What is the

Let’s dive deeper into Intervals and figure out what the scales are. Scales are a selection of notes, out of the chromatic scale (12 notes). They are constructed using steps.

The relative steps of the major scale are: w-w-h-w-w-w-h (w=whole step, h=half step).
Let’s explore how that exactly works:

Chromatic intervals

To explain the the major scale best, take a look at the piano. Especially to the white notes. Those are the notes in the major scale.

123456789101112

Notice the numbers of the white notes.
Schematically they look like this:

123456789101112
Chromatic intervals for white notes
CC♯DD♯EFF♯GG♯AA♯B
Note names in chromatic scale (in key of C)

Diatonic intervals

If we would re-number the highlighted notes (instead of using the absolute numbers of the chromatic scale) we create a new interval (scale) that looks like this.

1234567

Notice again the numbers of the white notes.
Schematically they look like this:

1X2X34X5X6X7
Diatonic intervals in the major scale
CC♯DD♯EFF♯GG♯AA♯B
Notes names for the major scale (in key of C)

What does diatonic mean?

The term “diatonic” basically means two tones. This refers to the two different kinds of steps that occur in major scales. The term “diatonic” is used to mean “of the scale”. If you’re playing in the key of C major and you’re using C major notes, then the notes you’re using are diatonic. In the example above (with the piano), you saw that only the notes of scale are included, they only have notes “of the scale”.

Step names

The steps of a diatonic scale are known by these names:
  • 1st – Tonic (key note)
  • 2nd – Supertonic
  • 3rd – Mediant
  • 4th – Subdominant
  • 5th – Dominant
  • 6th – Submediant
  • 7th – Leading tone
  • 8th – Tonic (Octave)

The on the in key of

Back to the guitar! You might wonder how this all translates back to your instrument and that might be a bit confusing at first, but please stay tuned. As you just seen, the chromatic intervals for major scale are 1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10 and 12. To most people, this is not very useful information. The steps are more important to know. Try to learn that by heart. From there it is way more interesting and practical to look at diatonic scale intervals.

Switch between chromatic/diatonic/notes below to see/learn the relations between them. For convenience, the root note (C) is highlighted.

012345678910111213141516171819
Exercise Try to play all the highlighted root notes (1) on your instrument! Tap on the fretboard to see if it matches.
Display total frets:

The following table contains overview of the most used scales and its intervals.
Scale nameIntervalDegreeSteps
Major scale1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10, 121, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7w-w-h-w-w-w-h
Minor scale1, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 111, 2, ♭3, 4, 5, ♭6, ♭7w-h-w-w-h-w-w
Melodic minor scale1, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 121, 2, ♭3, 4, 5, 6, 7w-h-w-w-w-w-h
Harmonic minor scale1, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 121, 2, ♭3, 4, 5, ♭6, 7w-h-w-w-h-wh-h
Blues scale1, 4, 6, 7, 8, 111, ♭3, 4, ♭5, 5, ♭7wh-w-h-h-wh-w
Minor pentatonic scale1, 4, 6, 8, 111, ♭3, 4, 5, ♭7wh-w-w-wh-w
Major pentatonic scale1, 3, 5, 8, 101, 2, 3, 5, 6w-w-wh-w-wh
Overview of more scales
Scale degree
♭=half step down, ♯=half step up
Steps
w=whole step, h=half step, w=whole and half step

As you might notice, the scales have 7 notes, except for the blues and pentatonic scales.