Types of Scales Questions

In the Trinity Grade Two Music Theory exams there are lots of different types of questions with scales.

Here are some things you might have to do:

  • Write a major or minor scale either ascending (going up) or descending (going down), and either with or without a key signature.
  • Add clefs, key signatures or accidentals to a given scale.
  • Mark out the semitones within a scale

You will need to remember the pattern of tones and semitones (whole and half steps) for scales, or learn at least one scale by heart so that you can work the patterns out:

  • For major scales the pattern is T-T-S-T-T-T-S.
  • For minor harmonic scales, the pattern is T-S-T-T-S-3S-S.
  • For minor natural scales, the pattern is T-S-T-T-S-T-T

You will also need to remember the key signatures for the keys in this grade:

  • C major/ A minor – no key signature
  • G major / E minor – 1 sharp (F#)
  • F major / D minor – 1 flat (Bb)

Writing Scales in a Music Theory Exam

Here are two important rules for you:

  1. Write ONE note per line or space
  2. Use the note value you have been told to use.

 Here’s an example question, and the steps to follow to get full marks in your music theory exam: 

Write as semibreves (whole notes) the scale of A minor harmonic ascending, without key signature but adding any necessary sharp or flat signs.

bass clef stave
  1. Whatever the scale is, the first thing you need to do is put in your starting note (the tonic, or “keynote”). If you’re writing an ascending scale, start low. For descending scales, start high. Make sure you leave enough room on the left for the key signature, if you need one.
  2. Next, using semibreves (whole notes), fill up the lines and spaces – one note per line/space, until you have eight notes. Don’t draw the notes too close together!
  3. Look again at the type of scale you need to write – is it major or minor? Think about the sharps and flats you’ll need for that scale – what sharps or flats appear in the key signature?
  4. Do you need to add any extra accidentals? Major scales and and minor melodic descending scales don’t need any extra accidentals. In minor harmonic scales you need to raise ONE note by a semitone (half step): the 7th degree of the scale. In minor melodic ascending scales you need to raise TWO notes by a semitone: the 6th and 7th degrees of the scale. 
  5. Put in the key signature, if you’ve been asked to write one, and add any necessary extra accidentals. If there is a key signature, remember that the only degree of the scale which could ever need an accidental is the 7th (harmonic minor scales).
  6. If you were asked to write the scale without a key signature, add the necessary sharps or flats next to each note of the scale.

Working Through a Music Theory Exam Question on Scales

Let’s work together through the scales question at the beginning of this lesson, using the steps we suggested above.

1) We write the first note: A. It’s an ascending scale, so we start with an A low on the stave:

write the first note

2) We’ll fill up the lines and spaces, until we have 8 notes:

add notes into each line and space

3) We need to write a scale without a key signature. A minor has no sharps or flats in the key signature, like its relative major, C major.

4 & 5) Minor harmonic scales have an accidental for the raised 7th degree of the scale, so we need a G sharp. Let’s put it in.

A minor harmonic complete scale

That’s our finished scale of A minor harmonic ascending.

Adding Clefs and Key Signatures

You might be asked to write in the clef and/or key signature of a scale.

Look at the first note and key of the scale. Decide if the first note must be treble or bass clef:

Add the clef and key signature to this scale

In this scale, the first note needs to be a G, so we should write a treble clef. The key of G major has one sharp: F#.

Add the clef, then the key signature.

scale with clef and key signature added

Marking the Semitones (Half Steps)

You may be asked to mark out the places where there are semitone steps in a scale. Remember that a semitone (or “half step”) is the smallest possible distance between two notes. It might help to sketch out a mini piano keyboard to help you see where the semitones fall.

Let’s mark the semitones in this scale:

A minor harmonic complete scale

It’s a scale of A minor harmonic. The semitone steps are between B-C, E-F and G#-A, so we will mark them with brackets like this:

A minor harmonic with semitones marked

Scales Exercises

1. Add the correct clef and any necessary sharp or flat signs to make the scale named below. Do not use a key signature.

b. G major

G major

2. Write as semibreves (whole notes) the scales named below, with the key signature.

a. F major ascending

F major ascending