For several weeks we’ve been discussing horizontal music, how music works in time. This week we return to vertical music: what is the framework of pitches on which we build our songs?
So far in the music theory series we’ve learned the following about pitches:
- Pitches are frequencies: vibrations moving through the air measured in cycles per second (hertz).
- Octaves are created every time we double a frequency. The pitch A is 220hz. We perceive 440hz as the same pitch, just higher – an octave higher.
- Western music has split each octave into 12 tones, or half steps. This can be easily seen on the piano.
[If this is new to you, read part two of the series on whole steps and half steps before going further.]
Rarely does a piece of music use all twelve pitches. Rather, we build our songs around seven notes of a scale.
There are many types of scales. In part two of this series I gave you this audio example:
- C major
- C harmonic minor
- C dorian
- C whole-tone
5. C minor pentatonic
6. C mixolydian
7. C major
Each of these scales have a unique color. What is it that sets them apart from each other? It is the pattern of whole steps and half steps.
The Major Scale
The modern worship, pop, or rock player can go extremely far by simply understanding the major scale.
Tonalities outside the major scale have never been used widely in popular music, but today their use is even more rare.
For instance, I remember as a kid we'd sing minor songs in church.
We don't sings songs like that any more.
Nearly 100%of the songs played in worship services today are in a major key using a major scale. (There are exceptions, like “Revelation Song” that is built around a mixolydian scale.)
What is the major scale?
The major scale is simply a collection of whole steps and half steps. The major scale is built as follows: W W H W W W H. Rather than writing about it, I decided a video would be the best vehicle to discuss it today.
The major scale is the framework for pitches in modern worship music. If you do not know your major scales in all twelve keys, what are you waiting on?
People that do not know or understand their major scales are at a severe disadvantage: they are managing 12 tones for every song when they only need to worry about seven.
Knowing and internalizing your major scales has a huge payoff. Between muscle memory and cognitive understanding, you should find fewer wrong notes, more command of your instrument, and better memorization of songs.