Jazz Theory, Scales And Modes

Jazz Theory: The Major Scale

February 23, 2009

In this lesson we will learn everything there is to know about the major scale and how you can use it in your improvisations. The major scale, sometimes called the Ionian mode, is the starting point for all music theory and is without doubt the most important scale you will ever learn. Every musician, no matter what style of music they play needs to know about the major scale and how the major scale is constructed. In this lesson we will take a look at the notes of the major scale, the chords of the major scale and then we will show you the notes of the major scale in every key.

The Notes Of The Major Scale

The major scale is made up of even notes and has the following intervals:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

The major scale in the key of C has the following notes:

C D E F G A B

You can also write the intervals of the major scale like this:
Tone – Tone – Semitone – Tone – Tone – Tone – Semitone

All of the notes in the major scale have names and although not essential to know, they are useful and come up time and again when talking about jazz music theory. Take your time and learn the names of each note in the major scale.

1 – Tonic

2 – Supertonic

3 – Mediant

4 – Subdominant

5 – Dominant

6 – Submediant

7 – Leading tone

8 – Octave

If you play piano, then you will probably know that the C major scale is the only major scale to contain no sharp or flat notes and it is made up of all the white notes on the piano.

You need to get a good grasp of both the notes and the chords in the major scale because many times in music theory we refer to things in terms of the major scale. For example we might refer to the Lydian mode (which is another scale) as being like “a major scale with a raised fourth”. If you know the notes and chords of the major scale inside out, then chances are you will find learning other scales and modes much easier.

The major scale has a bright and happy sound to it and you will have heard it played countless times before. You should instantly recognize the sound of the major scale when you hear it.

As promised, here is a list of all the major scales.

C Major Scale: C D E F G A B
D Major Scale: D E F# G A B C#
E Major Scale: E F# G# A B C# D#
F Major Scale: F G A Bb C D E
G Major Scale: G A B C D E F#
A Major Scale: A B C# D E F# G#
B Major Scale: B C# D# E F# G# A#
C# Major Scale: C# D# E# F# G# A# B#
Eb Major Scale: Eb F G Ab Bb C D
F# Major Scale: F# G# A# B C# D# E#
Ab Major Scale: Ab Bb C Db Eb F G
Bb Major Scale: Bb C D Eb F G A

The Chords Of The Major Scale

As well as knowing the notes of the major scale, it is important that you learn the chords of the major scale as well. The chords of all major scales follow the same sequence and the sequence of chords is:

1 Major 7

2 Minor 7

3 Minor 7

4 Major 7

5 Dominant 7

6 Minor 7

7 Minor 7b5

By using the formula above, we can work out that the chords of the C major scale are:

C major 7, D minor 7, E minor 7, F major 7, G dominant 7, A minor 7, B minor 7b5

You can apply this formula to any scale. As an example, here are the chords of the G major scale:

G Major 7, A minor 7, B minor 7, C major 7, D dominant 7, E minor 7, F# minor 7b5

Arpeggios Of The Major Scale

Because arpeggios are based off chords, it follows that the arpeggios of the major scale are the same as the chords of the major scale. Inside the C major scale for example you can find the following arpeggios:

C major 7, D minor 7, E minor 7, F major 7, G dominant 7, A minor 7, B minor 7b5

Using The Major Scale

The major scale, as the name implies, can be used to play over major chords. In particular you would use the major scale to play over major triad chords, major 7 chords, major 9 chords, major 11 chords and major 13 chords.

I hope you enjoyed learning about the major scale and find this lesson useful. Make sure you know the major scale inside out before you move on to more complicated scales because it is the most important scale in music.

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