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victoria Williams Music Theory

Victoria Williams

LmusTCL BA Mus (Hons) MISM

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8. Writing Scales

Grade Two Music Theory Lesson 8: Writing Scales 

Suitable for:  ABRSM Grade 2   Trinity Grade 2   GCSE   AP Music Theory Beginners 

Types of Scales Questions

In the ABRSM and Trinity Grade Two Music Theory exams there are lots of different types of questions with scales.

Here are some things you might have to do:

  • Write a major or minor scale either ascending (going up) or descending (going down), and either with or without a key signature.
  • Add clefs, key signatures or accidentals to a given scale.
  • Mark out the semitones within a scale


You will need to remember the pattern of tones and semitones (whole and half steps) for scales, or learn at least one scale by heart so that you can work the patterns out:

  • For major scales the pattern is T-T-S-T-T-T-S.
  • For minor harmonic scales, the pattern is T-S-T-T-S-3S-S.
  • For minor melodic ascending scales (ABRSM only), the pattern is T-S-T-T-T-T-S
  • For minor melodic descending scales (ABRSM only), the pattern is T-T-S-T-T-S-T
  • For minor natural scales (Trinity only), the pattern is T-S-T-T-S-T-T


You will also need to remember the key signatures for the keys in this grade:

  • C major/ A minor - no key signature
  • G major / E minor - 1 sharp (F#)
  • D major - 2 sharps (F#, C#) (ABRSM only)
  • A major - 3 sharps (F#, C#, G#) (ABRSM only)
  • F major / D minor - 1 flat (Bb)
  • Bb major - 2 flats (Bb, Eb) (ABRSM only)
  • Eb major - 3 flats (Bb, Eb, Ab) (ABRSM only)

More information about tones and semitones can be found in major, minor harmonic and minor melodic scales, and about key signatures in the key signatures lesson. 

We now need to practice each type of question which might come up in the exam.


Writing Scales in a Music Theory Exam

Here are two important rules for you:

  1. Write ONE note per line or space
  2. Use the note value you have been told to use.

 Here's an example question, and the steps to follow to get full marks in your music theory exam: 

Write as semibreves (whole notes) the scale of A minor ascending, without key signature but adding any necessary sharp or flat signs. State which form of the minor scale you have used.

Blank stave for writing scales in music theory exam 

  1. Whatever the scale is, the first thing you need to do is put in your starting note (the tonic, or "keynote"). If you're writing an ascending scale, start low. For descending scales, start high. Make sure you leave enough room on the left for the key signature, if you need one.

  2. Next, using semibreves (whole notes), fill up the lines and spaces - one note per line/space, until you have eight notes. Don't draw the notes too close together!

  3. Look again at the type of scale you need to write - is it major or minor? Think about the sharps and flats you'll need for that scale - what sharps or flats appear in the key signature?

  4. Do you need to add any extra accidentals? Major scales and and minor melodic descending scales don't need any extra accidentals. In minor harmonic scales you need to raise ONE note by a semitone (half step): the 7th degree of the scale. In minor melodic ascending scales you need to raise TWO notes by a semitone: the 6th and 7th degrees of the scale. 

  5. Put in the key signature, if you've been asked to write one. Now add any necessary extra accidentals. (Note - you'll NEVER write a flat as an accidental in a scale with a key signature - only sharps and naturals are possible). If there is a key signature, remember that the only degrees of the scale which could ever need an accidental are the 7th (all minor scales) or 6th (melodic minor ascending).

  6. If you were asked to write the scale without a key signature, add the necessary sharps and flats next to each note of the scale. Don't forget to add an accidental to the top note of the scale if you are writing Bb or Eb major.


Working Through a Music Theory Exam Question on Scales

Let's work together through the scales question at the beginning of this lesson, using the steps we suggested above.

1) We write the first note: A. It's an ascending scale, so we start with an A low on the stave:

Place a low A first - music theory exam question on scales

2) We'll fill up the lines and spaces, until we have 8 notes:

Fill the lines and spaces with 8 notes- music theory exam question on scales

3) We need to write a minor scale, without a key signature. (We'll choose A minor harmonic.) A minor has no sharps or flats in the key signature, like its relative major, C major.

4 & 5) Minor harmonic scales have an accidental sharpened 7th degree of the scale, so we need a G sharp. Let's put it in.

Sharpen the 7th, for the complete scale - music theory exam question on scales

That's our finished scale of A minor (harmonic) ascending.


Adding Clefs and Key Signatures

Sometimes you'll be asked to write in the clef and/or key signature of a scale.

Look at the first note and key of the scale. Decide if the first note must be treble or bass clef:


In this scale, the first note needs to be a G, so we should write a treble clef. The key of G major has one sharp: F#.

Add the clef, then the key signature.



Marking the Semitones (Half Steps)

You may be asked to mark out the places where there are semitone steps in a scale. Remember that a semitone (or "half step") is the smallest possible distance between two notes. It might help to sketch out a mini piano keyboard to help you see where the semitones fall.

Let's mark the semitones in this scale:

Sharpen the 7th, for the complete scale - music theory exam question on scales

The semitone steps are between B-C, E-F and G#-A, so we will mark them with brackets like this:




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