Part Seven


Major Scales - II

Concept - Sharps and Flats

On a keyboard, moving one half step to the right (going higher in pitch) is called "sharp", and moving one half step to the left (going lower in pitch) is called "flat." This definition allows us to name the black notes. Each black note has two names.

The note between C and D is either C sharp (written C#) or D flat (written Db).
The note between D and E is either D sharp (written D#) or E flat (written Eb).
The note between F and G is either F sharp (written F#) or G flat (written Gb).
The note between G and A is either G sharp (written G#) or A flat (written Ab).
The note between A and B is either A sharp (written A#) or B flat (written Bb).

Side note: By the way, there are certain times when certain white notes are also named sharp or flat. It doesn't happen very often, but there are occasions when...

The note B might be called Cb
The note C might be called B#
The note F might be called E#
The note E might be called Fb

There are also double sharps. For example, F double sharp (written Fx) plays the note G. Then there are double flats. Gbb plays the note F.

 Now that we understand sharps and flats, let's look at another scale.

The G Major Scale

If you begin by playing the note G and then follow the formula for the major scale (WWHWWWH), you will get the following... G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G.

Side note: One of the rules of naming notes in a major scale is that each letter from A to G must be assigned as you move from note 1 up to note 7. That's why note 7 in this scale is called F# and not Gb.

Take a good look at the G scale. Which note is number 5? Which letter is associated with number 3? Could you play the sequence 6, 5, 8, 3, 2, 5, 1.

Above And Below The Scale

Although some songs can be played using only notes 1 through 8, most songs go above or below the scale at some point. This would be a good time to say again that note 8 is really note 1 starting over. We say it's note 1 moved up an octave. Also, note 1 can be thought of as note 8 for the notes coming in from the left. So, even though we say 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8... or do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do... we understand that it really goes... 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and so on.

This creates a question when writing down melodies as numbers. When I ask you to play 1, 2, 7, do you play the 7 that's a big jump up the keyboard, or do you play the 7 that's right next to 1 on the left side?

In order to make this clearer for my students, I write the notes in the octave below (the notes coming in from the left) as underlined numbers, and the notes in the octave above with lines through the middle. According to this system, the numbers would look like this...

Why Do We Use Numbers?

The nice thing about numbers is that when we change to a different major scale, though the letter names at the various locations change, the numbers stay the same. So, if a melody is played 3, 5, 2, 3, 1 in one major key, it will be played 3, 5, 2, 3, 1 in the other major keys as well. It's true that it will be higher or lower in pitch, and the letter name associated with 3, or 5, or 2 will be different, but the tune will sound the same.

My suggestion is to experiment with the notes in a scale until something you play reminds you of a song you already know. Then see if you can figure out a couple phrases from that particular song. Play it a few times in the key you are in, and then write down the numbers using the system I just explained. Then take those numbers and play them in another key of your choice. This exercise will show you how melodies keep the same numbers though they are played in different keys.

One More Important Idea

There is another idea to consider, because in the long run it will be more and more valuable to you. As you play tunes you already know, and as you experiment writing your own melodies, you will eventually begin to "recognize the numbers" even when they are not written down. You will hear the notes in your mind, and you will recognize almost by "feel" which number comes next. You'll hear a song, and know which notes to play. You will begin to improvise music, and make tunes up spontaneously. It will be very freeing. Then music becomes a lot of fun!

Let's Review

In this section we discussed sharps and flats. The symbol for sharp is #, and it indicates a note one half step higher in pitch (to the right on a keyboard). The symbol for flat is similar to b, and it indicates a note one half step lower in pitch (to the left on the keyboard). These ideas allow us to name the black notes, each of which has two names. Named as sharps, the black notes are C#, D#, F#, G#, and A#. Named as flats, the black notes are Db, Eb, Gb, Ab, and Bb.

When naming the notes in a major scale, we use each of the letters from A to G on scale notes 1 through 7. This determines whether black notes are named as sharps or flats.

We looked at the G major scale. We now have two scale pictures.

We also thought about the idea that a melody may go above or below scale notes 1 through 8. To give us a way to write these extra notes down, we introduced underlined numbers for the octave to the left, and numbers with a line through the middle to indicate notes in the octave to the right.

We considered the possibility of experimenting with phrases in a given key, writing down what we played, and then playing the same phrase in another key.

We also considered that someday we may be able to hear a tune and know which notes to play. That will be a great day!

Take some time to think about and experiment with these ideas. Then move on to Part 8. Have fun!

Index - Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Charts and Maps
Part 6 - Part 7 - Part 8 - Part 9 - 1st Steps in Keyboard - Part 10
Part 11 - Part 12 - 1st Steps in Note Reading

Copyright 2004 Steve Mugglin
Permission is given to make not-for-profit copies
of this material.