There are many kinds of scales, as determined by the pattern of intervals that make up the scale relative to the tonic note. Each scale has a name, which is its mode. As with chords, the emotional quality of different scales is different, and is determined primarily by the affective qualities of the tonic, or 1 chord, but is affected by the other notes as well. The tonic note and mode of a scale defines its key, such as C major or D minor.

The Minor Scale

At least 95% of the music we hear uses the major scale. The minor scale accounts for most of the rest, but there are also other so-called 'modal' scales.

The pattern of intervals in the major scale was shown in Intervals, Scales and Triads. The natural minor scale consists of this pattern of steps:

1 - whole - 2 half - 3 whole 4 - whole 5 - half - 6 whole 7 - whole - 1

Music using the minor scale has a more gentle quality than the major mode, sometimes sounding sad or at least more subdued. This is mainly due to the 1 chord being a minor chord.

In the harmonic minor scale, which raises note 7 a half step, there is a large jump of a minor third between notes 6 and 7.

The minor scale is also known as Aeolian mode.

Other modal scales

The Dorian mode uses the pattern of steps below. It is essentially the minor scale with the sixth raised a half step. This scale has a character similar to the minor mode, except that the raised sixth adds a touch of brightness that is missing in the minor scale.

1 - whole - 2 half - 3 whole - 4 whole - 5 whole - 6 half - 7 whole - 1

The Phrygian mode, whose scale appears below, is familiar as the mode of fiery Spanish flamenco music, for example.

1 - half - 2 whole - 3 whole - 4 whole - 5 half - 6 whole - 7 whole - 1

Mixolydian mode is common in music of many indigenous cultures. The whole step between the tonic and the note below it is the difference between this and the major scale, and is what gives this mode its unique sound:

1 - whole - 2 whole - 3 half - 4 whole - 5 whole - 6 half - 7 whole - 1

The whole tone scale consists of six intervals to an octave, all a whole step. This scale does not lend itself to harmonization using its own notes, and is therefore rarely heard in tonal music.

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