The Major Scale of Musick

David Cherubim

Copyright 2004.
David Cherubim.
All rights reserved.

David Cherubim

A magickal and theoretical
explanation of the Mother of all Scales.

What is to follow is only a theoretical and magickal explanation of the nature and elements of the Major Scale of Musick.  It does not cover the elements of other scales.  However, understanding the Major Scale is the foundation of Musickal Knowledge.  The Major Scale is the mother of all scales.  It is the First Matter (prima materia) in the Great Work (magnum opus) of Musick.  Without the Major Scale, the other scales have no real meaning from a theoretical and/or structural point of view.  All of the other scales are derived by referring to the Major Scale, including the other Church Modes (the Major Scale is the Ionian Mode of the seven Church Modes), which are a rearrangement of the notes of the Major Scale.  It is the Alpha and Omega of Musick.  For a musician, it is the Tree of Musick from which he or she receives the fruit of organized sound.  By understanding the Major Sale, one is then able to understand the workings of other scales (and the basic elements of chords).  The ancient Samurai said, "From one thing, know ten thousand things."  The Major Scale is the One Thing from which we can know many other things in regard to the elements of Musick.

To begin, the word scale comes to us from the Latin word scala, which means "ladder."  A scale is a ladder or succession of tones (or notes), starting from the keynote or tonic (the first tone on which it starts), and ending with the octave (the last tone, or tone on which it ends).  The octave is the same tone as the tonic, but it is a pitch (or rate of vibration) higher.  (Note: The octave is included in the scale, though there are only seven actual tones in the scale.)  The most fundamental scale of the Art of Musick (ars musica) is the Major Scale, which is made up of five whole-tones and two half-tones (also called semi-tones).  The half-tones are located between the third and fourth, and seventh and eighth degrees or tones of the scale.

Interestingly enough, in medieval times the Major Scale (the Ecclesiastical or Church Mode called the Ionian) was described as the Lustful Mode (modus lascivus) by the Church and it was disapproved by them, but it is now the most basic frame of reference and building material of Musick as we know it today.  With the minor scale (the Ecclesiastical or Church Mode called the Aeolian), it forms the two modern modes of Musick.  From it we derive structure and meaning from a musical perspective.  It is the source of organized sound, which is the basic definition of Musick.

The Major Scale is made up of eight scale tones (octave included).  It has seven actual different tones (remember, the octave is the same as the tonic, but a pitch higher).  By number, these seven basic "diatonic" tones (or the white keys on the piano) correspond with the seven Colors of the Spectrum, the seven Spirits of God, the seven Chakras of Yoga, the seven Metals of Alchemy, and the seven traditional Planets of Astrology.  (The five "chromatic" tones, or sharped and flatted notes, that is, the five black or chromatic keys on the piano, correspond with the five Elements of Fire, Water, Air, Earth, and Spirit.)  The magick of correspondences is universal.  It communicates to the mind a subconscious link between the corresponding principles.  This link reveals the most fundamental energies of Nature, that is, the Spiritual Forces at work below all material (and mental) activity.  The seven tones of Musick are the colorful vibrations of these Spiritual Forces on earth, and they are the primary sounds of Celestial Musick, comprising the Musick of the Spheres.

The Major Scale is a Magickal Key by which to open the inner door to the Invisible College of Musick, where one learns directly from the seven invisible Spirits of Musick, whose voices are the sublime sounds of the Musick of the Spheres and whose bodies are the divine colors of the Eternal Rainbow in the Heavens.  The Spirits of Musick are in each tone of the Major Scale.  Yes, there are Spirits of Musick whose work is to inspire humanity with the selfless and spiritual quality of Musick.  Musick represents the selfless and spiritual aspect of existence.  Musick is invisible, like the Spirit, or like the Air that we cannot see, but which is all around us.  The Spirits of Musick permeate the air of the earth, creating melodies and harmonies for all to hear.  They are in every tune or song that you hear.  They are also within you.

Let us take a look at the C Major Scale, which contains no accidental or non-diatonic notes (notes that are sharp or flat, that is, the five black or chromatic keys on the piano), but only the seven natural diatonic tones of Musick (the seven white keys on the piano).  The notes for this Diatonic Major Scale (or Major Diatonic Scale) are C, D, E, F, G, A, and B.  Here is the C Major (Natural) Scale on the musical staff (in Treble or G Clef).  The first note of the scale (Middle C) is drawn using a ledger line (a ledger line is used to extend a staff for lower or higher pitches).  It is made up of five (whole) tones and two half tones (semi-tones).  The half-tones are located between the notes E and F, and B and C.  The other notes are whole tones (or simply tones).  The formula for the Major Scale is WWHWWWH (whole-whole-half-whole-whole-whole-half).

