Why are scales important when writing melodies


I’m trying to wrap my head around the concept of tonality and how scales fit into it. From what I understand, the relationships between notes (intervals) is at the core of how we write melodies and why they make us feel the way we do. It also seems that scales are built on top of those relationships and then chords are built on top of those scales. I still feel like I’m missing something there. Does anyone else have some insight into this? Wouldn’t it be easier to just base everything off of the chromatic scale instead of having a million different scales and chords? Every interval relationship is already in the chromatic scale, why do we need others??


Listen to jazz…or classical and you’ll see why

Knowing the relationship between different notes is a guide for composition to arrange tones and express feeling through sound… i.e. minor scale is darker, major is brighter…etc…

I think…

Literally overthinking it…get a daw/synth or a musical instrument and start playing it then you’ll start to grasp all the aspects of theory


You don’t have to see theory as rules. It’s rather used to describe music. It’s not needed to make melodies, but by knowing the relationships between notes you know how to create and resolve tension. It’s a valuable tool to write music


So yes, major is brighter and minor is darker, but my question is why do we have those scales in the first place. Regardless of how you organize the notes, the instrument will only play what it’s tuned to play. My question is, why do we have so many scales. Is it just to organize patterns of notes that composers have been fond of? Or is there a deeper reason more fundamental to how the tonal system was created in the first place?


OK ok… so how do scales help you understand the relationships between notes?


I’m not sure, if I’m knowledgeable enough to give a good explanation. Pythagoras, for example, is said to have discovered the relationship between mathematical ratios and musical tunings (according to Wikipedia it’s probably not true). And over time people made more and more observations about how music works, about what sounds consonance and dissonance, about tension. But there is no universal music theory, because cultures perceive music differently. For example I know that the B in C-Major is a leading tone with a lot of tension. I can use this to create a melody that creates tension and in the end finally resolves to C. And you can categorize chord progressions. If I know that I play over a chord progression in C-Major, I know that C# or F# will sound very dissonant. You can do whatever you want, but if you grew up with Western music, it’s deeply ingrained in you and you can figure out how to use or avoid those conventions.


Scales are just a subset of the chromatic scale with specific tonal relationships, so they have a specific ‘feel’, because the relationships between the notes are set in a particular way. Dorian mode sounds different than Lydian, and B-Lydian has the same feel as D-Lydian, and so on. Scales and the chords that come from them are just organizational techniques to let you pick a thing you want easily. Sort of like cars and trucks and boats and airplanes are all vehicles, but it’s easier to talk about a subset of vehicles to pare down all the things you don’t want.

There’s stuff way outside of the common structures in western music - eastern scales and temperaments, microtonal theory, atonal, twelve-tone, etc. Some of those get deep into pitch set theory and other formations that have their own notations and relationships. So there’s a lot of ways to do what you’re talking about, and a broad and deep amount of theory in describing the underpinnings of sound and music. Most of it gets mathematically complex pretty quickly, as you’re really talking about frequency ratios and set theory.

Really basically, you want to care about this because 1. most of the learning sources for theory will use it and 2. it’s a common language between composers so someone else can know what you’re talking about. That said, there’s nothing wrong with just plunking around on an instrument until you find things you like. You’ll just be using theory intuitively instead of academically.

Is it just to organize patterns of notes that composers have been fond of? Or is there a deeper reason more fundamental to how the tonal system was created in the first place?

Both, sort of. My understanding is that early musical scales were really just collections of notes that that culture liked. By the time you get to the Renaissance, mathematics and musical theory had advanced enough that people were analyzing the why and how of the intervals, and used that basic knowledge to start creating their own, using the existing theory in new and interesting ways, which really exploded in the 20th century.


Wait…I feel like I’ve read this thread multiple times already…WTF?


Because four current threads ask: what makes tonality?