My plan is to start with major and minor scales, work our way through modes, chords, and chord progressions, and ultimately talk about melody writing and any other topics that come up in the meantime. The intent here is not to bore you with irrelevant trivia or bog you down with concepts typically associated only with classical music, but to introduce you to some very useful and practical concepts that will help you understand what you and others are creating, help you speak and understand the language of music theory and, hopefully, stimulate some new ways of thinking about your own EDM compositions. It will be very elementary to the more advanced musicians, but hopefully it will help people struggling with basic music theory concepts and practices. My original plan was to make this a blog, but given the other knowledgeable theory minds around here (e.g., RichieV, Diginut, Sonic_c, etc.), I think it would be better to keep it in an open forum format to facilitate an open dialog, Q&A, etc.
So, for this first session, I am going to talk about major and minor scales, which are typically used in EDM. This session will lay a foundation for later sessions discussing the relevant modes, the relationships between chords and modes, how chords are structured and arranged, and ultimately some discussions of melodies and harmonies. I will assume for this first session that the reader is familiar with note names and can locate the notes on a piano, has a general understanding of how to read music (e.g., treble vs. bass clef, notation), etc. I am going to focus on the familiar diatonic (7-note) scales in this session, since those are most widely used in EDM (and most pop/rock music), particularly the major and minor scales. We may find it useful to also discuss pentatonic (5-note) scales in another session.
Let’s start with a few terms that I will use when naming notes:
- # (sharp) = raised by a semitone (half-step)
- x (double-sharp) = raised by two semitones, or one tone (full-step)
- ♭ (flat) = lowered by a semitone
- ♭♭ (double-flat) = lowered by two semitones, or one tone
- ♮ (natural) = not raised nor lowered
Two important notes before we begin. First, when naming the notes in a diatonic scale, it is standard convention to only use each letter name once and all letter names should be used. For example, you would not write an E-major scale as E-F#-A♭-A-…because this skips the letter G, but uses the letter A twice (flattened and natural). Thus, you would write this as E-F#-G#-A-…instead. The G# and Ab are “enharmonic” notes, which essentially means that they are played the same on a piano, but named differently, depending on the context. This is very important, as we will see when we talk about chords later on, to avoid confusion when referring to which note in the scale a chord is built on, talk about interval relationships, etc. Second, we don’t use both flats and sharps in the same scale or mode, with the exception of some variations of the minor scale that we will talk about later. Again, this is standard convention for reading and writing music and, as we will see later, to avoid confusion when naming intervals, chords, etc.
The Major Scale
Let’s start with the major scale. Find middle-C on your keyboard, play all the white notes ascending up the keyboard to the next C, and you’ve played an ascending C-major scale. Looking at the note names, we see that we’ve played:
As noted above, all seven note letters (A through G) were used, and none were repeated within the 7-note scale. Of course, to play the descending major scale, you would just read these backward as you play down the keyboard from C to C. Taking a closer look…