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I am having some trouble with naming notes in a major scale.

The major scale formula is 0 , 1, 1 , 1/2 , 1 , 1 , 1 , 1/2

If I use this formula to calculate notes in G# major scale, I get the notes as:-

G# A# C C# D# F G G#

However I see many sites and apps use the following notes in a G# major scale:-

G# A# B# C# D# E# G G#

This really confuses me.

Why are notes such as B# and E# present. I even remember seeing some scales which have notes such as Cb and Fb.

Please help me clearing out my note naming concepts.

Thanks, Rajeev

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my answer below details the rules for ya. The G# key signature is never used since the number of accidentals are way above the number you'ld need for the equivalent Ab key signature. –  Stephen Hazel Aug 26 '13 at 20:21
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Both examples are inaccurate - scales use consecutive letter names, and neither of these do. Writing music using these notes just will not work. See my answer below. –  Tim Aug 27 '13 at 6:42

4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Your formula of half- and whole-steps is correct, but the spelling is not.

Different ways of spelling the same pitch are called Enharmonics. You already know that all of the "black key" notes on the piano have more than one name, but you can also alter notes further than a semitone, or make an alteration to two "white keys" that are next to one another.

You are already familiar with b/# notation: accidentals that modify the pitch by a half step, or semitone. There are also double-sharp and double-flat accidentals that modify by whole steps, or by two semitones.

The reason for using these is to spell every note in the scale with a distinct letter name, and thus, distinct and orderly placement on the musical staff. With enough accidentals, I could spell the "G#" scale as, say...

G# Bb B# B## Eb E# G G#

But written out on a staff this would be pretty incomprehensible, especially for someone sightreading.

To solve this problem, we start with every note name on the staff:

G A B C D E F G

... and then modify those notes with accidentals to suit the scale in question:

G# A# B# C# D# E# F## G#

Now, this is still a lot of symbology on the page, so to simplify, we use key signatures to put all of this information in one place. Double sharps are almost never used in key signatures, however, so as others have mentioned, the typical spelling of this scale would be its enharmonic equivalent of Ab major (which only has four flats as opposed to 8 sharps).

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4  
I'd just like to add here that when spelling a scale, each letter can only be used once. NReilingh cited one reason for this rule. Also, enharmonic spellings may show harmonic motion or recontextualization pertinent to the music, so, even though "B#" and "C" and "Dbb" all sound the same, they are very different notes. Lastly, "sharp" notes tend to stay in sharp keys and "flat" notes tend to stay in flat keys. Again, it would be hard to read a G# major scale the way NReilingh showed us in his answer. –  jjmusicnotes Aug 27 '13 at 0:03
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Yes. Please NO ONE EVER WRITE THAT :-) –  NReilingh Aug 27 '13 at 0:10
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Haha, some scary things come across my desk... –  jjmusicnotes Aug 27 '13 at 3:11

To provide a very simple answer ,as above are complex. You are aware of the notes which constitute G major. To arrive at G# major, simply # each and every note of G. This will give ## on occasions, so that's correct. Since the formula TTSTTTS works for a major scale, it will work for all of them. HOWEVER, G# is such an impractical key to work in, no-one uses it. Why would they, when Ab contains exactly the same notes when played, but only 4 bs when written.

One could take this to ridiculous ends, and write, for example, in Cb, with loads of flats, but B maj., with 'only' 5 #s, would make life easier, wouldn't it ?

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You can't just # every note of G keysig to get G#'s. That'll break the rules of spelling scales correctly. –  Stephen Hazel Aug 26 '13 at 21:22
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@StephenHazel What do you mean? This works fine as far as I'm concerned. –  NReilingh Aug 26 '13 at 21:43
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@StephenHazel I don't know that rule... and an augmented 5th or diminished 5th above the root is going to be the same letter as the dominant. You might be able to come up with some reliable shortcuts for simpler music that doesn't stray very far from the key signature, but for most purposes, MIDI and standard notation are not isomorphic. –  NReilingh Aug 26 '13 at 23:31
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Why? I don't know. But it happens: see wikipedia's C-sharp major page (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C-sharp_major). As for G# major (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G-sharp_major): "The final pages of A World Requiem by John Foulds are written in G-sharp major with its correct key signature shown in the vocal score including the Fdouble sharp." –  Gauthier Aug 27 '13 at 9:44
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@StephenHazel Which particular 5 notes outside the major scale are you referring to ? Any notes which do not appear in a normal scale, such as major anything, will have all 7 notes to play. Any which are # or b will be shown in the key sig. Any other notes not actually in the scale itself will be dealt with by using accidentals- #, b, x, bb or naturals, showing that those particular notes do not in fact belong to the said key. –  Tim Aug 27 '13 at 16:39

Welcome to the tricky world of standard notation :)

Scales need to be "spelled" in a very exacting way. There are also things like double sharps (X) and double flats (bb) to think about.

rules:

  • start with spelling of 7 scale tones per keysig's sharp else flat
  • 7 tones of scale ALL on DIFFerent letters
  • if minor, M6 and M7 are ALWAYS m6,m7 SHARPED (naturaled flat/doublesharped) since "sort of in the scale as almost tones"
  • SINGLE LETTER for tonic, dominant - not duped even for tones outside scale
  • no letter used 3 times when making outside the scale tones (2 =max=)

checking:

