Robert Estrin - piano expert

How Many Musical Scales Are There?

Are there really just 36 scales in music?

In this video, Robert tells you how many scales can be found in music. You may think you have all the answers already, but think again!

Released on October 7, 2015

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, and welcome to virtualsheetmusic.com and livingpianos.com. I'm Robert Estrin with a viewer question. How many scales are there?

Well, if you've ever analyzed a keyboard on a piano you notice that there are 12 different notes. You might think the answer would be since there are 12 different notes there are 12 different scales. Well, this is true for major scales, but what about minor scales? Well, if you add minor you'd think maybe there'd be 24, but the minor actually has 2 different forms, the harmonic and the melodic. So, you're at 36.

Are we done yet? Well, not necessarily, because there are also what are called modes. This gets to be a gray area. Why? Because modes are essentially scales that start on different notes. For example, if you have no sharps or flats you might think you're in C major, and indeed you can play a C major scale by playing all the white keys through C up to C and back down again. But, what if you have no sharps or flats and you started on D? Well, this is the Dorian mode. You could do the same thing starting on E. That would be the Phyrgian mode. You would have essentially seven modes just for no sharps or flats.

I actually haven't calculated a number of how many scales there would be if you considered every mode to be a separate scale. It gets to be mind boggling at that point, because you're just essentially starting on any note for all of the notes of a major scale plus your three minors because they have altered tones. I will have the review for you in the write up about how many that is. I'll have to count it up in my head.

Basically the answer to this is there are 36 major and minor scales if you include both the harmonic and the melodic minor along with the major scales. Good question. You got me thinking. Very good.

We'll see you next time here on virtualsheetmusic.com and livingpianos.com. I'm Robert Estrin.

Text Onscreen: 36 major and minor scales, 72 additional modes, 12 blues scales, 12 diminished scales, 12 pentatonic scales, 12 whole tone scales, 12 chromatic scales. 168 TOTAL.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Meera Thadani on March 11, 2021 @11:16 am PST
I'm still working on the 36 major and minor scales. And add some of the others as the need arises. It is a life long occupation for me. And I am running out of time. What to do now?
Lynette Westendorf on March 10, 2021 @9:31 am PST
Hi, I have assigned your column to my students for years, with great success. My question is not about this week's column.

Can you address how to find a music publisher? I am an Emmy-award winning composer, D.M.A., very experienced and I have finished a piano project that really should be in print--a complete set of Preludes and Fugues for Solo Piano (all keys major and minor). The music is early advanced, ideal for furthering a student's knowledge of counterpoint in modern vernacular. Any advice? Perhaps can you address this is another article, or I would be happy to pay for a private lesson for your advice. Thanks, Lynette
reply
Robert - host, on March 11, 2021 @4:59 pm PST
The music industry has changed. Even if you get published, it doesn't mean you will make much money. People who are successful find creative ways of self-promotion. Then maybe a publisher will be interested in you if you gain enough of a following. Partnering at that point could expand your each. But you are still likely to make most of your money from your personal sales even at that point.
Ken Cory * VSM MEMBER * on March 10, 2021 @5:44 am PST
That's a good first step, Robert. But there are twelve additional blues scales, called the major blues scales, and one hundred eighty bebop scales (formed by adding one chromatic passing note, of which there are five, to each of the major and two minor scales). And there are many more exotic scales that contain two leaps of a minor third, for example.
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Robert - host, on March 10, 2021 @7:26 am PST
You could add to that diminished scales, augmented scales and other non-traditional scales from other cultures!
Ken * VSM MEMBER * on March 10, 2021 @7:44 pm PST
Yes, I had forgotten the diminished scales. That adds to the grand total! I think the augmented scales might be found among the bebop scales, but I'm not sure.
Richard Keena * VSM MEMBER * on March 10, 2021 @5:06 am PST
Nicholas Slonimsky’s Thesaurus of Scales asks/answers questions of both diatonic, chromatic, exotic, and extending-beyond-one-octave scales. An excellent book for any level.
Kathy Woveris on June 25, 2018 @11:48 pm PST
what about the natural minor scales?
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Robert A Estrin - host, on June 27, 2018 @12:34 pm PST
Natural minor scales are identical to descending melodic minor scales.
Robert - host, on October 30, 2015 @3:53 pm PST
You can start any major scale on any of the other 6 notes of the scale forming modes. So for example, you could start a C major scale on D, E, F, G, A or B. This is also true for all the other major scales. Since there are 12 possible tones, times 6 modes, that equals 72 possible modes in addition to the 12 major scales.
Rita on October 30, 2015 @11:41 am PST
So what are the 72 additional modes.?
Fulvia * VSM MEMBER * on October 8, 2015 @5:27 pm PST
Ouch, I can't imagine practicing 168 scales, daily! I will stay with the 36 major and minor scales, but I also do them in "terzine" and "sestine", and in 2 or 3 octaves, plus the equivalent arpeggi for all. Then I am ready to move on to my beloved Czerny study books
reply
Robert - host, on October 15, 2015 @4:47 pm PST
Actually it gets more complex. You can practice scales in contrary motion, in thirds, sixths and tenths. The good news is that you can tackle one scale or arpeggio each day and gain a great deal without trying to do everything.
Fulvia * VSM MEMBER * on October 16, 2015 @8:12 am PST
Yes, terzine are scales in thirds, sestine in sixths and I forgot to mention those in tenths and all of them in contrary motion, which I practice! Thanks for your great advice!

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