How Many Musical Scales Are There?

Piano Lessons / music theory / How Many Musical Scales Are There?

This is an incredibly tough question and to be honest there is no definitive answer but I’m going to provide some insights for you. You would think that because there are twelve different notes there might be twelve different scales; but things are a bit more complicated.

While it’s true that there are twelve different notes and twelve different major scales, you also have to consider minor scales. With minor scales you have two forms of each scale, the harmonic and the melodic, so you now have 36 scales. Are we done yet? Not even close.

The the next thing you have to consider are modes. This becomes a little tricky because modes are scales that simply start on different notes. For example, if you have no sharps or flats you could be in C major. And while you can play a C major scale using no sharps or flats you could just as easily start on D and play no sharps or flats and have a completely new scale – called the Dorian mode. You could also start on E and play the Phrygian mode also with no sharps or flats. This can be applied to all seven notes which gives you seven more scales (or more accurately, modes) to consider. Then you can start adding sharps or flats and the numbers quickly become overwhelming as the possibilities for scales are immense.

Here is a quick chart for reference. It’s not 100% complete as there are scales that can be made by using modes of melodic minors and much more but this is a good reference point for you:

– 36 Major and Minor Scales
– 72 Additional Modes
– 12 Blues Scales
– 12 Diminished Scales
– 12 Pentatonic Scales
– 12 Whole Tone Scales
– 12 Chromatic Scales

We welcome your comments of additional scales not considered in this list!

Thanks again for joining me and I welcome your comments on this subject and any other. Robert Estrin (949) 244-3729