve possible pitches:

A A# B C C# D D# E F F# G, then back to A.
A Bb B C Db D Eb E F Gb G, then back to A.

(It's a vicious cycle!)

So, I have two lists of the pitches. Some are the same, some are different. Those that are different, are really the same pitch. A# is said to be an enharmonic of Bb. More of that later. You just want to know about scales!

Out of these twelve pitches, comes all of the music you're used to hearing. In my opinion, the best way to become familiar with these, is from a piano or keyboard.

Scales talk about the distance between pitches, and how they relate. The distance between pitches is known as intervals. Look back at the list of all 12 pitches. The distance between A to A# is just one step, eh? This is known as a semi-tone (or half-step). The distance between A to B is two steps. This is known as a tone (or whole-step). So now we have two different intervals we know, semi-tones and whole-tones. Knowing just this information, the 12 pitches and semi- and whole-tones, we can learn about scales.

The list of all twelve pitches above, is known as a chromatic scale. A chromatic scale is always 12 pitches, and each pitch is a semi-tone away from the other. This is an important scale; however, I'm going to speak more in-depth about another type of scale. The diatonic scale is a very important scale to start from. More commonly, it is referred to as the major scale. So, how do we figure out what a major scale is.

A major scale is just a formula used to create a certain musical language from the 12 pitches. Let's start with any pitch, let's say "C." So if we start from "C" and build a major/diatonic scale, we are said to be in the key of C.

How do you build that scale? Here's the formula:

tone - tone - semitone - tone - tone - tone - semitone

So, from C, we move up one tone, to D, another tone to E, a semitone to F, another tone to G, a tone to A, a tone to B, and another semitone, back to C (an octave higher).

So, using the above formula of (t-t-s-t-t-t-s), a major scale in the key of C, will look like:

C D E F G A B c

(I made the octave "C" lower case to show it's an octave higher). The key of the scale, C, is also said to be the root.

So, we've discovered how to make a C Major scale. Congrats. What you really have to do at this point, is take that same formula, and learn the scale for all 12 pitches. The best way to do this is through the Circle of Fifths (aka Cycle of Fourths). There is a thread in Miscellaneous about this.

From understanding where a major scale comes from, you can understand all the modes, including the minor scale. And even more importantly, you can understand the triads derived from a scale. I would include something about that, but you only mentioned scales. If you found this helpful, and would like me to continue on about the triads, just let me know. If this wasn't helpful, and you knew all of this already, and think I'm a dork, that's okay too.

Additional scales that I didn't mention are: pentatonic, blues, melodic minor, harmonic minor, and many many more.

9. ### Usul

Jazzbo!

Keep going,I`m very interested(even though I don`t quite grasp all the nuances).

Without a teacher,I`m at the point now where I have glimpses of "insight" and understanding about all this technical stuff....hmmm....Like I kinda sorta know why this and that go together but can`t explain it,fully comprehend it.

Hopefully I can get a teacher sometime this year...I have been practicing my scales(for now just two at a time)and it helps me anticipate/understand how songs are made and "work".How does music/the laws of music work in the eastern world?I always here people mentioning "western world".Would be interesting to compare/contrast them.

Usul

10. ### jazzbo

Aug 25, 2000
San Francisco, CA
Thanks Usul. Glad it helped. So, to continue.....

Out of the twelve possible pitches in music, we discovered how to build a diatonic scale. As an example we built Cmaj. Really, the best thing to do is sit down and learn all of the Major scales for the 12 different pitches, and their enharmonics. The best way to do this is through the cycle of fifths. I'm not going to go in depth about that, because Gard did that already, better than I ever could, in the Miscellaneous forum.

To reinforce the theory behind building a scale, let's choose another key. For example, how 'bout Fmaj? So, here are our possible pitches again:

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

This is the A chromatic scale if you recall. Just to get back to chromatics again, the chromatic scale is a scale of 12 pitches, from root to octave, that are each a semi-tone apart. So a D# chromatic scale, would look like this:

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

Easy, right? It is important to note the intervals, or distance between each pitch. The chromatic scale is simple because it's just all the tones. So let's get back to Fmaj. The formula for a major scale again is "t-t-s-t-t-t-s." Where "t" stands for "tone" and "s" stands for "semi-tone." To reiterate, a tone is a distance of one full step, a semi-tone is a half-step. Now, why is a full step really like two steps? I think the best way to explain this is from looking at a keyboard. If you find F on the keyboard, then the next white key is G. That's a full step, which is a distance of two pitches. F# (or Gb) is between those two pitches, a black key, but it is just a half step. Weird. Have I confused myself well enough yet?

Okay, Fmaj.

