What are Scales?

A scale in music is just a set of notes played in order.

On piano, we usually start you with the C major scale.

Play all the white notes from C to C, one at a time, in order.

That’s the C major scale.

It’s the “C” scale because it starts and ends on C.

It’s the “major” scale because it follows a specific pattern of half steps and whole steps.

T = Tonic (the note you start from)

W = Whole Step

H = Half Step


There are 12 notes in music. You can build a major scale from each note. Using the code, here are all 12 major scales:

Tonic Whole Step Whole Step Half Step Whole Step Whole Step Whole Step Half Step
G A B C D E F# G
D E F# G A B C# D
A B C# D E F# G# A
E F# G# A B C# D# E
B C# D# E F# G# A# B
Gb Ab Bb Cb Db Eb F Gb
Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb C Db
Ab Bb C Db Eb F G Ab
Eb F G Ab Bb C D Eb
Bb C D Eb F G A Bb
F G A Bb C D E F

Here are a few interesting facts about the patterns of these scales:

  1. We’re going in order of 5ths, starting with C.
    • What’s the 5th note in the C scale? G. So the next scale is G.
    • This concept is called the “circle of 5ths”
    • We go in this order for a bunch of reasons which will become clear to you later on.
  2. If we go in the order of 5ths, then:
    • Each new scale adds one sharp, until we get to Gb (with 6 flats), and then we reduce the number of flats until we are back to 0.
      • (C has 0 sharps. G has 1 sharp. D has 2 sharps. etc.)
    • The first four notes of the new scale are the same as the last four notes of the last scale.
      • (C major ends with GABC. G major begins with GABC.)