How Many Major Scales Are There?

If you are a newbie to the piano world, you might often find yourself asking how many major scales are there. We will say this is a fundamental question to ask.

Understanding how many major scales are there and why will give you the base to progress into the next music levels. 

To give you an insight, let’s get to know what the number of major scales is. In total, you will come across 12 major scales. This happens as the major scale pattern starts from any available 12 notes of the known musical alphabets. 

Interestingly, you can spell out some of these major scales using either flats or sharps, even though both have the same sound. So even though we can create a major scale on any of these 12 notes, we can try out 12 different ways to write them down. 

Want to learn more? Stay tuned with us.

Difference Between Major and Minor Scales

If you do not know what scales are, they are basically notes arranged in half and whole step patterns from the lowest to the highest.

Let’s first understand the differences between the major and minor scales. Cause first things first!

The notable characteristic that can make a scale “major” is the particular pattern of whole and full steps between the notes present in the scale.

The sound coming from a major scale is usually referred to as a happier or brighter sound compared to that of a minor, which might sound darker or more melancholic. 

Although the common music mixes both major and minor scale elements. For instance, the well-known kids rhyme that employs major scale is Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, and for minor, God Rest You Merry Gentlemen. 

How do Major Scales Function?

Henceforth, every scale that you will ever encounter is a particular pattern of intervals (interval is the term referred to the distance between any 2 musical notes – from the most minor step to the most major range.

Like most of the scales, the major scale pattern functions with semitones (or half steps) or tones (whole steps). The whole steps and half steps are the 2 smallest intervals of the classic musical alphabet. 

Does this concept seem new to you? In that case, we are here to give you a brief explanation of what the whole and half steps actually are. 

The Half Step

Consider the distance from one piano key to the next – this is known as the half step. It does matter if the following key is black, white, up, or down. Notes those are immediately next to each other are said to be half step away. 

Remember that even if we are using this to demonstrate a piano, it is applicable for all instruments. 

The Whole Step

As you might have guessed, the whole step can be considered to be equivalent to two half steps. It means that it is the distance between any 2 keys with an intervening key between them. 

To obtain a whole step from the starting note of a piano, just skip a key – the next note is now a whole step away. 

As we mentioned before, this can be applied to all instruments.

The Major Scale (WWHWWWH)

The half and whole scales are any scale’s building blocks. In particular, a major scale is said to consist of the formula of half and whole steps combined: WWHWWWH. It means 2 whole steps followed by a half step, 3 whole steps, and lastly, a half step. 

This is what provides the major scale of its specific character or particular sound. Consider the following example where it starts on the note C. 

  • The whole step – From C to D,
  • The whole step – From D to E,
  • The half step – From E to F,
  • The whole step – From F to G,
  • The whole step – From G to A,
  • The whole step – From A to B
  • The half step – From B to C.

Consisting of seven various notes served in the style WWHWWWH, we get a major scale.

Did you notice something? See that we start and end on the same note for this pattern to work. 

WWHWWWH equals to Major Scale Pattern. 

Another way you can write this formula is TTSTTTS, here T=Tone and S= Semitone. If you have an elephant memory, you must remember that tone and semitone are just other terms for whole and half steps. 

Which set of formula writing style you choose heavily relies on the country you are residing in. 

With the alternative terms, TTSTTTS stands as the Major Scale Pattern.

You can memorize this formula by remembering where the two half steps/semitones go. There is a semitone between the third and fourth degrees and another between the seventh and first degrees in the major scale pattern. Others are all whole steps/tones. 

Now it is time to move on to the 12 Major Scales!

The 12 Major Scales

You already know that the 12 musical alphabets can give rise to 12 major scales. Now what is really important is the maintenance of the whole steps and half steps pattern. 

As mentioned before, it is what adds distinction to the major scale – change the pattern, you will get a whole new scale. 

So what will you do to ensure that the WWHWWWH formula remains the same no matter the note you start on? You need to use flats and sharps!

For instance, you might see that a G major scale needs the F scale to be sharpened. This means that the last interval must be a half step (i.e., F sharp to G) rather than a tone (F to G). 

You can find all the 12 major scales with their flats and sharps here. 

Final Words

That is a wrap for now. We hope this article answers your question, “How many major scales are there?”.

If you want to play the piano successfully, give these major scales a try!

You can also read: How To Read Ukulele Music Notes: A Guide for Beginners

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