C Major Scale [Ionian Mode]

The notes which form the Major Scale are identified using seven names and numbers, which are called Scale Degrees.  These are: Tonic (1), Supertonic (2), Mediant (3), Subdominant (4), Dominant (5), Submediant or Superdominant (6), and the Subtonic or Leading Tone (7).  In this scale, C is the Tonic, D is the Supertonic, E is the Mediant, F is the Subdominant, G is the Dominant, A is the Submediant or Superdominant, and B is the Subtonic or Leading Tone.  The Tonic (1), Subdominant (4) and Dominant (5) are the fundamental tones or degrees of the Major Scale.

The Major Scale has seven intervals.  (An interval is the distance in pitch between two tones.  It is called a melodic interval if the two tones are sounded successively, or a harmonic interval if the two tones are sounded simultaneously.)  These intervals are known by the following names: Perfect First (Prime or Unison), Major Second, Major Third, Perfect Fourth, Perfect Fifth, Major Sixth, and Major Seventh.  (The second, third, sixth and seventh intervals are called imperfect.)  There is also the Perfect Eighth, but it is the Octave (octavus) of the Perfect First.  Within one octave, the fourth, fifth and octave have three qualities, called diminished, perfect and augmented; the second, third, sixth and seventh have four qualities, called diminished, minor, major and augmented.

The major third of the Major Scale is what characterizes the scale or differentiates it from a minor scale (the other scale that, with the Major Scale, makes up our basic system of Tonality).  The Major Triad of Musick (chord of three tones) is made up of the fundamental or root, major third and perfect fifth from the Major Scale (it is a chain of two thirds or two superimposed intervals of a third).  The Major Triad is the most fundamental of Triads (the other three Triads are the Minor, Augmented and Diminished).  With the Minor Triad, it forms the basis of the system of chords.  (Note: Chords are Harmony, that is, a combination of tones sounded simultaneously, whereas Scales are Melody, that is, a succession of tones.)

On the Guitar, the Major Scale is as follows (with simple and compound intervals):

C Major Scale on Guitar

You start from the bottom (low E string) and end on the top (high E string).  In this diagram, the horizontal lines represent the six Guitar strings and the vertical lines represent the frets on the Guitar.   The numbers represent the ascending order of natural tones (1-7) in the Major Scale.  The entire scale here contains three root notes (the tonic or root note of the scale and two octaves of the tonic or root note).  This scale is movable along the fretboard of the Guitar and may be played in fixed position for any Major Scale in any key or tonal center.  For instance, start the first note on the fifth fret of the low E string and you will be playing the Major Scale in the Key of A (A Major Scale).  Start the first note from the eighth fret of the low E string and you will be playing the Major Scale in the Key of C (C Major Scale).  It is a very simple musickal ritual performed by the hands and fingers on the Guitar.  Once the fundamental elements of the ritual are perfected, then one may modify or expand on the ritual to include other elements. 

If you do not yet know the Major Scale, then learn and master this simple ritual on the Guitar.  This is the first scale that the student of the Guitar should thoroughly learn in vertical position (also called playing in position) and horizontally (playing the scale on one string) in both ascending and descending order.  This will make learning the other scales (like the natural, harmonic and melodic minor scales) and the other modes (modes are rearrangements of the Major Scale or Ionian Mode) easier to learn and master on the Guitar.  It will also help you to better understand the nature of the universal Pentatonic scale, which is generally the first scale most Guitar players learn to play on the Guitar, but without a theoretical understanding of the scale.  To develop such an understanding transforms the Pentatonic or five-tone scale into a meaningful pattern that expands upon the scale as a creative tool for making Musick.  You should also learn, understand and apply some of the other scales of Musick.  The Major Scale is only the beginning, and there is no end to learning about Musick.  Musick is a form of the Great Work, and it represents in itself the Path to Eternal Enlightenment.

David Cherubim

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David Cherubim

The Spiritual Guitar Guide

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Copyright 2004-2017.
David Cherubim.
All rights reserved.

David Cherubim