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David Loberg Code, Western Michigan University

The point of music theory is to help you understand how music works, so you can be a better player. Playing the notes without understanding how or why they are put together is like reading a book by sounding out the words without knowing what they actually mean.

Most of what you need to know about how pitches are put together you can learn straight from the scales you play (or are supposed to play) every day. A major scale has seven different notes arranged in order like going up or down a set of stairs. If you repeat the first note when you reach the top there are actually eight notes. The stairs are a little uneven because they are made up of two different sizes of steps.


            b   b            
          a       a          
        g           g        
      f               f      
    e                   e    
  d                       d  
c                           c


This is why sometimes you need a bigger space between some adjacent notes and other times they are close together. The big steps are usually called whole steps; and the little ones half steps. All major scales follow the same pattern of whole and half steps:


Whole Whole Half Half Whole Whole Whole Half
G A B C D E F# G
D E F# G A B C# D
A B C# D E F# G# A


Even though your fingerings may change for different major scales, the spacing between notes will always be the same: W-W-H-W-W-W-H

Each step in a scale is called a scale degree. Scale degrees can be identified by numbers, solfege syllables, or function names:


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do
Tonic Supertonic Mediant Subdominant Dominant Sumediant Leading Tone Tonic
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