Learn Vocal Scales in 2022: Everything You Need to Know

Almost every generation knows the classic movie The Sound of Music. If you’ve seen the movie or at least know anything about it, you more than likely know the famous line: "DO-RE-MI-FA-SOL-LA-TI-DO."

This line is a scale—in particular, a solfège scale, where every note is given its own unique syllable. A scale is a group of pitches sung in an ascending or descending order. So, why is this important? In the renowned words of Julie Andrews, "once you know the notes, you can sing almost anything."

Ready to learn vocal scales? Let’s check out more information about the different types of vocal scales and why they’re so important for your singing voice.

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What Does Training in Vocal Scales Do for Me?

Learning vocal scales isn’t only fun to do but it has a purpose, and if done right, it provides many benefits that include the following:

1. Vocal Warm-Up

Just like an athlete warms up and stretches their muscles, vocalists have to do the same with their vocal cords and the surrounding muscles before singing. Warming up your voice using vocal scales is a great way to do this.

You can start by humming the notes in an octave. Remember, an octave is a series of eight notes occupying the interval between (and including) two notes, one having twice or half the frequency of vibration of the other.

You don't have to do the whole octave. Warming up with 5 notes or more is fine as long as you’re ascending or descending the notes as you go. After humming the scale, you can open your mouth and sing an open vowel sound (“ahhhh” sound will work) while working up and down the scale to open the throat. Essentially, the main goal is to protect your voice and prepare it for singing.

Check out this video on how to properly use scales to warm up your voice:

2. Improve Pitch Memory by Training Your Ear

A main important aspect of learning vocal scales is how to train your ear to replicate the pitch. So, in other words, you want to train your ear to match the same note with the sound you’re hearing.

One common way to do this is with an instrument such as a piano. You can go up and down the keys on a piano and try to match your singing voice with the notes in the scale being played. The proper ear training, will, in turn, improve your pitch memory, making it easier to sing any song.

Check out this video to learn more about ear training!

3. Foundation of Music

In case it wasn’t obvious, scales are the foundation of all music! Whether it be vocal or instrumental, scales are used as the base to create different melodies and songs.

To be confident with your singing voice, you must know that you can find the correct pitch and hit any note when singing any song. Through learning scales, you’ll also find the correct breathing and way of singing and open up your voice to more advanced techniques.

You want to take care of your voice as best as possible and train it well. Scales are a way of doing just that.

Another great example of the use of scales is in another popular movie, Sister Act 2. There are music lessons throughout the movie. However, in the song, “Oh Happy Day,” they start with the usage of scales, warming up their voices, showing off their skills, and starting the song out right!

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What Are the Different Vocal Scales?

There is one major scale and 3 minor scales for each one of the 12 musical keys. Since there are 12 different notes in the musical alphabet, there are 12 major scales that start with each of those 12 notes.

In Western music, these 12 notes are the main 7 notes (C, D, E, F, G, A, and B) and also the 5 flats and equivalent sharps in between.

A major scale is made up of half steps and whole steps. A step is the distance between notes of different pitches. Let's take a look at the half and whole steps in a little more detail to better our understanding.

Half Step

A half step, otherwise known as a semitone, is the smallest interval between notes. So, therefore, making two half steps equal one whole step. For an example, you can find the C note on a piano and see that it’s a half step below a C sharp.

Whole Step

A whole step is the distance between two notes that have one note in between them. For example, if you find the note G on the piano, you’ll see that the note A is one whole note above it.

So, the major scale pattern in Western music is as follows: whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half. This may sound a bit confusing without visualizing it.

Here’s an example to help you see the pattern a little more clearly with the yellow dot being the half step and the blue line being the whole step.

Learn Vocal Scales

Check out the full video tutorial!

Minor Scales

A minor scale is a seven-note musical scale. The main difference between minor scales and major scales is the distance between the first and third notes of the scale. Below are three different versions of minor scales, which are natural, harmonic, and melodic. Let's briefly explore these three in a little more detail.

1. Natural Scale

The pattern for a natural minor scale is similar but a little different from a major scale. The pattern is as follows: whole, half, whole, whole, half, whole, whole. In other words, there are a few more half steps in between the notes rather than in the major scale, where it goes right to whole steps.

2. Harmonic Scale

The harmonic scale is very similar to the natural scale by being in the same key signature, but the difference is the 7th note is raised by a semitone. This makes quite a difference in the melody that is produced using this scale.

3. Melodic Scale

The melodic scale is also similar to both the natural and harmonic scales, but the key difference is that the 6th and 7th notes are both raised by a semitone when ascending the scale. When descending the scale, it’s just like the natural minor scale.

For a quick breakdown of the minor scales and their differences, check out this video!

Tips and Exercises for Learning Scales

Scales can be slightly confusing when starting as a beginner singer. There are some major scales that you should know as a singer so they can help you sing almost anything you want since these scales are in most, if not all, Western music.

We’ve just scratched the surface on some of the major and minor scales. Here are some tips and different scale exercises you can start doing today to get your voice on the right track!

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Easiest 5 Note Scale Exercise for Beginners

The first 5 notes of the major scale, also known as the pentatonic scale, are a great way to start training your ear and your voice using scales. It may seem like an easy scale to just go through quickly. However, if you don’t focus on certain techniques while practicing this, your goal will not be achieved.

Here are the things you can focus on while doing this simple scale to get you started.

1. Simultaneous Onset

When you go through the scales, the focus is on the air and the vocal folds being active simultaneously, instead of being breathy or the vocal folds just coming together.

2. Smooth Transition of the Scales

When ascending or descending the scales, you want the transition to be smooth and have each scale be heard. You don't want your voice to sound choppy as you go through them, and you don't want it to sound mumbled or mixed while going through them either.

3. Release Jaw Tension

Singers, especially beginners, tend to have a lot of tension in their jaws when singing. You must learn to release jaw tension, and you must learn the proper placement of your tongue up and in behind your bottom front teeth. Make a "yah" sound when starting the first note of each scale when ascending and descending.

This video will help guide you through this exercise to better understand it.

One of the best ways to learn scales is of course by taking singing lessons or learning through a music class. If you’re serious about singing and you would like the in-person learning approach, this is appropriate for you.

They can correct you if your pitch is off and see exactly what you may be struggling with, even if you don't see it yourself. Sometimes, something may just sound "off" but you aren't quite sure what it is, so this is a big help.

Some individuals don't have the time or want to spend the money on singing lessons or music classes. If you want to skip the in-person sessions, you can take online tutorials and courses as well.

Having an instrument handy such as a piano is helpful when practicing the scales. You can practice them without it with different ascending and descending scales online. There are amazing teachers and lessons at your fingertips waiting to teach you a vast array of music knowledge.

Practice to Learn Vocal Scales

Now you know the difference between the scales, why you use them, when to use them, and how to use them. Practice, practice, practice.

Remember, learning the scales will help you find weak spots so you can make faster progress in your singing. There’s so much more to learn in-depth about the scales. Don't give up on your musical journey. It will be worth it!

Why don't you give the 5-note scale exercise a whirl and let us know how it goes in the comments below!


  • Learn Vocal Scales

    Mrs. Mandy Dokie was born and raised in the high desert. Her greatest joy in life and biggest supporters are her beautiful family including her husband of 12 years, and her 2 children, Rylan and Keira. She graduated from UC Riverside with a BA in Psychology: Law and Society. She has a passion for God, the outdoors, reading, writing, singing, and martial arts.

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