Major scales truly set the foundation for just about everything one can learn in music theory. They are the basis of chords, melody, and just about everything else in music. In fact I couldn't come close to explaining all the uses of scales in just one article. If you learned the "Circle of Fifths" from my previous article or from another place, then you are off to a great start! There are a few ways to go about learning scales so let's get to it!
What is a Major Scale?
A Major scale is a sequence of 8 notes that create a strong sense of mood, tension, and resolution. With these 8 notes one can build chords, create melody, and much more. They almost always sound pleasing to the ear because they are meant to be used together. Scales are the guidelines every musician must know. It is only once you know them that you can break the rules like every great composer or musician has done.
How to Learn Major Scales: Method 1
This is the way that I learned my major scales. I found this method to be the simplest and most effective way to learn. All you need to know are what whole-steps and half-steps are, and obviously the notes on your instrument. A half-step is simply the distance of one note. For example, "C" to "C#" is a half-step up. "C" to "B" is a half-step down. A whole-step is comprised of two half steps. For example, "C" to "D" is a whole step up, because it moves 2 notes forward, from "C" to "C#" and then to "D". This works downward as well. "C" to "Bb" is a whole-step down because is moves down from "C" to "B", and then "B" to "Bb"
So using this method, if you want to play a "D" Major scale we would start on D and think "Whole, Whole, Half, Whole, Whole, Whole, Half" (I'll be using "W-W-H-W-W-W-H" for short). So starting on D, this would be your scale:
Perfect! Try this in any key and subconsciously you will begin to memorize all of them!
How to Learn Major Scales: Method 2
Using the Circle of Fifths to Build Scales
This method requires the knowing of the sharps or flats in every key. Thus I recommend checking out my article on the "Circle of Fifths" if you are unfamiliar with it. This method is simpler to understand (if you know your keys) but could take a little longer to execute. If you know what notes are sharp or flat in each key, then you are set. If we're building a scale off of "D", use every letter without accidentals like:
D E F G A B C D
And then, just add the corresponding sharps or flats to it:
D E F# G A B C#D
In my opinion this method requires a little more thinking and it's less hands-on. But that's for you to decide!