The music with which we are the most familiar is based almost entirely on two diatonic modes–major and minor. Music based on these scales has been commonly used in Western music since the seventeenth century and includes such widely divergent styles as the music of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, the Beatles, and Madonna.
Listen to the following melody written and played in the major mode. Then listen to the same melody written and played in the minor mode.
Example of a major melody
Example of the same melody in minor
Design and construction of major scales
The major scale is represented by the white keys of the piano that span the octave from C to C. Note there are half steps between pitches 3 and 4 and between pitches 7 and 8. All other steps are whole steps. This is the pattern for all major scales.
With this half step and whole step pattern kept consistent, the major scale can be transposed (moved) to all the remaining eleven pitches of the octave. For each transposition, accidentals (sharps or flats) must be added to maintain the correct diatonic pattern. It is also important to know that the half steps in a major scale must be diatonic, not chromatic. In other words, all seven letter names must be used in a diatonic (in this case, major) scale. Letter names cannot be repeated.
Look at the following A major scale. It uses the same pattern of half and whole steps as the C major scale above. This is accomplished by using accidentals and some black keys on the keyboard.