Music theory is made up of a series of systems and structures we utilize to build songs. There are a dizzying amount of melodic and harmonic options on hand when composing a song, and sometimes we can become paralyzed by choice.

In today’s article, I’m going to run you through some ideas for common scales used in specific genres of music.

You can try and master these scales or modes as a way of developing your skillset in your desired genre. Hopefully, these steps can get you one step closer to writing your next chart-topping classic.

What Are Scales And How Can They Help Me?

Scales are a system of notes that make up a specific key of a song. Scales generally consist of 7 notes within an octave. In music, we use scales as a type of map of creative melodic and harmonic choices when writing a song.

For example, if a song is in A minor, we know that we can use the notes A, B, C, D, E, F, and G – as these are the notes that make up the A minor scale.

We can also use scales to help us access deeper melodic possibilities when composing. Each note in a scale has a chord related to it. Using the example of A minor again, our chord becomes A minor, B diminished, Cmajor, D minor, E minor, F Maj and G Maj.

There is quite an extensive list of scales in western music, and the idea of learning them all can be quite overwhelming. Start by learning the major, minor and pentatonic (5-note) scales in one key. Try to learn the relation between each scale and how they differ, then apply the same shame of each scale to another key.

Genre #1: Best Scales For Trap ( A♭ Major / D Natural Minor / G Major / Bb Harmonic Minor)

Scale #1: A♭ Major (A♭, B♭, C, D♭, E♭, F, G)

This scale is widely used by all top trap artists, and it usually has an aggressive vibe. It can also be used to transfer deep, sad, and judgemental emotions.

Popular songs that use this scale:

Scale #2: D Natural Minor (D, E, F, G, A, B♭, and C)

D Minor has often been described as the saddest key available on the circle of fifths. It certainly has a sense of deep mourning to it when played out on a guitar or piano, but it can also be used to deliver a sense of aggressive intent.

The key has a raw feeling that pairs quite well with growling basslines and harsh drums.

Popular songs that use this scale:

Scale #3: G Major ( G, A, B, C, D, E, F# )

G Major is one of the more familiar chords to most ears, as it is possibly one of the gentlest keys on our ears (especially when used in a Major 7 configuration). Most of the chords that make up this scale can evoke a sense of melancholic happiness, and this key can work well if your trap song needs a youthful, carefree mood.

Popular songs that use this scale:

Scale #4: Bb Harmonic Minor (Bb, C, Db, Eb, F, Gb, A)

The harmonic minor scale has an enticing, exotic allure to it. The scale is adopted from Balkan and Middle Eastern music standards and can either be used to build cheeky timbres or dreamy textures. I enjoy using this scale with auto-tuned and highly processed instruments.

Genre #2: Best Scales For EDM (G Major / F Minor / E Minor)

Scale #1: G Major ( G, A, B, C, D, E, F#)

G Major has both a relaxing and uplifting feel to it. You’ll often find this scale in a lot of big pop songs as well, due to its ability to sound big without being overwhelming.

The sub end of G Major has a wholesome, warm tone to it and pairs well with big stadium-sized rigs or bassy club systems. 

Popular songs that use this scale:

Scale #2: F Minor (F, G, G#, A#, C, C#, D#)

F Minor has a smooth and mysterious nature to it. It’s often used to express a sense of deep thought and is great for trying to build a song around a strong memory. You can play some great inversions of this chord quite easily on piano, and this allows for some pretty fluid songwriting. 

Popular songs that use this scale:

Scale #3: E Minor (E, F#, G, A, B, C, D)

E minor has a very powerful and firm nature to it. It has been used in a lot of songs to express a variety of passionate feelings, from sad to intense motivation.

Much like F minor, there are a few pretty easy inverted chords that you can play on a keyboard, and the chord mapping in this scale feels pretty easy to master across instruments. The relative major of E minor is G major, which is also fantastic for EDM music.

