Intervals and Scales #1
By now, everyone reading this should be experts at rhythm, right? Well, trust me, musical skills take time and practice to cultivate. Now, though, we will leave rhythm behind for a second and focus on the other part of music: the notes.
Whole Steps and Half Steps
Lets take a look at a keyboard set against notes on a staff:
I think it’s easiest to learn the idea of half steps and whole steps through the piano, as the piano is the only instrument where the correlation between it and the actual staff is so simple to see. Every note on the piano is right there, laid out right in front of your eyes. This is why most consider the piano the ideal instrument to compose on, and is also an instrument required to learn in music schools. Arguably, since the advent of the keyboard instrument, theory has been developed through its layout.
Take a look at the distance between the C and the D keys, and the B and the C keys. How does the difference between the two differ? Well, in-between the C and the D, there is one more key (a black key) than in-between the B and the C. Herein lies the difference- the distance between the B and the C is called a “half-step”, while the distance between the C and the D is called a “whole-step”. Two half steps equals a whole step.
The above example is also an example of what is called a “scale”. This particular scale is called the C Major Scale, spanning all the white keys in one octave from C to C (“Octave” derives its name from the eight (oct) scale tones that separate it. An octave is also comprised of 12 half steps). Any major scale can be created by starting on any note and following the sequence from a starting note of:
WWHWWWH (W= Whole step; H= Half Step).
Now, this is all well and good for using just the white keys in C Major, but what if you want to create a major scale starting on a different note? In this case, we’ll have to employ the use of the black keys of the keyboard:
On the staff above I’ve written all possible notes in what is called the “chromatic scale”.
You may have noticed some interesting symbols too. They are:
This is called a “Sharp”. When put in front of a note, it raises that note one half step. For example, a C# signifies a C which has been raised up one half step (see the keyboard above and find the C# key!).
This is called a “Flat”. When put in front of a note, it lowers that note one half step. For example Bb signifies B taken down a half step (see the keyboard above and find the Bb key!)
In the chromatic scale above, I’ve colored the sharps blue and the flats green for comparison’s sake. If you compare this staff to the keyboard above, you will notice that each grouping of sharps and flats is actually the same note! This is a concept called “enharmonics”, meaning multiple names for one note.
Ok, let’s combine concepts. What if we wanted to start a major scale on Bb? Well, let’s start the scale on Bb and plug in our Whole-Half formula.
Reference the keyboard above while we go through this, it will help you visualize how this works:
First, we start on Bb.
Next, up one whole step to C.
Then another whole step to D.
Then one half step to Eb.
Then, one whole step to F.
Then another whole step to G.
Then another whole step to A.
And finally, a half step to wind up back at Bb.
Written out on a staff, we wind up with:
You can plug this in starting on any note. However, be careful of flats and sharps. Every major scale will include every lettered note in sequence, and will only contain either flats or sharps, never both. Next week we will dive into more intervals!