I composed a piece of music (more like a few renditions of a theme) that I sat down to transcribe, but it doesn't seem to fit into any scale! (I haven't looked at Japanese scales yet) Bear in mind that I am not entirely sure if I am representing the scale correctly or if it is a mode (I'm new to modes), but it is odd and unconventional nonetheless.

The scale is: D-E-F#-G-A-Bb-C-back to D, obviously. I also use C# a LOT, so I kind of consider it part of the scale, too.

Here is an image of the sheet. I transcribed it with no key signature, just note by note. score excerpt This is obviously not the whole thing. The rest goes: Cm-D-Gm-D-Gm-D-Cm-... there are some other things, and it has another version that replaces Gm with Bb to give it a more resolved, yet bittersweet ending (and a half-cadence for the finale. How could I not?).

But, as you can see, It seems quite irregular to the eyes of many non-professionals.

  • 2
    Seems to me like it's in D major, and that it goes (so far) to Gm. no problem so far.
    – Tim
    Dec 5, 2020 at 19:23
  • How does the piece begin? how does it end? D-major or D minor? or G-minor? Dec 6, 2020 at 10:50
  • To be totally nitpicky, the last measure should probably have a dotted quarter note instead of a quarter note tied to an eighth note. I don't know if you were imagining some accompaniment or anything that would justify that eighth not though.
    – awe lotta
    Dec 6, 2020 at 18:56
  • @AlbrechtHügli. This piece starts and ends on D-major, although it can also feel conclusive with an Em ending. The exerpt is the beginning of the piece. Dec 6, 2020 at 20:47
  • @awelotta don't worry, the phrase continues after the end of the pic. I love that kind of constructive-criticism though! Dec 6, 2020 at 20:49

7 Answers 7


I would not look at this as a single scale.

Based on the excerpt in the OP, consider it as D major, but with its IV chord (that is, the G chord) borrowed from D minor (including the C natural in the melody). That's a common borrow in tonal music. The technique is called "modal mixture".

Depending on where the piece goes, it could also be interpreted as being in G minor, with the D chord being the dominant chord. Ordinarily G minor would have an F natural as its seventh scale note, but in tonal music it is conventional to sharp the seventh scale tone, thus F#.

As an aside, returning to the D major interpretation, a section of the piece could be a "sunny" contrast to the portion given, by changing the Bbs to B naturals (and the Cs to C#s). It will sound as though the clouds have cleared.

  • modal mixture seems to me very convincing? Is this one of the Glareans Dodecachordon? Dec 7, 2020 at 15:16

it doesn't seem to fit into any scale!

I think you may be confusing being in a key versus in a scale.

You have the collection of tones G A B♭ C D _ F♯ G. The tone E is missing for a complete scale, assuming we are working with the gamut ABCDEFG. We can't really speak about a complete scale, but we can talk about the key and tonality.

In terms of key you want to find a plausible tonic/dominant pair. Find a leading tone, that needs to be a half step relations ship. There are two A B♭ and F♯ G. B♭ or G are the potential tonics. Is there a major chord or dominant seventh chord rooted a perfect fifth above either potential tonic, either a D major, D dominant seventh, F major, or F dominant seventh chord? Yes, you have a D major chord in the left hand and it keeps going to G minor. There is the dominant/tonic pair.

Does the melody confirm a key of G minor, does it fit dominant/tonic harmony? Yes, the melody outlines the D major chord and with it's continuation up to C it fully outlines D dominant seven. The other tones of the melody are G and B♭. The melody is clearly in G minor.

That's sort of the "theoretical" way to describe analyzing the key, but in reality it's perfect clear to the ear that it's G minor.

In terms of scale you can't really say what scale is used, for two reasons: you don't play an E - so you can't says whether it's harmonic minor or melodic minor, but more importantly the music is based more on chord tones than purely scalar ideas.

Below is the music with dominant chord tones highlighted pink, tonic tones green, and the stuff circled in red is just embellishment of chord tones...

enter image description here

Notice how you have about 85% chord tones and just a little bit of embellishing material? And the chord tone material coincides strongly with beats one on each bar.

I think you should consider things in terms of key and harmony rather than scale, at least for music like this example passage.


Looks like the piece is conceived in G-minor. This is only an excerpt. All the notes come from the minor mode (including the mutable sixth and seventh steps.)


It is melodic major scale (also known as aeolian dominant or mixolydian b6). Melodic major scale has the first tetrachord (D E F# G in your case) from major scale (D major in your case) and the second one (A Bb C D) from aeolian minor scale (d minor). Or in another words the minor scale with raised 3rd note.

There is also harmonic major scale (D E F# G A Bb C# D), which is also your case.

You simply use D melodic and harmonic major scale. It is less common, but used (in jazz I think).


The intervals are w-w-h-w-h-w-w so it's not a Western mode based on the major scale. I think it may be one of the melodic minor modes, specifically D mixolydian b6, if you consider D as the starting point. It may also be one of the Carnatic scales in Indian music. I am not considering the C# you mention as I do not even see that in the score.

  • what would i write as the key signature? Dec 5, 2020 at 19:18
  • 1
    If it really is a D mixo b6 then the melodic minor scale is G, which is a relative minor to Bb Major. So from a Western point of view you might write the key as Bb maj and keep the accidentals in place to indicate a sharp 6 and 7 of G minor. The Key would have Bb and Eb and your score would have E natural and F # throughout.
    – user50691
    Dec 5, 2020 at 19:20

It sounds like Gm is the home chord, so I'd write it with a key signature of two flats.

  • what now, as he says it is in D? Dec 7, 2020 at 15:14
  • @AlbrechtHügli My ear says that the written part of the song is in Gm, and OP says there are Cm chords coming after that. :) If it ends on D, then it either ends on a V chord, or it has modulated, or it's some modal mixture. Dec 7, 2020 at 15:36
  • As far as we can see the posting and as long we have only 2 chords it can be both: D or gm. My ear tells me both :). We should see the whole piece. But the scale isn't different. (we need more information - like a mode and its hypo scale...viva.pressbooks.pub/openmusictheory/chapter/diatonic-modes/…. Dec 7, 2020 at 15:59

Like other answers say this is the D major scale with a flattened 6th and 7th degree, because of the minor subdominant = Gm (G,A,Bb,C,D) - borrowed from the relative key dm.

(If there is an Eb in the succeeding bars it could also be a piece in Gm, and D would be the dominant. But we'd need more context to decide this definitely.)


Yes! if we had more information, we might also guess that your song is in D-minor and in these bars there is an extension to the subdominant G-minor, of which the dominant chord is D.

But as you are asking what scale this could be

D major/G minor scale with borrowed Gm-subdominant

(Gm with the V7/i chord D. In this case it would be the scale of the melodic or harmonic G-minor scale DoReMiFa of D turns to MiFiSiLa-TiDoReMi of g-minor)

The scale is: D-E-F#-G-A-Bb-C-back to D, obviously. I also use C# a LOT, so I kind of consider it part of the scale, too.

These are the tones of the D7 chord, the secondary dominant of G-minor:

As you say the excerpt is the opening bars the first assumption D major with borrowed iv (minor subdominant) is the correct analysis.

But the answer to the question what scale is this remains the same:

The lower tetrachord is the D-major scale, the upper tetrachord belongs to the g-minor scale.

no matter whether we are in D (I) and and gm (iv) or gm (i) and D (V7b6).

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