Popular songs that use this scale:

Genre #3: Best Scales For Rock (Minor Pentatonic / Blues / Natural Minor / Major)

For the examples below, we are going to use the key of E – as it’s often the lowest note on the open fretted guitars and basses that rock songs are composed on. 

Scale #1: Minor Pentatonic / Blues (E, G, A, B, D)

The minor pentatonic is responsible for building some of the most simple, yet iconic hooks and melodies in music history. Its use was first popularised by the first recorded blues players like Robert Johnson. These players had a very basic, but powerful knowledge base of the guitar, and used this shape to build most of their songs. 

Scale #2: Natural Major / Minor (E – F# – G# – A – B – C# – D#) or (E – F# – G – A – B – C – D)

Natural Minors and Majors are a cohesive route for expansion when constructing rock songs. You can even begin composing a song using only the pentatonic of a key and then adding notes from either the natural major or minor scale of that key to make it more interesting.

This technique has been quite commonly used by songwriters when coming up with catchy hooks for a song.  

Genre #4: Best Scales For Jazz (Lydian / Ionian / Dorian)

For the examples below I’ll use the key of A – as it can be both dreamy and soulful and when played using these scales. The A shapes of these scales are also relatively simple to practice on a guitar or piano. 

Scale #1: Lydian (A – B – C# – D# – E – F# – G#)

The Lydian mode is the 4th degree of the major scale. They are quite similar to each other, but the Lydian mode has a unique and almost sublime – as if happiness had extended to a god-like plain.

The scale is the adoption of scales used in the romantic era, and traditional Greek music and its chord work as a great substitution in certain jazz compositions. 

Scale #2: Ionian (A – B – C# – D# – E – F# – G#)

The Ionian mode shares the same shape and chord configuration as the major scale. A common practice for jazz composers is to turn every chord in this mode into a 7th.

This technique automatically adds an extra sense of allure and soulfulness that is synonymous with jazz compositions. Alternative chord voicings in this key also include add9’s and suspended chords. 

Scale #3: Dorian (A – B – C – D – E – F# – G – A)

The easiest way to learn this mode is to start playing your major scale on the second note and working your way up and octave. You’ll also have to flatten the 3rd and 7th notes of the scale.

This mode is every jazz musician’s go-to when trying to recreate a sense of deep thought and melancholy. It’s also one of the more utilized modes for horn players when improvising over jazz standards. 

Genre #5: Best Scales For Pop (C Major / G Major)

Scale #1: C Major (C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C)

You can find C Major in some of the most memorable pop songs in music history. The key is the easiest to play on the piano, as it consists of all the white keys exclusively.

This is most likely what made the key so popular among early songwriters. The key has a natural, nostalgic feel to it, and works well alongside its relative minor- A minor. 

Popular songs that use this scale:

Scale #2: G Major ( G, A, B, C, D, E, F#)

G Major has made up a large portion of this list, and for good reason. Its usage in pop music is almost unparalleled, thanks to its uplifting and almost triumphant characteristics. Some crafty songwriters have also managed to use the key to compose curiously dark and almost satire-like songs.

If you ever find yourself stuck searching for the right major key to play in, I would almost always recommend starting and G and experimenting from then on.

For this scale, I’ve listed 6 examples instead of 3, just because each one of these songs is so well-known. and the list could go on and on.

Final Thoughts

It should be noted that the above examples are simple guidelines for musos or producers when trying to find a feeling for their relative genre.

Music is and always will be about exploring and expanding creative boundaries, so try not to let the notes above hinder your musical instinct. If anything, you can simply use these scales above as a reliable starting block when laying the groundwork for a new composition.

Are you interested in taking your songwriting skills a step further? If so, take a look through our article on Song Structure & Production Secrets To Better Songs Instantly.

We’ll arm you with some handy tips and tricks that you can use at your next session. Thanks for reading through our tips on the Best Scales To Learn For Each Music Genre. 

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