1.6 Scales

1.6.1 Different types of scale categories

A scale is basically a number of notes played in sequence. At some point this sequence starts repeating itself so the scale is played over again (in another register). Any scale can be constructed by knowing two things:

  1. How many notes are in the scale
  2. What are the intervals (distance) between each note

Let us look at both requirements separately. First the number of notes. In order to know the number of notes in a scale we have to know what is the possible theoretical range of notes available in a scale. We know from the previous part that scales have 5-12 notes with 5,6,7,8 and 12 being the most common ones. Each scale with different amount of notes falls into a specific scale category.

Scales with five notes are called pentatonic scales. They are relatively common. Pentatonic scales don’t have a sub-category and are simply just called pentatonic scales. There is a major and minor variation of the pentatonic scale and they differ slightly.

Scales with six notes are called hexatonic scales. Two sub-categories are quite common – the blues scale and the whole tone scale. In addition to those there is a scale I have invented and use extensively (in minor harmonies) called the “super scale” that also has six notes. The blues scale has a major and minor variant and the whole tone scale has two different positions.

Scales with seven notes are called heptatonic scales. These are the most common type of scales by a large margin. These scales include (among others) the likes of the major scale and the harmonic and melodic minor scale as sub-categories.

Scales with eight notes are called octatonic scales. They are relatively rare. The most common sub-categories are diminished scales and “bebop scales”. Diminished scales have two variants. (H/W in the example below stands for Half/Whole meaning the diminished scale alternates between half tone and whole tones and this particular starts with a half tone interval.) “Bebop scales” are actually heptatonic scales with a passing note added to them. The passing note can be placed anywhere but most commonly between the 5th and 6th note of the scale (b6).

Scales with 9-11 notes are very uncommon. However there is a scale that has all the 12 unique notes in it and it is called the chromatic scale. The chromatic scale has either one or twelve variants depending on the point of view. It is debatable if it passes as a “legitimate” scale since it is just playing all the unique notes within an octave in sequence. This is a great scale to start when practicing improvisation to practice jazz phrasing and timing since there are no “wrong” notes when playing a chromatic scale.

Below is a table that represents the above mentioned information. There is one example per sub-category.

Category# Of NotesSub-Category Example
Pentatonic5C Major Pentatonic
Hexatonic6C Minor Blues
Heptatonic7C Melodic Minor
Octatonic8C H/W Diminished
Chromatic12C Chromatic

1.6.2 The numeric pattern for scales

Now we get to the second requirement. That is the intervals between each note of the scale. We need to find an easy way to formulate the interval combination and sequence. There are several methods to that. Two of them are more common than others. One is to calculate the intervals using semitones and/or a multitude of semitones. The other is using a numeric pattern. A numeric pattern is a number sequence and it is based on the major scale. A major scale would be simply written as 1-2-3-4-5-6-7. The other scales are then represented by altering the notes and/or subtracting notes to the scale. For example a minor pentatonic numeric pattern would be written as 1-b3-4-5-b7. A harmonic minor scale would be written as 1-2-b3-4-5-b6-7. A H/W diminished scale would be written as 1-#1-#2-3-#4-5-6-#6. We can thus play any scale in any key by simply putting the root as “1” and following the specific pattern for the scale.

We will favour the numeric patterns throughout the lessons. I have also provided the semitone method as well int he next chapter that covers different scales and chords. In the beginning it is beneficial for us to start off “counting” the intervals with semitones but in the long term learning the patterns by heart is very beneficial. That is especially true when we get to learning how to voice chords properly.

(c) 2019 Sibil Yanev