Getting Music ‐ Essential Music Concepts And Language

Self Quiz 3: The Scales Used In Popular Music Styles.



Photo © 2013 by Dennis Wells Benjamin.

This self quiz covers your knowledge of musical scales.

Most questions deal with the semitone distances in the formulas for various kinds of scales used in popular music genres such as jazz, R&B, rock, country and hip hop.

A few questions are about less common scales that either come up in musical instrument training or are used occasionally by some musicians.

In the last question, you can apply the scale formulas to build actual scales using notes.

Definitions for this quiz:

• Scale formulas will look something like this made-up example, which is not a real scale:   R - 1 - 2 - 3 - 1 - 2 - 3(R).

• ‘R’ means the root of the scale. The scale’s first note.

• ‘1’ or ‘2’ or ‘3’ is the semitone distance between two notes in the scale.

• ‘1(R)’ or ‘2(R)’ or ‘3(R)’ shows where the scale completes by returning to another root note.
   – Most scales are ascending scales—the notes go up in pitch from the starting root note. So, the ending root note is an octave higher than where the scale started.
   – For a descending scale, the second root note is an octave lower.

  1. Which scale has this formula: R - 2 - 1 - 2 - 2 - 1 - 2 - 2(R)?

    natural minor
    major pentatonic

  2. Enter the semitone formula for the relative minor scale between the root notes. (We mean the scale that is the relative minor of the major scale.)

    R - (R)

  3. What is ‘the minor scale’?

    The minor scale is used by musicians under 18 years old.
    It can mean any kind of a minor scale, such as a natural minor scale, a harmonic minor scale or a real melodic minor scale.
    It specifically is a short way of saying "relative minor scale" or "natural minor scale".

  4. What semitone spacing formula is used to build the the major scale?

    R - (R)

  5. Enter the semitone formula for the harmonic minor scale.

    R - (R)

  6. What scale is created using this semitone formula: R - 2 - 1 - 2 - 2 - 2 - 2 - 1(R)? (Warning: This is a trick question!)

    real melodic minor scale
    jazz melodic minor scale
    traditional ascending melodic minor scale

  7. What is the semitone formula for the traditional descending melodic minor scale, a classical music scale sometimes taught in musical instrument training?

    R - 2 - 2 - 1 - 1 - 2 - 1 - 2(R)
    R - 2 - 2 - 1 - 2 - 2 - 1 - 2(R)
    R - 2 - 1 - 2 - 2 - 3 - 1 - 1(R)

  8. Build the semitone formula for the blues scale.

    R - (R)

  9. Enter the semitone formula for the minor pentatonic scale.

    R - (R)

  10. What’s the semitone formula for the major pentatonic scale?

    R - (R)

  11. Enter the semitone formula for the major blues scale. (Note: This scale does not have a generally used name. It’s a blues scale based on the major pentatonic scale instead of the minor pentatonic scale.)

    R - (R)

  12. What is the semitone formula for the chromatic scale, the mother of all scales?

    R - (R)

  13. Here’s a challenge! Enter the semitone formula for the uncommon scale called the whole tone scale.

    R - (R)

  14. Another challenge! Identify the semitone formula for the uncommon symmetrical diminished scale.

    R - 1 - 2 - 1 - 2 - 1 - 2 - 1 - 2(R)
    R - 3 - 2 - 1 - 1 - 2 - 3(R)
    R - 2 - 1 - 2 - 1 - 2 - 1 - 2 - 1(R)

  15. Test yourself by applying the scale formulas to build actual scales using notes.

  16. Notice: In the quiz tools below, the letter ‘b’ is used in place of music’s flat sign [♭] and the ‘#’ (pound sign) is substituted for music’s sharp sign [♯] to ensure satisfactory display in your web browser. Some browsers render musical symbols with too much spacing and at an odd size.

    • First select a scale formula and pick a root note. Then build your scale below.
        •• If you want to keep practicing using the same scale formula, simply pick a new root note.

    Click a button to select a scale formula:

    Click a button to pick a root note:

    Scale formula:

    Root note:

    • Build your scale by clicking on the correct notes below.

    Your answer is:

    Click all the necessary buttons to build your answer:

    *The note choices B♯, C♯♯ and F♯♯ are necessary for some harmonic minor scales to be properly constructed. If you try to use the enharmonic equivalents in scales where B♯, C♯♯ and F♯♯ are necessary, your answer will be considered incorrect. (As a general rule, scales are spelled out using any letter only once. Exceptions are scales with successive notes 1 semitone apart, such as the chromatic scale and the blues scale.)

    F♭ is not included as a note choice. Even though a note called ‘F♭’ can exist, a note named that way is not needed for spelling out the scales typically used for popular music. But, F♭ could be needed to properly spell chords when chromatic ("expanded") harmony is used.

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