Scale Recognition

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.

Learn about the commonly used scales like the major pentatonic scale. Apply this knowledge and learn how to recognize popular scales.

Module Preview


  1. Introduction
  2. Major and Natural Minor
  3. Harmonic and Melodic Minor
  4. Recap: Major and Minor
  5. Blues
  6. Major and Minor Pentatonic
  7. Final Recap

Major and Natural Minor

This lesson introduces the major scale and its relation to the natural minor scale. You will learn not only to recognize both of those scale types, but you will also learn how to construct each of them so you can play them on your own instrument in any key.

Major Scale

The Major Scale is probably the most well-known type of scale. It is often the first scale you will learn when picking up an instrument and is easily recognizable to the ears. It is very soothing to the ears and does not feature any complex sounds often attributed to modes or more advanced scales. For example, the song “Do-Re-Mi” from The Sound of Music, is constructed on the major scale, using the solfa names for the major scale’s notes in the lyrics. If you are listening to a happy, upbeat song, the chances are it’s based on a major scale.

The major scale can be constructed simply by using a set combination of tones and semi-tones. For example, let’s look at a C major scale:


C Major Ascending:

C Major Descending:

If you look closely at the intervals between each note, you will get the following:


Where T stands for Tone and ST stands for SemiTone.

All major scales are based on this one pattern!

Let’s look at another example, G major:


G Major Ascending:

G Major Descending:

Again, you will find a semitone between the 3rd and 4th note, as well as between the 7th and 8th note, as per the previous example.

Natural Minor Scale

Derived from the major scale is the natural minor scale. The relative minor of a major scale will feature the exact same set of notes – the difference is just that it starts on a different note.

The natural minor scale will often sound sadder than the corresponding major scale, as anything minor is often described as being “sad”. It is commonly used for gloomy love songs!

To recognize this particular scale, identify where the semitones you hear are located in the scale relative to the root (tonic) note. It is normally the semitone between the second and third notes of the scale (forming a minor third interval with the root note) which gives it away.

Once you are familiar with the construction of major scales, you can start practicing the natural minor scale. The natural minor scale is a scale that starts on the 6th note of a major scale, using the same alterations. For example, if you take the C major scale and find the 6th note, you will get A. The A natural minor scale uses all the same notes, which gives you:


A Natural Minor Ascending:

A Natural Minor Descending:

It’s just as if you were playing the C major scale, but starting on A!

If you are using the G major scale, you will find that its relative minor is E.


E Natural Minor Ascending:

E Natural Minor Descending:

You can also use the same method used above to find the notes of a major scale directly from its root note. The pattern of tones and semitones of a natural minor scale goes as follows:


(notice this is of course the same pattern as for major – just starting in a different place.)

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“I have internalized these scales, nice.”

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