Music Theory


These are the most used and generally accepted scales.


Major Scales

The major scale is one of the most commonly used musical scales, especially in Western music. It is one of the diatonic scales. Like many musical scales it is made up of seven notes: the eighth duplicates the first at double its frequency so that it is called a higher octave of the same note (from Latin "octavus", the eighth).

The characteristics that give the major scale its specific flavor are found in the sequence (or pattern) of whole steps (WS) and half steps (HS) that form the scale.

The pattern of the major scale is: WS - WS - HS - WS - WS - WS - HS

Major sharp keys.jpg

Major flat keys.jpg

Download the Major Scales pdf

Minor Scales

Minor scales are of 3 kinds: Natural, Harmonic and Melodic. Each of these minor scales have an unique sound.

Natural Minor Scales

     The pattern that characterizes the sound of the natural minor scale is: WS - HS - WS - WS - HS - WS - WS

Natural minor sharp keys.jpg

Natural minor flat keys.jpg

Download the Natural minor scales pdf

Harmonic minor scales

     The notes of the harmonic minor scale are almost the same as the notes from the natural minor scale. The only difference between these two is that the 7th note from the harmonic minor is raised a half step (semitone) making an augmented second (a whole and a half step - WH) between the 6th and 7th note.

     The pattern that gives the harmonic minor scale its sound is: WS - HS - WS - WS - HS - WH - HS.

Harmonic minor sharp keys.jpg

Harmonic minor flat keys.jpg

Download the Harmonic minor scales pdf

Melodic minor scales

     The notes of the melodic minor scale are somewhat the same as the natural minor scale notes. This time, both the 6th note and the 7th note are raised above the corresponding notes of the natural minor scale. As you can see bellow this is valid only when playing the melodic minor scale upward. When playing the melodic minor scale downward the notes are exactly the same as the descending notes from the natural minor scale.

     The pattern that give this scale its specific flavor is:
 -upward:      WS - HS - WS - WS - WS - WS - HS
 -downward (see natural minor scales )

Melodic minor sharp keys.jpg

Melodic minor flat keys1.jpg

Download the Melodic minor scales pdf

Diminished scales and other scales

     Also known as the octatonic scales (because it consists of 8 notes), they are divided into 2 types of scales:
- Half step(HS) - Whole step(WS) diminished scales
- Whole step(WS) - Half step(HS) diminished scales

     The pattern of the HS-WS diminished scale is: HS - WS - HS - WS - HS - WS - HS - WS (as you can see the HS-WS sequence keeps on repeating until it reaches the octave note, hence the name).


We apply the same logic to the WS-HS diminished scale.

The pattern for the WS-HS diminished scale is: WS - HS - WS - HS - WS - HS - WS - HS.


Other scales worth mentioning are the chromatic scale and the whole tone scale.

The chromatic scale consists of 12 notes, each of them at a whole step (semitone) apart.

So the pattern of the chromatic scale goes like this: HS - HS - HS - HS - HS - HS - HS - HS - HS - HS - HS. Easy, right?


The whole tone scale consists of 6 notes a whole step (tone) apart.

Whole tone scale pattern: WS - WS - WS - WS - WS - WS.

Whole tone.jpg

Download the Diminished and other scales pdf


     Although used in western and traditional music, these modes are often used in jazz, especially the C melodic minor scale modes.

C major scale modes

      In the theory of western music, mode (from Latin modus, "measure, standard, manner, way, size, limit of quantity, method") generally refers to a type of scale, coupled with a set of characteristic melodic behaviours. Although the use of the modes is very common in recent years, dates back to the Middle Ages, itself inspired by the theory of ancient Greek music.
      Derived from the C major scale, each of these 7 modes has its unique characteristics due to the pattern of whole steps and half steps.

C major scale modes.jpg

Download the C Major modes pdf

C melodic minor scale modes

     A great deal of modern jazz harmony arises from the modes of the ascending form of the melodic minor scale, also known as the jazz melodic minor scale.
    This scale is essentially a diatonic major scale with a flatted third, for example C D E? F G A B C. As with any other scale, the modes are derived from playing the scale from different root notes, causing a series of jazz scales to emerge.
    Each of these 7 modes that are derived from the C melodic minor scale has its unique flavor due to the whole steps and half steps sequence.

