Scales: Scale Structure: The Number System

A commonly-used convention for describing scale structure is a number system that uses the major scale as the point of reference. The system works as follows:

  • The number “1” always represents the key that you are in.
  • Numbers are assigned to each note in the major scale in ascending order.
  • In the key of C: C=1, D=2, E=3, F=4, G=5, A=6, B=7

piano-ology-scales-scale-structure-the-number-system-c-major-notation

piano-ology-scales-scale-structure-the-number-system-c-major-keyboard

Thus, the major scale is said to have a scale structure of 1-2-3-4-5-6-7.

Special Note: There is nothing sacred about the major scale. The choice of the major scale as the point of reference is arbitrary, used as a convenient point of reference for the simple reason that it is so widely used compared to other scale types in Western music.

Of course, any combination of notes is theoretically possible when building scales.  Any of the scales degrees (number) can be modified by a sharp or flat, as shown in the commonly-used examples below…


Mixolydian Scale (structure = 1-2-3-4-5-6-b7), key of C

piano-ology-scales-scale-structure-the-number-system-c-mixolydian-notation

piano-ology-scales-scale-structure-the-number-system-c-mixolydian-keyboard


Harmonic Minor Scale (structure = 1-2-b3-4-5-b6-7), key of C

piano-ology-scales-scale-structure-the-number-system-c-harmonic-minor-notation

piano-ology-scales-scale-structure-the-number-system-c-harmonic-minor-keyboard


Lydian Scale (structure = 1-2-3-#4-5-6-7), key of C

piano-ology-scales-scale-structure-the-number-system-c-lydian-notation

piano-ology-scales-scale-structure-the-number-system-c-lydian-keyboard


Don’t worry about the details right now. For the moment, it is sufficient to understand the concept of scale structure, scale degrees, and the number system. There will be plenty of time to study-practice as you continue your studies of scales, key signatures, chords, chord changes, and ear-training.

LEARN MORE… Scale Structure: The Solfege System

About Frank J Peter

A uniquely burdened and blessed citizen of the world thinking and acting out loud!
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2 Responses to Scales: Scale Structure: The Number System

  1. paula graham says:

    pffffft…here I am doing my utmost to relate the note to the relevant key and now there are suddenly numbers as well. Pffft..photography is much easier..all you have to do is: know your camera and look and be very good with your easy computer!!! Ha, ha. Just kidding. I understand but not when the numbers are to be used…but I believe you, that in good time, all will become clear.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hang in there, Paula! : ) By the way, the numbers are nothing more than arbitrary names for the notes. The music is found by organizing them in meaningful context and to associate each name with its unique sound feeling in the key. The lessons on solfege should be able to tie it all together. Cheers!

      Liked by 1 person

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