F, then using the formula, find the pitch one tone away, which is G. The next step is another tone, which is A. The next step asks for a semi-tone, which is A# right? Now we run into a problem. A major scale, when written, can only be represented by each pitch letter once. So what I mean, is that you can't have two As, even if one is A (without a sharp or flat, it's A natural), another is Ab, and another is A#. But Bb is the same as A#, no?

So, so far, we have:

F G A Bb

We have done the t-t-s part of the formula to get G - A - Bb. No we have to move another whole tone from Bb to what? C. No another whole tone to D, another whole tone to E, and a semi-tone, which gets you back to the octave, F. Here's our scale:

F G A Bb C D E f

No we have a Fmaj. scale. Try and do it for Gmaj. You should come up with:

G A B C D E F# g

If you don't, look through it again and figure out what went wrong.

So, I said this post was about triads, eh? Okay here we go:

What's a triad? Well, it's a type of chord. So, what's a chord? A chord is usually a group of 3 or more notes (pitches) played in unison. Now I know what you're thinking to yourself. Where can I learn to play me some of dem phat pitches? Okay, maybe you're not, never mind.

A triad is a chord consisting of 3 notes wherein the intervals are root, 3rd, 5th. Back to those tricking intervals. So, an interval being the distance between two notes, we've learned about a semi-tone (minor 2nd) and a whole-tone (major 2nd). I'm not going to get too much into intervals, Harvard's Music Dictionary has an excellent definition. I'm going to introduce two other important intervals.

The major 3rd is an interval wherein the two pitches are 2 whole-tones apart.

The minor 3rd is an interval wherein the two pitches are 1 1/2 whole-tones (one whole-tone, one semi-tone) apart.

Now, you actually have the basis to build all your chords. My original bass teacher used to try and have me think about major and minor 3rds when I was away from my bass. So if I was driving my car, or in a really boring class, I would think, okay, what's a minor 3rd from Bb, or a major 3rd from E, or a major 3rd from F? Really, you should do this as much as possible. Some examples:

E up a major 3rd is G#
E up a minor 3rd is G
C up a major 3rd is E
C up a minor 3rd is Eb

So, WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?! Knowing major and minor 3rds gives you the tools to build triads.

Here are the triads that appear naturally in a major scale. I'll explain in a few minutes what it means for a triad to appear in the major scale.

• Major chord:
• root + Major 3rd + minor 3rd
[*]Minor chord: root + minor 3rd + Major 3rd
[*]Diminished chord: root + minor 3rd + minor 3rd

So, using that information, let's construct a Major chord. The root is also the name of the chord. Let's stay with C. So, a Cmaj chord will take the root, C, move up a Major 3rd, E, then up a minor 3rd, G.

Cmaj. chord = C - E - G

How 'bout a minor chord. C, the root, up a minor 3rd, or Eb, up a Major 3rd, which is G.

Cmin. chord = C - Eb - G

And a diminished chord. C, the root, up a minor 3rd, or Eb, up a minor 3rd again, which is Gb.

Cdim. chord = C - Eb - Gb

Congrats. 3 chords constructed. How does this relate to the major scale?

Back to Cmaj: C D E F G A B c

Let's use some kind of backwards thinking from what we just learned, and build chords with each scale degree, using the notes of the scale. To do this, the easy way to think of it, is to take the root and use every other note, as every other note in the major scale is a 3rd from the other. Whether it's a minor 3rd or Major 3rd is what we'll figure out. Confused, yet? It gets better.

So, let's do that.

First note of the scale = C. The scale gives us every other note as C - E - G. (Look familiar?)

C being the root (roman number I), E is a Major 3rd from C, and G is a minor 3rd from E. What chord has a root, then Major 3rd, then minor 3rd? Major chord.

The chord found naturally from the root (I) of a major scale, is a major chord.

The second scale position (ii) is D. Using the scale, the chord we would find is D - F - A. D being the root, F is a minor 3rd from D, and A a Major 3rd from F. Root + minor 3rd + Major 3rd = minor chord.

The chord found naturally from the ii of a major scale, is a minor chord.

Do the same for each position, next with E (E - G - B), then F (F - A - C), then G (G - B - D), then A (A - C - E), then finally B (B - D - F). You should get:

C D E F G A B c
I ii iii IV V vi vii I
Maj min min Maj Maj min dim Maj

Notice the Roman number scale degrees. Also notice that the major chords are capitalized, and the minor chords (or diminished) are lower-case. You'll find this common in most musical notation.

What this tells us, is that in every single major scale, the first note of the scale (the I, or root, position) is going to be a major key. Here's what this would look like for Fmaj.

F G A Bb C D E f
I ii iii IV V vi vii I
Maj min min Maj Maj min dim Maj

The "I" chord from Fmaj, is F - A - C, a major chord. Also, didja notice that this chord also appears as the "IV" position of Cmaj? Neat, eh? Then, the viii chord in Fmaj is Edim, or E - G - Bb.