C melodic minor scale modes.jpg

Download the C Melodic minor modes pdf


NOTE: all chords found in this section should be interpreted in the treble clef (also called the G clef)

The Basics

Bellow we will go through the basics of music notation.

Music is a language, and in order to be able to read a new language and also write it, we first need to know its specific alphabet. Instead of words we have to learn 7 letters: A B C D E F G, they look familiar don't they? Of course, they're the first 7 letters of the most common alphabet.

You might ask: well, how come there are so many notes on the piano and only 7 note names? Well that's very simple. If you look closely to a piano keyboard you will start to see a pattern unfolding. The most obvious sign is the 2 and 3 black keys alternation.


So that means that there's some repetition going on and if you start counting from the white key on the left of the 2 black notes you will get 7 keys with the 8th being placed the same as the first note, on the left of the 2 black keys group, being named the same as the first note.

piano_keys numbered.jpg

The next step is to know which key is A, so we know where to start our 7 note sequence from.

piano_keys named.jpg

The next question most people ask is: how come the black notes don't also have letters assigned to them? Well, it has something to do with the use of alterations, stuff that we will go through later, so don't panic. All you need to know for now are these 7 notes.

So what we did so far was to learn the musical alphabet on a piano keyboard, the next obvious step is to learn the representation of the musical alphabet on the stave. To get there, first we need to learn a couple of things.

1.The stave (or staff):

is the graphic system in which notes thrive, without the stave, these bubbles that we call notes wouldn't be assigned any pitch. It consists of 5 lines and 4 in-between spaces that are visible. Actually, the stave has many more ”invisible” lines and spaces that can be used to notate higher or lower notes. We will go through this thoroughly a bit later. For now, here's how the standard representation of the stave actually looks:


2.The clef (from french, meaning ”key”):

is a symbol that dictates the register in which the following notes will be played. There are many types of clefs, fortunately the piano sheet uses only 2 of them: the treble clef (also named the G clef) and the bass clef (also named the F clef).

The treble clef: it is also named the G clef because it tells us where the G note is found on the stave: on the the second line (counting from bottom to top), from which we can figure out the rest of the notes according to the A B C D E F G loop sequence. Bellow you can see the graphic representation of the treble clef:

G clef.jpg

      The bass clef: also named the F clef because it tells us where we can find the F note on the stave: on the 4th line (counting from bottom to top), from which we can figure out the rest of the A B C D E F G loop sequence. Bellow you can see the graphic representation of the bass clef:

Bass clef.jpg

Now, a very inspired question would be: Well, how can we tell where on the stave can we notate a specific note (or sound) from the piano keyboard? This is where the middle C comes in and makes all of this much easier for us.

The middle C is basically the closest C note to the middle of the keyboard. Bellow you will see the middle C on the keyboard and on the stave in both treble and bass clef.

Middle C on the keyboard.jpg


Oh but wait! What is this double stave I see? This adhesion of the upper stave and lower stave is called a grand staff.

We know how to read notes on the piano keyboard, let's try and read notes on a stave now. Notice that we have lines and spaces in a stave. Notes can be placed on both lines and spaces. So, if we have a G (after the treble clef) on the 2nd line, what note will it be on the 4th line?

At first, when practicing note reading we have to look at the stave and pick a reference note. The single reference note we know (and need) while having a treble clef is the G note (while having a bass clef, our reference note becomes the F).  If the note is above our reference note then that means that the A B C D E F G sequence goes forward. If the note is below our reference note than that means that our A B C D E F G sequence goes backward like: G F E D C B A G F  and so on.

Coming back to our question, the answer is D. G(2nd line), after G comes A(2nd space), then B(3rd line), C(3rd space) and finally, D on the 4th line as bellow:

G clef with D note.jpg

Apply the same logic when the note you are trying to read is below the reference note.

3.The time value of notes

So we learned about the pitch of the notes, now we have to know about the duration of notes and how to read them as well. Bellow you can see how these duration symbols came to be.

duration of notes.jpg

...and the subdivisions can go on.

