Teach Yourself Music Theory – 12.) Pitch-Class Collections and Major Scales

Read, analyze, play, and/or listen to this compositional segment below:

Now, write out all of the note letter-names that you see where used in this small composition.

You should get (in order of appearance): { A, C#, E, F#, D, B, G#}

What we have written above is the composition’s pitch-class collection, or a collection of all the pitches listed by their letter-names used.

Time to introduce a new concept. A scale, which is a pitch-class collection but organized in a ascending/descending manner in an alphabetized way.

Which… using the same example above, if we put the pitch-class collection in an alphabetical order, it would be: {A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G#}

So, what kind of scale is this? Well, to spoil the answer – this is a major scale. But how can we tell? Just look at the intervallic distances between the notes.

A major scale is made up of a pattern of notes set apart from each other in an ascending manner of whole-step, whole-step, half-step, whole-step, whole-step, whole-step, half-step (which returns to the starting pitch). You can also think of this as M2-M2-m2-M2-M2-M2-m2.

So now, let’s take a look back at our pitch-class collection:

Does it match the pattern of the major scale interval formula? Yes it does!

Try now for an exercise by taking any starting pitch and see if you can build a major scale of your own!

Thank you so much for taking the time to read! Feel free to comment, share, and subscribe for more daily tips below! Till next time.

Author: Bryan M. Waring

Bryan Waring is a graduate of USM's School of Music with a B.M. in Performance – Composition and is now attending Belmont University for a M.M. in Commercial Media – Composition & Arranging. During his time at USM, he studied violin with Dino Liva and composition with Dr. Daniel Sonenberg, as well as has premiered several pieces during the semiannual Composer's Ensemble concert series. In 2017, Bryan was a writer for the original musical theater work of "Molded By The Flow," directed by Paul Dresher and Rinde Eckert. Outside of school, Bryan has been involved with writing music for videogame developers at Portland's CI2 Lab, collaborating with the King Tide Party, and studying with Larry Groupé (Straw Dogs) in San Diego. Now living in Nashville. Along with composing, Bryan teaches music to children, receiving the Master Teacher Award for his work at ESF Camps; and does audio engineering for live ensembles. Besides talents in music, Bryan is a team-player in any competitive work environment; equipped with skills in leadership, organization, mathematics, creativity, communication, and managing. On the side, Bryan has worked as a model for several skilled artists in the New England area. Among his other accomplishments include obtaining the rank of Eagle Scout in April 2013 with a project of building a side parking area with guide rails for Webb Mountain Park in Monroe, CT.

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