Music scales and scores


An example of a scale is seen on the keyboard by 7 consecutive white keys starting on the note C. A scale is named based on the lowest note. This particular scale is called a C Major. The term Major indicates a particular sequence of notes that we'll get into later. As seen in the previous lesson, there are 12 notes in an octave. On the keyboard this is seen as 12 consecutive black (sharps and flats) and white (naturals) keys. A scale can begin on any of these. So what greatly complicates reading, understanding, and playing music is that there is not just one scale. Using the sequence of notes defined by the term Major, there are 12.

The terms sharp and flat are very often referred to by just the single symbols "#" and "♭" (it's not the letter b but it looks a lot like it). Using this shorthand convention, the list of 12 possible scales is A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G# (or equivalently: A, B♭, B, C, D♭, D, E♭, E, F, G♭, G, A♭).

And if that isn't complicated enough, there are indeed two versions of these scales. One is the Major scale just mentioned and the other is the minor scale. The choice between the two can give a sense of "mood" to a piece of music, e.g., "happy" or "sad". In summary, there are 12 X 2 = 24 possible scales.

So what do I need to know for now regarding scales? To read and play with WYSIWYP, this is just background information. For beginners, this piano course will (for now) concentrate on the scale that contains just the white key naturals because they are the easiest to play. This scale is C Major. It is comprised of C, D, E, F, G, A, and B.


A score is all of the notation needed to describe how to play a piece of music. It is what you see on the sheet music. The general rule for which of the 7 notes out of the possible 12 to be used in the piece is defined by the scale of the piece. So a piece in C Major includes by default only the C through B white key naturals. Alas, it's again not always that simple because there can be exceptions to the rule. So sometimes a piece in C Major will include some sharps or flats.

Also be aware that within the score, the full range of the piece can and usually does exceed a single octave. So a score in C Major can contain any range of notes from multiple octaves, but all notes in that range will be in the group of notes defined by that scale (C through B naturals)... except for the exceptions ! But because in WYSIWYP the noteheads explicitly define naturals/sharps/flats explicitly, it's easy to know what to play.

At some point, you're going to encounter the term key signature. In traditional sheet music notation, this is the way the scale of a score is specified. the notation is comprised of sharp and flat symbols ("#" and "♭") displayed at the beginning of the staff. This tells the musician implicitly what notes should be played differently from how they're displayed on the staff. This is a very complicated topic and since the purpose of WYSIWYP is to shield you from this situation (at least for now), it will not be further discussed since key signatures are not necessary to play a piece. However, in your reading about music and in conversations with your musician friends, the term is going to come up and so you should have a basic understanding of what the term means.

So what do I need to know for now regarding scores? To read and play with WYSIWYP, this is just background information. Now and even in the future when you're playing scores in different scales from C Major, the notes to be played are explicitly shown by the noteheads. That's one of the reasons it's called What You See Is What You Play. Having said that regarding beginners, "serious" musicians are deeply involved with the subtleties of major and minor scales. Musicians who improvise and composers use scale-related knowledge and experience in order to invent music (in real-time or in advance) in a way that sounds "right".