I think I forgot where I was going with all this. I hope that this was helpful. I guess next, I can talk about 7th chords, minor scales, and maybe a couple other scales like blues and pentatonic.

11. ### Usul

Hey could you repeat that?It did`nt post right.

LOL J/K!

It is going to take me awile and a little study to fully grasp all of this.Don`t worry,you are not posting in vain,my freind!I am printing out all of this for referance.

The back of my scales book has diagram of the fretboard from 1st to 12th frets for all four strings of the bass.I tried to match up the diagram with what you were posting but it was`nt jiving.

Not sure if I am "reading"/using the diagram correctly,but I will keep trying.

Thanks again for your time in posting all this,I do appreciate it(even if I am not understanding all of it...yet anyways!)

Usul

12. ### jazzbo

Aug 25, 2000
San Francisco, CA
Well, I'm not sure how you're looking at the fretboard, what you're trying to interpret from it. But, remember that the principles that I'm outlining are basic music theory principles. I haven't mentioned how they relate to a particular instrument yet. I really believe the piano is the best instrument for first learning scales and chords, seeing as how intervals form, and what they mean, but you can apply this to the bass.

So put away the things I've been speaking of so far, and look at the bass. If I'm understanding you correctly, you're looking at the notes of the fretboard starting low, and going as high as the 12th (octave) fret.

The strings are tuned E-A-D-G from lowest to highest. What you may notice is that the strings are spaced a fourth apart. Then each individual string's pitch can be manipulated by fretting. Starting with the E string, when you fret from the first fret, you raise the pitch by one semitone. So the E string from the open string to the 12th fret is:

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

Just an E chromatic scale, as each fret is a half-step from the next. If you're trying to apply the major scale, you have to find the notes that work yourself, so if your fretboard essentially looks like this:

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

, then the trick is to pick out a major scale on your own. The fretboard itself is not designed to naturally show the major scale. However, as the intervals between the strings is the same, transposing on a stringed instrument is fabulously simple. If you look for Cmaj, (C-D-E-F-G-A-B-c), starting with the E string, you'll find your scale by playing (in tab form ):

G 2 - 4 5
D 2 3 - 5
A 2 3 - 5
E - 3 - 5

This is all the possible notes of the Cmaj scale in a four-fret position at the lowest point on the neck (to play a complete scale). The lowest note I show is the 3rd fret of the E string (G), the fifth of the scale. It's a possible note of the scale, but many people prefer to only show the notes on the A-D-G strings because you can play one full octave of the scale that way. That's fine too, I just wanted to show you where all the notes in that finger position are. So you'll notice the 3rd fret of the A string is C, and the 5th fret of the G string is C. If you play that pattern with that beginning and end point, you've played one octave of Cmaj.

If you wanted to play a Db major scale, let's use the t-t-s-t-t-t-s formula to get the Dbmaj. scale, which would be:

Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb C db

And to show, in tab form, that scale on the fretboard, you would have:

G 3 - 5 6
D 3 4 - 6
A 3 4 - 6
E - 4 - 6

Notice how the pattern just moved one step higher on the fretboard? The root of the first scale was C. The root of the second scale was Db, which is a semi-tone higher than C, eh? So just move the pattern one semi-tone higher.

Personally, I think memorizing patterns is fine, but it's better to memorize the notes of the scale, or the intervals, and discover patterns on your own, it will make you very familiar with the fretboard.

13. ### Usul

uh........"she said...." he said...."

Keep going,it is making sense little by little....*scratching head*

Just `cuz i be self taught ,don`t meant i be dumm!
lol

All this music theory reminds me of mathamatics!(my WORST subject ever!!!)But at least now I am fired up about the subject!

Mach mal weiter!

Usul

14. ### forced_martyr

i can finally actually say i learned something. after playing for 3 years i decided to learn scales and i can alomost understand what you are saying! keep it going i am actually getting into!! i actually started taking notes and i never even did that is school!! thanks alot for input!!

15. ### Fretless Friday

Jazzbo, you are doing a fantastic job of making scales simple.

I think you might need to explain some of the terms you are using for those who don't know. Terms like Diminished, chromatic, diatonic, etc.

I get them. I am just thinking Usul would benefit from the terminology explanation.

Keep up the good work!

FF

17. ### jazzbo

Aug 25, 2000
San Francisco, CA
Thanks guys. I need to re-read my last post to see where I left off. I'll add some more later today!

18. ### jazzbo

Aug 25, 2000
San Francisco, CA
Before I go on, here are some definitions of some "need-to-know" terms. Some of these are straight from THE HARVARD CONCISE DICTIONARY OF MUSIC, a must have for anyone serious in learning theory. I've paraphrased, added, or rewritten where I thought it made it easier to understand.

