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G Major
D "
A "
etc, etc
Please, as an absolute beginner, 10 weeks after tonights lesson.
Why have all different scales?
What purpose do they serve?
Why have some got sharps/flats, some more than others?
I understand semi tones--they make sense.
But scales?
Are they mainly for different styles of music ie blues, classical, rock and over time they have evolved as being the best for these different syles of music Somebody, anybody, please spill the beans in easy to understand language.For instance --Why have a piece that can be played in (say)2 different scales, what is the point?
This really is proving to be an unclimbable wall at the moment.
P.S I have only started learning to read music at the same time as starting on the sax--no other musical knowledge can be assumed:w00t:.
Many Thanks


ex Landrover Nut
This could be a very long answer, so I'll be brief.

The sequence of notes you're used to hearing is the known as a diatonic scale. Each note is separated from the next by either a half tone or whole tone. If you imagine or find a picture of a piano keyboard, then you'll see the black keys are gouped into pairs and triplets. The white key to the left of the pairs of black keys is the C. Hold on to this for a while.

The white keys are named for the first seven letters of the alphabet. So the A is the white key, 2 keys to the left of the C.

This leaves out the black keys and we need names for them. The black key to the right of a white key is called sharp (higher) and the black key to the left of a key is called flat (lower). So G sharp is to the right of the white G key, while G flat is to the left of it.

You've probably noticed, if you're still with me, that each black key has 2 names - it's either a flat or a sharp. And we use the appropriate name, depending on whether we're flattening or sharpening a note. This you need to accept for now.

The interval between one C key and the next is called an Octave (from the latin for 8).

Something else about the keyboard is that the interval between two adjacent keys, irrespective of colour, is a semitone or half tone.

So if there's a black key between the whites, then there are two half tones between the white keys, but no black means a half tone between the white keys.

So if you start with the C (any) and play the white notes in sequence you have the key of C major.

It's the sequence of intervals that gives the scale it's sound, so in a major scale its tone, tone, half tone, tone, tone tone, half tone.

So why different scales - it's to play a tune slightly higher or lower. Generally if a tune is written in C, playing it an octave up will be too much of an adjustment. So if a tune is written in C and you want to play higher, play it in D - i.e. if the Tune started with a C, start with the next note up, a D.

And if you look at a keyboard again, find the G and work out the diatonic scale using the tone pattern I mentioned above, you'll see that you can play the white keys, just like the C scale - until you get to the F. F needs to be sharpened to make it a full tone above E. And this, really neatly makes the interval to finish the scale a half tone, from F sharp to G.

If it doesn't make sense, try to find a keyboard, or a picture of one. Find the keys as described above. Then work the scales starting on a letter, and going up in the tone pattern.

Hope this helps. It'll very quickly drop into place as you play more and develop your musical ear.

the key of C Major is played on the white keys in ascending sequence, so that you get the notes C,D,E,F,G,A,B and C again to finish off. Where there's a black key between the white keys, the interval (difference in pitch) between the white keys is a fullnote between the whi


As to why we need to learn them, without being too technical, learning your scales will improve your speed and fingering.
Also when you come to improvising you will see what chords are written above the music or the key the piece is written in from this you can choose which scale fits best to improvise with. This is not the only way of improvising. Go onto Pete's pages and you will find in the beginners section pages on scales etc. There are other more qualified people on the forum who can explain all the nitty gritty this is my lay man's attempt at it.
Hope this helps a bit. good luck. Phil

old git

Tremendous Bore
It could be argued that providing you can play any note within the instrument's range immediately, you have mastered the instrument. Being a coward and certified wimp, I dare not do that.

The advantage of practising scales and arpeggios is that they improve muscle memory on a sequence of notes that are likely to occur. Now you know why I don't bother. :)

Pete Thomas

Chief of Stuff
Commercial Supporter
Wow, you've had some god answers already, and I'll echo the previous bit about the different key of the scale being to make it sound higher or lower in pitch.

You can think of a scale as a tune. There different types of scales, major scales, minor scales (and different types of minor scales), and yet more... But think of each type as a tune, and then you need to learn that tune in different keys.

And no, apart from the blues scale, different types such as major or minor are in most types of music.

At this stage, I would recommend you try to find an evening class in basic music theory, it will help a lot and allow your teacher to concentrate on the saxophone rather than on music theory. However keep at it and very soon a lightbulb or two will come on.


I likened learning sax-playing at the same time as sight-reading is a bit like learning Japanese while working in a Tokyo restaurant..... alien alphabet, vocab and grammar, on top of juggling all those plates and taking orders :D

Not easy for an over-60 :eek:

(And, of course I am learning Spanish as well!!!! The old valves are overheating at times.....quite often, actually.)


Many Thanks to you all.
I am still here. Attempting to take all this onboard.

"The old valves are overheating at times"
Sounds like a decoke and a good run is in order.
Either that or a bottle of neat JD to free things up a touch;}.


Got it.
Thank you all for your replies.:thankyou:
I was getting there in a sort of a way, Then Pete wrote "You can think of a scale as a tune". That was the light bulb.Yes, of course, they are small tunes.
Now I know why you guys play the saxophone and I just blow into the thin end of mine.
Once again
Many Thanks to you all.

Young Col

Well-Known Member
Everyone else has indeed put it well. I was just going to say that some tunes sound better starting at different pitches, some instruments sound better at different pitches and some singers have a vocal range that is suited to different pitches. The way that Western (or perhaps more accurately, European) music and our ear for it has developed, we need to ensure that wherever we pitch it, the scale has the same tone differences (otherwise we would say it is out of tune) - hence in simple major keys, keeping the progression tone/tone/semitone/tone/tone/tone/semitone that Kev mentions, which is why we need sharps and flats.

You could get something like the Associated Board Guide to Music Theory, book 1, that starts at very basics. Even there though, although it goes into all this stuff, it doesn't answer the question "why?" , which others have done here.

Good luck.

Saxholder Pro

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