Major scale facts

In music theory, the major scale or Ionian scale is one of the diatonic scales. It is made up of seven separate notes, plus an eighth which is the same as the first an octave higher. In solfege these notes correspond to the syllables "Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti/Si, Do". The simplest major scale to write or play on the piano is C major, the only major scale not to require sharps or flats, using only the white keys on the piano keyboard:

The C major scale.


C major scale
Pattern of whole and half steps

A major scale is a set of steps in the order "Whole:Whole:Half:Whole:Whole:Whole:Half"(tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone, semitone). Western scales do not skip any line or space on the staff, and they do not repeat any note with a different accidental. This means that the key signature of the scale will feature just sharps or just flats.

Names of scale degrees

  • 1st – Tonic- key note
  • 2nd – Supertonic
  • 3rd – Mediant
  • 4th – Subdominant
  • 5th – Dominant
  • 6th – Submediant
  • 7th – Leading Tone
  • 8th – Tonic ( or Octave)

The circle of fifths

The Circle of Fifths was first described in 1728 by Johann David Heinichen in his book Der General-bass. It has been used ever since as a way to show the relations between scales.

Circle of fifths

The numbers inside the circle show the number of sharps or flats in the key signature, with the sharp keys going clockwise, and the flat keys counterclockwise from C major (which has no sharps or flats.) The circle depends on enharmonic relationships in the circle, which is six sharps or flats for the major keys of F = G and D = E for minor keys (Drabkin 2001). Seven sharps or flats make major keys (C major and C major) that are more easy to spell with five flats or sharps (as D major or B major).

Harmonic properties

The major scale is used more often than the minor scale in Western music because of its unique harmonic properties. For example, the major third is much stronger in the harmonic series (it is the 5th, 10th and 20th harmonic – see below) than the minor third (the 19th harmonic).

Related pages

Major scale Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.