Module 3 - Major Patterns

The Major Scale Pattern

To quickly recap, we've already looked at the musical alphabet and the names of all 12 notes (Chromatic Circle). We've also looked at the definition of half steps and whole steps, and how to apply them on the keyboard/fretboard. The reason we need this information is that to use the number system, you have to know the scale of the key(s) the song is in. Just like there are 12 note names, each one of those notes has it's own scale.


Now that we know all the note names and the concept of half and whole steps, we can use the major scale pattern to find the notes for any major scale. For purposes of the number system, we will only use major scales.


There are two ways to represent the major scale pattern - letters and numbers. The two patterns are:

  • W-W-H-W-W-W-H (W = Whole step, H = Half step)
  • 2-2-1-2-2-2-1

The numeric version is actually the number of half steps, where the lettered version assumes you know that a whole step is made of two half steps. They work exactly the same way, but for our purposes, we'll use the lettered version.


Before we look at examples, it's important to point out that for the number system, we will use the scale for the key we're playing the song in. For example, if we're playing Amazing Grace in the key of G, we would be using the G scale. 


Whatever scale we're using, the name of the scale is the first note. So to play Yet Not I But Christ in the key of D, we'd use the D scale and D would be the first note of that scale. The first note of a scale is sometimes referred to as the root - for purposes of the number system, we will refer to it as the 1. 

Using the Pattern

So once you know what key the song is in (aka what scale you will be using), you're ready to apply the pattern. We'll use All Creatures Of Our God And King as in example - it starts in the key of C.


To find the notes in the C scale, we'll start on C, then apply our W-W-H-W-W-W-H pattern. Remember, a half step is moving one mark on the circle or one key/fret up or down, and a whole step is moving two marks on the circle or two keys/frets up or down.


Steps:    W - W - H - W - W - W - H

Notes: C    D    E     F    G     A     B    C


And there you have it - the C scale! Scales will always end on the same note name they started with (C in this case). In this example, the pitch of the second C will be an octave higher than the first.


You can use the pattern to find the notes of any scale. The C scale is easy in that is has no flats or sharps in it. But what about the ones that do? How do you know whether to use flats or sharps on the notes that have two names (C♯/D♭, for example).


You can answer that with the new circle tool to the right, the Circle of Fifths. We can use it to determine if our scales will use flats or sharps.


Here are the rules:

  • If the first note of the scale you're working with is on the left side of the circle of fifths (F-D♭), then any notes in the scale with two names will use the flat name. 
  • If the first note of the scale you're working with is on the right side of the circle of fifths (G-B), then any notes with two names will use the sharp name.
  • If the first note of the scale you're working with is F♯/G♭, it can be one or the other and it's based on the key signature on the music. It's very rare to need to use this scale.

Try to find the notes in each of these scales on your own to practice using the pattern. You can use the Chromatic Circle or any of the key/fretboard maps to help you out. The answers will be at the bottom of this page. 


A, D♭, F

Chromatic Circle


Scale Exercise Answers

A Scale

Steps:    W - W - H - W - W - W - H

Notes: A    B    C♯   D   E    F♯  G♯   A


D𝄬 Scale

Steps:     W - W - H - W - W - W - H

Notes: D♭   E♭   F   G♭   A♭   B♭  C   D♭


F Scale

Steps:   W - W - H - W - W - W - H

Notes: F   G    A   B♭   C    D    E    F