The Major Scale

Scale is a string of consecutive notes, ending on the same note we started with, only an octave higher.

That’s true for the many different types of scales:

  • Major Scales
  • Minor Scales (Natural, Melodic, and Harmonic)
  • Chromatic Scales
  • Pentatonic Scales
  • Octatonic Scales
  • Whole-note Scales

The Major Scale follows a specific formula of tones and semitones.

Namely, two Major Tetrachords one after the other.

The Tetrachord

The Tetrachord is a sequence of four notes.

Although it has the name Chord in it, it is much more like a scale.

In fact, it is precisely half of a scale – a scale is made of two consecutive Tetrachords.

Tetrachords can be Major or Minor (lower minor, upper minor, harmonic).

The Major Tetrachord

The formula for a Major Tetrachord is Tone – Tone – Semitone.

Let’s start with C.

the Major tetrachord from C to F on the treble staff

As you can see above:

  • Tone – between and D
  • Tone – between and E
  • Semitone – between and F

A Major Tetrachord from G also follows the Tone – Tone – Semitone formula:

the Major tetrachord from G to C on the treble staff
  • Tone – between and A
  • Tone – between and B
  • Semitone – between B and C

The Major Scale

In order to build a Major Scale, we connect the two Major Tetrachords with a tone.

Tone – Tone – Semitone – Tone – Tone – Tone – Semitone

The Major scale from C, showing the tones and semitones formula

Here it is on the piano:

A piano keyboard showing the C Major scale with the tones and semitones

The Major Scales

Let’s have a look at the Major Scales from C-B.

Each scale follows the TTSTTTformula:

C major scale
D major scale
E major scale
F major scale
G major scale
A major scale
B major scale


Major scales can be found anywhere, especially in the Classical-era composers: Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven.

Mozart’s piano sonatas and concerti are full of scales.

Excerpt: Mozart Piano Concerto No. 21, K. 467 in C Major, 3rd mv.
Excerpt: Mozart Piano Concerto No. 21, K. 467 in C Major, 3rd mv.