Ear Expansion: Scales

Learn all about the importance of scales for making sense of melodies and harmonies in music.

After completing this module: you will understand how recognising scales and their degrees by ear can help you play by ear, improvise, and create your own music.

Why learn scales? In this training module you will learn music insider tips on how to learn popular scales and practice your new melodic skills.

Module Preview


  1. Introduction
  2. Why learn scales?
  3. How to learn scales
  4. Tips
  5. Listen
  6. Try It


Scales are an important area because they are the framework on which intervals, chords, melodies, and all pitch-related aspects of music are built.

Very few musicians actively develop their ears for scales, which is a pity – because it can help build a much more robust sense of relative pitch, and connect up the other types of ear training you do.

There are two ways you can develop your musical ear when it comes to scales:

1. Recognise the type of a scale

You can build an endless variety of scales from the same root note – for example, a C Major scale, C Minor scale, C Phrygian, etc. – and each has a distinctive sound.

Playing the notes in their ascending or descending pitch order is one way to get a sense of the scale’s sound.

Another way is to study how melodies and chords use the notes of the scale, and the characteristic sounds they have as a result.

2. Recognise the degrees of a scale

The scale creates the harmonic context we hear in music, and once we have a sense of that context each note of the scale plays a different role.

For example:

  • The tonic (“root”) note is the first degree, and represents a solid, calm resting place – good for starting or ending melodies.
  • The third degree can give a clear signal of major/minor tonality, and strongly affects the mood of the music.
  • The seventh degree gives an impression of tension, creating an unresolved sound.

You can learn to recognise the different characteristic sounds of each scale degree based on the musical role they play within the context of the scale.

Before we go on, make sure you understand the basics of what a scale is with this helpful video from Dave Conservatoire:

Member Success

“This is an interesting module and is helpful since I’m just starting to learn about scale modes in my theory.”
“I have had a lot of prior practice in identifying major and minor scales, but not in scale degree identification. I find this very interesting and am learning so much.”
“This is a very interesting topic for me. I am starting to identify they all have their own character… Very motivated now!”

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