PITCH: The perceived highness or lowness of a sound. It is a function primarily of frequency, though at some etremes of frequency, intensity may also affect the perception of pitch.

There are twelve pitches (or pitch classes) in Western tonal music, each of which is represented in each octave of the entire range of pitches.

In slang: "D**n girl, dem be some crazy pitches! Get them pitches out my face!, knowuti'msayin?

NOTE: The signs with which music is written on a staff. Colloquially, see PITCH.

SCALE: The underlying tonal material of some particular music, arranged in an order or rising pitches. The basic scale is the diatonic scale, usually referred to as the major scale, as distinguished from the pure minor scale. Both major and minor scales may be transposed to start on any one of the twelve pitches (pitch classes). Thus there are twelve major scales and twelve minor scales, on in each key.

KEY: In a song (composition), the main pitch or "tonal center" to which all of the composition's pitches are related; by extension, the entire tonal material itself in relation to its center. Key is practically synonymous with tonality, since one may describe a composition as being the key of, e.g., C.

TONALITY: A system of organizing pitch in which a single pitch (or tone, call the tonic), is made central. "Key" is the more popular term. Tonality being rarely used.

CHROMATIC: An adjective applied to the scale that includes all of the 12 pitches (and thus all of the 12 semitones) contained in an octave, (as opposed to the diatonic scale).

MAJOR SCALE: Consists of 5 whole tones (t) and 2 semitones (s) in the following arrangement: t-t-s-t-t-t-s, where the first tone is the key or tonal center.

MINOR SCALE: Consists of 5 whole tones (t) and 2 semitones (s) in the following arrangement: t-s-t-t-s-t-t, also where the first tone is the key or tonal center.

CHORD: Three or more tones sounded simultaneously, two simultaneous tones usually being designated as an interval. The most basic chords are the major and minor triads and their inversions. Other chords that play an important role are the seventh chord, ninth chord, the augmented sixth chord, and the diminished triad.

ARPEGGIO: The notes of a chord played one after another instead of simultaneously. (Important for bassists, as bassists played arpeggios more often than not).

INTERVAL: The distance (in terms of pitch) between two pitches. Intervals are named according to (1) the number of diatonic scale degrees comprised, as represented in the letter names of the two pitches, and (2) the number of semitones between the two pitches.

I'm not going to get into this definition that well. Harvard's dictionary has a table which demonstrates it exceptionally well, but took me several reads to fully understand. As stated in a previous post, the only important intervals, for now, are the major 3rd (2 whole tones) and minor 3rd (1.5 whole tones).

TRIAD: A chord of three pitches consisting of a pitch called the root and the pitches a third and fifth above it. There are four kinds of triad, depending on the exact sizes of the intervals combined: major, minor, diminished, augmented.

DIMINISHED TRIAD: A chord consisting of the root, a minor 3rd, and then another minor 3rd. Example: C - Eb - Gb. C being the root, Eb a minor 3rd (1.5 whole tones) from the root, and Gb being a minor 3rd from Eb. This chord is said to be dissonant. It appears naturally in a major scale in the 7th position.

AUGMENTED: A chord consisting of the root, a major 3rd, and then another major 3rd. Example: D - F# - A#. D being the root, F# a major 3rd (2 whole tones) from D, and A# a major 3rd from F#. This chord is also said to be dissonant, and does not appear naturally in the diatonic scale.

CONSONANCE / DISSONANCE: Popularly, a combination of pitches that are pleasing or displeasing. More accurately, consonances are those combinations of pitches that have been used in Western tonal music as suitable points of at least momentary repose and not necessarily requiring resolution. Dissonances are those combinations that, in Western tonal music, do not serve as points or repose but require, instead, resolution to some consonance.

This is an extremely subjective issue. The best way to understand this is to hear consance versus dissonance. Major and minor triads are said to be consanant while augmented and diminished triads are said to be dissonant. Play both on a piano. First play a diminished chord, then a major just after. Now try it the other way around. Listen very carefully to the sound of both, and listen how, in the first example, the diminished chord resolves to the major (if you're in the same key with both chords). Dissonant should never be confused with "bad." Many composers have used dissonance to make very "pleasing" music. The best example I think, is Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring." I am not going to touch on this subject much more for now.

ENHARMONIC: Tones that are actually one and the same degree of the chromatic scale, but are named and written differently, e.g., G# and Ab, which are thus said to be "enharmonically equivalent." Other examples include, F# and Gb, A# and Bb, B# and C, E# and F.

Next, um, how about 7th chords built from the scale. Or, the minor scale. Any votes?

19. ### iain s

Please make sure that you have some fun playing bass. Learning scales is great but dont lose sight of the ultimate goal of having fun.

20. ### jazzbo

Aug 25, 2000
San Francisco, CA
Isn't that what all the Fieldy threads are for?