20 Scales Musicians Need to Know...

20 Scales and 20 Emotions...

So maybe you want to write a song or an instrumental in a particular mood or style, and you’re feeling overwhelmed by all of the scale possibilities. Have no fear, your songwriting solution is here...

Here’s a handy guide to the commonly used scales in Western pop, rock, jazz, blues and so on.

Click the image below to play any one of the scales listed below right in your browser with the aQWERTYon music maker. 

These scales have a major third (E in the key of C), which makes them feel happy or bright.

Major scale
C major scale = C  D  E  F  G  A   B  C
Happy; can be majestic or sentimental when slow. The white keys on the piano. Examples: “Mary Had A Little Lamb,” “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”

Mixolydian mode
C Mixolydian mode = C  D  E  F  G  A  Bb  C
Bluesy, rock; can also be exotic/modal. Play over C7 chord. Same pitches as F major. Example: “Tomorrow Never Knows” by the Beatles.

Lydian mode
C Lydian mode = C  D  E  F#  G  A  B  C
Ethereal, dreamy, futuristic. Same pitches as G major. Example: “Possibly Maybe” by Björk (from the line “As much as I definitely enjoy solitude…”)

Lydian dominant mode
C Lydian dominant mode =  C  D  E  F#  G  A  Bb  C
Also known as the overtone scale or acoustic scale, because it is close to the first seven pitches in the natural overtone series. Same pitches as the G melodic minor scale and the F-sharp/G-flat altered scale.

Phrygian dominant mode
C Phrygian dominant mode = C  Db  E  F  G  Ab  Bb  C
Exotic, Middle Eastern, Jewish. Same pitches as F harmonic minor. Example: “Hava Nagila.”

Harmonic major scale
C harmonic major scale = C  D  E  F  G  Ab  B  C
Majestic, mysterious. “Lord Of The Rings” feeling.

These scales have a flat third (E-flat in the key of C), which gives them a darker and more tragic feel.

Natural minor scale (Aeolian mode)
C natural minor scale = C  D  Eb  F  G  Ab  Bb  C
Sentimental, tragic. Same pitches as E-flat major.

Dorian mode
C Dorian mode = C  D  Eb  F  G  A  Bb  C
Hip, sophisticated, jazzy. Same pitches as B-flat major. Example: “So What” by Miles Davis.

Harmonic minor scale
C harmonic minor = C  D  Eb  F  G  Ab  B  C
Tragic, exotic, Middle Eastern.

Melodic minor scale
C melodic minor scale = C  D  Eb  F  G  A  B  C
Mysterious, jazzy, very dark. Example: sixties Coltrane. See a blog post about melodic minor.

Phrygian mode
C Phrygian mode = C  Db  Eb  F  G  Ab  Bb  C
Spanish/Flamenco. Same pitches as A-flat major.

Locrian mode
C Locrian mode = C  Db  Eb  F  Gb  Ab  Bb  C
Very dark and unstable. Use over C half-diminished chords. Same pitches as C-sharp/D-flat major and B-flat natural minor.


Blues scale
C blues scale = C  Eb  F  Gb  G  Bb
Bluesy, obviously. Works great over major and minor chords. C minor pentatonic with sharp fourth/flat fifth added.

Altered scale
C altered scale = C  Db  Eb  E  F  Gb  Ab  Bb  C
Use over a C7 chord to make it sound very intellectual and jazzy. Same pitches as C-sharp/D-flat melodic minor.


Pentatonic scales have five notes. The blues scale is the minor pentatonic plus the flat fifth.

Major pentatonic scale
C major pentatonic scale = C  D  E  G  A  C
Joyful; widely used in world and folk music. Major scale with 4th and 7th removed. Same pitches as A minor pentatonic. Here’s a blog post about playing pentatonics on guitar.

Minor pentatonic scale
C minor pentatonic scale = C  Eb  F  G  Bb  C
Widely used in rock, world and folk music. Minor scale with 2nd and 6th removed. Same pitches as E-flat major pentatonic. 

Here’s a free lesson on the Creative Guitar Studio website about playing pentatonics on guitar, "Using Major and Minor Pentatonics"


These scales are based on regular, symmetric patterns.

Chromatic scale
C chromatic scale = 
C  Db  D  Eb  E  F  Gb  G  Ab  A  Bb  B  C
All of the piano keys. Freefalling, anxiety-producing.

Whole tone scale
C whole tone scale = C  D  E  F#  Ab  Bb
Dreamy, underwater. Every alternating key on the piano. Same pitches as D, E, F-sharp, G-sharp and A-sharp whole tone scales. Example: Background parts in the Simpsons theme song.

Octatonic scale
C octatonic scale = C  D  Eb  F  F#  Ab  A  B  C
Dark, mysterious. Same pitches as E-flat, G-flat and A octatonic scales. Examples: movies about Dracula.

Hexatonic scale
C hexatonic scale = C  Eb  E  G  Ab  B  C
Alternating minor third, half step. Wonderfully exotic.



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