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3. Scales (ABRSM)

Grade Three Music Theory - Lesson 3: Scales (ABRSM)

Suitable for:  ABRSM Grade 3   GCSE   AP Music Theory Beginners 

Major Scales

You should already be familiar with the scales of C, G, D, A, F, Bb and Eb major, as these are on the syllabus for grades 1 and 2.

All major scales are built using this pattern of tones (T) (whole steps) and semitones (S) (half steps):

T-T-S-T-T-T-S.

The first new scale in grade three music theory is E major. E major has four sharps:

F#, C#, G# and D#.

If you look closely you’ll discover that each sharp is exactly one 5th higher than the previous one. 

 

Start at F(#) and count 5 notes, and you will arrive at C(#):

F, G, A, B, C.

Then start at C and count up 5 notes and you will arrive at G(#)

C, D, E, F, G.

Start at G and count up 5 notes and you arrive at D(#):

G, A, B, C, D

This is an easy way to remember the order of sharps – this is the beginning of the “circle of 5ths” (because if you keep on going, you’ll eventually end up back at the beginning!)

 

Here’s the scale of E major, ascending and descending, in treble and bass clef:
E major treble


E major bass

 

The other new major scale we’re going to learn is Ab major.

Ab has got four flats – Bb, Eb, Ab, and Db.

An easy way to remember the order of flats is to count down five notes from the first one. The first flat is Bb:

B, A, G, F, E.
E, D, C, B, A.
A, G, F, E, D

The circle of 5ths works in both directions – if you count upwards, you get the order of sharps. If you count downwards, you get the order of flats! 

Here is the scale of Ab major, ascending and descending in treble and bass clef:
Ab major treble


Ab major bass

Also, you could just learn the word "BEAD" which spells the flats in order!


Minor Scales

You should already be familiar with the minor scales in the keys of A, E and D. For grade three, you also need to know the minor scales with up to four sharps or flats in the key signature:

  • B minor
  • G minor
  • F# minor
  • C minor
  • C# minor
  • F minor

 In grade two music theory we learnt that there are two types of minor scales, the harmonic minor and the melodic minor.

  • The harmonic minor has the pattern T-S-T-T-S-3S-S (3S = 3 semitones).
  • The melodic minor has one pattern on the way up and another on the way down:
    • Ascending (from bottom): T-S-T-T-T-T-S
    • Descending (from top): T-T-S-T-T-S-T

At grade two, you were given a free choice about which version of the minor scale you wanted to write. But at grade 3, you will be told which version you have to write, so you must learn both versions of each scale. If you find it difficult to remember all the patterns of tones and semitones, try this method instead: learn the notes of three types of minor scale for A minor - they are easy to learn. Then write out the A minor scale and calculate whether each step is a tone (whole step), semitone (half step) or three semitones (three half steps). Then use the same pattern as a guide, to write out a new scale in a different key.

 

Here are all the new minor scales you need to know for grade 3 music theory.

Notice that in F# minor and C# minor there are two notes which you might not have seen before: E# and B#. These are both white notes on the piano. E# is the same note on the piano as F natural and B# is the same as C natural. But although they are the same note on an instrument, they are different notes in music theory, and you must be careful to use the correct one. Remember that in scales, you can only use each letter name once, apart from the first and last notes of the scale. So we use E# (and not F natural) in F# minor, because we have already used the letter "F" as the first and last notes of the scale. E# and F are called "enharmonic equivalents" (and so are B#/C and all the other notes which you are probably more familiar with, like Ab/G# or Eb/D# etc.)

B minor harmonic
B minor harmonic treble
B minor harmonic bass

 

B minor melodic
B minor melodic treble
B minor melodic bass

 

G minor harmonic
G minor harmonic treble
G minor harmonic bass

 

G minor melodic
G minor melodic treble
G minor melodic bass

 

F# minor harmonic
F# minor harmonic treble
F# minor harmonic bass

 

F# minor melodic
F# minor melodic treble
F# minor melodic bass

 

C minor harmonic
C minor harmonic treble
C minor harmonic bass

 

C minor melodic
C minor melodic treble
C minor melodic bass

 

C# minor harmonic
C# minor harmonic treble
C# minor harmonic bass

 

C# minor melodic
C# minor melodic treble
C# minor melodic bass

 

F minor harmonic
F minor harmonic treble
F minor harmonic bass

 

F minor melodic
F minor melodic treble
F minor melodic bass

 

 

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