  • vertically, sharps should read fcgdaeb
  • vertically, flats should read beadgcf
  • cols should have SAME letter: 2,3 4,5 6,7 9,10 11,12

So the usual spellings work out like this:

==================== MAJOR KEYS ===================      ! means PLAIN cuz ksig
            xx      xx          xx      xx      xx       % means natural
flats   KEY m2  M2  m3  M3  4   tri DOM m6  M6  m7  M7   d double flat, x db shp
0       C   db  D   eb  E   F   f#  G   ab  A   bb  B
1       F   gb  G   ab  A   B!  b%  C   db  D   eb  E
2       B!  cb  C   db  D   E!  e%  F   gb  G   ab  A
3       E!  fb  F   gb  G   A!  a%  B!  cb  C   db  D
4       A!  bd  B!  cb  C   D!  d%  E!  fb  F   gb  G
5       D!  ed  E!  fb  F   G!  g%  A!  bd  B!  cb  C
6       G!  ad  A!  bd  B!  C!  c%  D!  ed  E!  fb  F    or F#
7       C!  dd  D!  ed  E!  F!  f%  G!  ad  A!  bd  B!   B in sharps preferred

            xx      xx          xx      xx      xx
sharps  KEY m2  M2  m3  M3  4   tri DOM m6  M6  m7  M7
1       G   ab  A   bb  B   C   c#  D   eb  E   f%  F!
2       D   eb  E   f%  F!  G   g#  A   bb  B   c%  C!
3       A   bb  B   c%  C!  D   d#  E   f%  F!  g%  G!
4       E   f%  F!  g%  G!  A   a#  B   c%  C!  d%  D!
5       B   c%  C!  d%  D!  E   e#  F!  g%  G!  a%  A!
6       F!  g%  G!  a%  A!  B   b#  C!  d%  D!  e%  E!   or Gb
7       C!  d%  D!  e%  E!  F!  fx  G!  a%  A!  b%  B!   Db in flats preferred

==================== MINOR KEYS ===================
            xx          xx      xx          %#      %#
flats   KEY m2  M2  m3  M3  4   tri DOM m6  M6  m7  M7
0       A   bb  B   C   c#  D   d#  E   F   f#  G   g#
1       D   eb  E   F   f#  G   g#  A   B!  b%  C   c#
2       G   ab  A   B!  b%  C   c#  D   E!  e%  F   f#
3       C   db  D   E!  e%  F   f#  G   A!  a%  B!  b%
4       F   gb  G   A!  a%  B!  b%  C   D!  d%  E!  e%
5       B!  cb  C   D!  d%  E!  e%  F   G!  g%  A!  a%
6       E!  fb  F   G!  g%  A!  a%  B!  C!  c%  D!  d%
7       A!  bd  B!  C!  c%  D!  d%  E!  F!  f%  G!  g%

            xx          xx      xx          #x      #x
sharps  KEY m2  M2  m3  M3  4   tri DOM m6  M6  m7  M7
1       E   f%  F!  G   g#  A   a#  B   C   c#  D   d#
2       B   c%  C!  D   d#  E   e#  F!  G   g#  A   a#
3       F!  g%  G!  A   a#  B   b#  C!  D   d#  E   e#
4       C!  d%  D!  E   e#  F!  fx  G!  A   a#  B   b#
5       G!  a%  A!  B   b#  C!  cx  D!  E   e#  F!  fx
6       D!  e%  E!  F!  fx  G!  gx  A!  B   b#  C!  cx
7       A!  b%  B!  C!  cx  D!  dx  E!  F!  fx  G!  gx
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1  
This is tablature, not note-naming. Granted it's not completely clear, but I read the OP's question as "What is the correct nameset for G#-Major per standard harmony theory?" in which case the answer is "G# A#, B#, C#, D##, E#, F##,G# " Edit: apologies if you posted that -- I can't render the first image you posted. –  Carl Witthoft Aug 26 '13 at 20:01
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@NReilingh Yep, the 'tablature' version has gone away. So the tables provided don't "go up" to G# Major -- maybe we should add my first comment in. Also -- the "!" character seems to be indicating "#" or "flat" when in the "KEY" column –  Carl Witthoft Aug 26 '13 at 20:09
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There seems to be a key for what ! means at the top. Also I'll note your first comment is slightly inaccurate -- no D##. –  NReilingh Aug 26 '13 at 20:11
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That ! is a "steve-ism", sorry. I had to work these out all on my own, and so ! means "don't show the #/b as it's implied by the key signature". I don't think G# is a standard key signature. You'ld use Ab normally. –  Stephen Hazel Aug 26 '13 at 20:15
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@StephenHazel - can you elucidate on your 3rd rule. It seems to be stated backwards. The major scale, Ionian mode, is the starting place for notes, not the minor. –  Tim Aug 27 '13 at 6:56

I'm not completely sure about this, but I remember reading about the circle of fifths (linked) that among other things, it also shows how many sharps or flats there are in each key. So for example if you are talking about the key of F#, it should have 6 sharp notes in it, so you would be using all the "sharp" names for the notes and not the "flat" or "regular" names.

Also, I'm pretty sure that as a general rule, you would never use a "flat name" for describing the notes in a "sharp" key scale, and vice versa.

Hope this helps, and I also hope I'm not wrong or misleading, because I'm not 100% sure about this.

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