A very important aspect of the time flow is the time signature. The time signature basically tells us how many beats are to be contained in each bar/measure and which note value is to be given one beat.

A bar or measure is a segment of time corresponding to a specific number of beats in which each beat is represented by a particular note value and the boundaries of the bar are indicated by vertical bar lines. Bellow you can see both the most common time signature (4/4) and its boundaries (measure/bar).


Remember when I said that the stave has many more invisible lines and spaces in-between those lines? Well, these lines are called ledger lines and are necessary because the standard stave (5 lines, 4 spaces) isn't enough to notate so many notes (the piano has 88 keys). Even so, these ledger lines can't cover all the notes of the piano so there are several artifices that one can use to notate the lowest and highest notes of the piano, I will get into detail in a more advanced chapter. For now, here's how these ledger lines look like:

Ledger lines.jpg

To be continued in the Advanced theory chapter.

Advanced theory

Bellow we will cover advanced aspects of music notation and theory

1. Alterations.

What are alterations you ask? Well, basically they are symbols that alter the pitch of notes. Remember that we assigned letters only to the white keys in The Basics chapter? Here is where alterations come in handy.

There are 3 symbols that can alter pitch: the sharp symbol (raises the note by a half step), the flat symbol (lowers the note by a half step), the natural symbol (cancels previous alterations and represents the unaltered pitch of a note). Bellow you can see how these symbols look like.


     Alterations can be of 2 types: key signatures and accidentals.

     Key signatures.

A key signature is basically a set of sharp or flat symbols placed together on the staff. Key signatures are generally written immediately after the clef at the beginning of a line of musical notation, although they can appear in other parts of a score, notably after a double barline.

Key signatures.jpg

For more key signatures see SCALES .

   Accidentals (accidental alterations)

   Accidentals modify the pitch of the notes that follow them on the same staff position within a measure, unless cancelled by an additional accidental.

Accidental alterations2.jpg

Other alterations include:

the double flat (lowers the note by two half steps) and the double sharp (raises the note by two half steps).


2. Dotted notes

Dotted notes come as something extra for the Time Value of Notes chapter that we went through in The Basics section. What the dot does is to extend the duration of the basic note by half of its original value. A dotted note is equivalent to writing the basic note tied to a note of half the value; or with more than one dots, tied to notes of progressively halved value as in the bellow example:

dotted notes.jpg

3. Intervals

An interval is the distance between two notes. The main intervals are of 3 types: minor (m), major (M), perfect (P), altered (A) and diminished (d). Bellow you can see these 5 types of intervals up to an octave (an octave is the distance from a note up or down to the next note with the same name) built on top of the C note.


     We apply the same logic to the intervals that follow: 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th.


A chord is any harmonic set of three notes that is heard as if sounding simultaneously. These need not actually be played together: arpeggios, and broken chords may, for many practical and theoretical purposes, constitute chords.

For more examples of chords, check out the CHORDS section.


The tempo of a piece of music generally refers to the speed at which the piece is intended to be played. When reading a piece of music this translates as beats per minute. Bellow you can find the names of all the crystallized traditional tempos along with the beats per minute indication.


Terms for tempo change: ritardando or rallentando (gradually slowing down) and Accelerando or stringendo (gradually accelerating)

Download Tempo chart pdf


The 2 basic dynamic indicators of music are:p or piano (meaning ”soft”) and f or forte (meaning ”loud”).

More subtle degrees of softness and loudness are indicated by: mp standing for ”mezzo-piano” (meaning ”moderately soft”) and mf standing for ”mezzo-forte” (meaning ”moderately loud”). 

Beyond f and p there are also:

pp, standing for "pianissimo" (meaning "very soft")

ff, standing for "fortissimo" (meaning "very loud")

ppp, standing for "pianississimo" (meaning"very very soft")

fff, standing for "fortississimo" (meaning "very very loud")

Some pieces contain dynamic designations with more than three f's or p's.


Accents, dynamics, pedaling and other musical artifices, all have the role of articulating the music, therefore giving expressivity to the music being played. Bellow you will find a list of accents used by pianists.