Why We Need Scales

A scale is a group of (usually seven) notes that sound good together when you use them to create a melody. That’s it! There is usually one note in the scale that is the “main” note. It’s called the “root” or “tonic.” This is the note that all the other notes in the scale are compared to. The tonic is usually played at the end of a song because it creates a strong, safe ending that feels like the song is coming “home.”

Scales are quite a magical thing. Imagine telling a room full of musicians to improvise as randomly as possible. Each musician would pick random notes to play without regard to what any of the other musicians are playing. This would sound horrible! If you then made each musician agree to only use notes from a particular scale, it would suddenly sound like music. It might even be beautiful.

All melodies use scales (with very few exceptions). Learning scales also helps you learn melodies by ear, figure out melodies you hear in your imagination, improvise, and read music with greater ease. In my experience as a teacher, students are reluctant to learn scales, they just want to learn their favourite songs. It might take a beginner a few weeks to learn one simple song. But if they learned to play scales, they could learn that song in a few minutes. If they practiced enough ear training using scales they could simply play the song without learning it first. Learning scales is worth it!