How can the musical scale be identified from the following excerpt? Is it possible?

Is there any scale to have a formula like 1 - 2 - ♯3 - 4 - ♯5 - 6 - 7? Perhaps a variation of a scale?

The thing is I found a contemporary semi-composotion written atonally and I'm trying to figure out if any corresponding scales could be found. All notes are used with the following accidentals:

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I believe it cannot be either B major or B minor.

Please suggest improvements to or directly edit this post for I believe it is flawed.


First of all, your formula is completely wrong. The pattern for 1 - 2 - ♯3 - 4 - ♯5 - 6 - 7 on B would be B - C♯ - D♯♯ - E - F♯♯ - G♯ - A♯ because those scale degrees are in reference to the major scale. The actual description of this scale using this notation would be 1 - b2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - b6 - b7. A more standard representation of this would be to describe the steps in which would come to H - A - H - W - H - W - W or internals from root which would be m2 - M3 - P4 - P5 - m6 - m7.

There are more scales out there than just major and minor. This scale is the B Phrygian Dominant scale which is a mode of the E harmonic minor scale.

I have a lot of experience with scales so I can identify them on the fly by looking for a few key elements. To be able to do that you need to familiarize yourself with the pattern of the basic scales and modes you come across and recoginze deviations from the typical pattern. For example in this case I noticed it was a Phrygian scale with a major third thus was able to realize what it was.

  • Thank you for your answer. What would be the key sign for B Phrygian Dominant scale? Is it allowed to use non-standard key signatures in this case (i.e. F♯ D♯)? – Veo Dec 11 '15 at 6:36
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    @Veo no. There is no defined key signature for this. Most people would just put the B minor key signature for this to signify B as the root and the fact you are in a minor mode though G major/ E minor would be most appropriate and just write in the D# notes when encountered – Dom Dec 11 '15 at 16:44

No. To determine any scale/mode requires two sets of data, only one of which you have provided.

1) The notes of the scale. That is clear. So far, so good.

2) The "key center," meaning the pitch upon which a resolution is made at the end of the phrase.

That second element is unclear. @Dom has assumed that the B is that note, because you placed it first in your example (the traditional place for the key center in a scale example). But I would ask any inquirer specifically if they [you] already know that B is the resolution point for that phrase. And then give the answer accordingly.

I have no doubt that @Dom is correct, given that corroboration. However, the strict answer to the question is "No, a scale cannot be determined from a collection of notes from an excerpt, until the key center is determined."

  • A scale is just a set of notes key doesn't come into play, just the root note matters. Even if you can't assume the lowest note is the root, you can still determine that the scale is one of a few modes which is very reasonable in identification of a scale. – Dom Apr 18 '16 at 1:08
  • I hope I'm not coming off as awfully pedantic, but he didn't call his collection of notes a "scale," rather he called it an "excerpt." In fact, he states that he doesn't know the scale, so I assume he might not even know which note is the root. If the "excerpt" is a complete melodic line (minus the rhythmic notation) then it is just as likely that the final A note could be the key center. This would make it the 4th mode of the E Harmonic Minor (Dorian #4 or something like that) which is - admittedly - not as prevalent as your correct diagnosis of the Phrygian Dominant. – Everett Steed Apr 18 '16 at 4:26

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