The Basics of Music Theory - Part 2 (Intervals & the Major Scale)

Last time (in The Basics of Music Theory - Part 1 (The Chromatic Scale)) we discussed the chromatic scale. Now we will take the chromatic scale and create intervals. These intervals, in turn, will create scales. These two components are the building blocks of almost every single song you have ever heard or played. Let's get to it!

What Are Intervals?

The distance between any two notes is called an interval. The chromatic scale is comprised entirely of the smallest interval in Western music, the half step. Eastern music can contain an interval even smaller called a quarter step. Obviously we will be focusing on Western music because it is the majority of the music we hear and play.

The next largest interval is the whole step. It is equal to two half steps. Looking at the guitar, a half step would be playing fret 1 and then playing fret 2. A whole step would be playing fret 1 and then playing fret 3. An entire octave contains 12 half steps. The table below describes the scale degree the interval and the number of half steps in each interval.

Scale Degree Interval Half Steps
1 to b2 minor 2nd 1
1 to 2 major 2nd 2
1 to b3 minor 3nd 3
1 to 3 major 3rd 4
1 to 4 perfect 4th 5
1 to #4 augmented 4th 6
1 to b5 diminished 5th 6
1 to 5 perfect 5th 7
1 to #5 augmented 5th 8
1 to b6 minor 6th 8
1 to 6 major 6th 9
1 to bb7* diminished 7th 9
1 to b7 minor 7th 10
1 to 7 major 7th 11
1 to 8 perfect octave 12

*bb = Indicates a double flat. A double flat lowers the note by two half steps (one whole step)

The Major Scale

A scale is just a group of notes that follow each other in a step-wise order. This order is always alphabetical. Typically a scale consists of using whole steps and half steps to create the order (though other scales do exist). The most important scale in our discussion, and the discussion of Western music, is the major scale. It has a predefined order of whole steps and half steps. Unlike life, it is always the same and never changes. As long as you know the note that you start on (the root) then the notes needed to make the scale will follow the pattern.

Scale Degree: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Intervals: W W H W W W H

Whole Step = W
Half Step = H

The C Major Scale On A Staff


As with all major scales, notice that the half steps occur between 3 to 4 and 7 to 8.

If you're feeling lost, then check out The Basics of Music Theory Part 1 (The Chromatic Scale). Stay tuned for the third installment next week. If you want a little more reinforcement and have a daily commute, then check out Music Theory: from Absolute Beginner to Expert: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide to Understanding and Learning Music Theory on Audible is a great companion for me to make better use of my commutes to the studio.