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Music Production Lessons: Common Scales In Dance Music

Updated: Jun 16, 2020

by Reiss Armstrong

And we are back!

This is the follow up to the previous article regarding ideas on building a chord structure for a track. You will benefit from reading that article before diving head first into this. Understanding the basics behind chord structure and building a chord structure for a track will help you to gain an understanding of the scales you can use that relate to the structure. Then, once you have the understanding of scales, you can create melodies for your track.

Scales. This article will outline the fundamentals.

What is the foundation for all scales? How can you use the foundation to get creative with your melodies? How can we use these tools to construct basslines? These are some of the questions I hope to answer for you below.

Firstly, I will focus on what tools to use to create melodies. The foundation for all scales in music comes from the major scale. This is undoubtedly the most common scale that you hear in music. The major scale goes as follows:

Tone | Tone | Semitone | Tone | Tone | Tone | Semitone

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8

I’ll use the C major scale to illustrate this. A tone is represented as two steps to get to the next note. A semitone is just one step to the next note. For example, E to F is just one step, which is a semitone, but F to G is two steps which makes it a tone. This scale creates the fundamentals for all scales going forward:

C | D | E | F | G | A | B | C

Now, starting any major scale on the 6th note of the scale will give you the relative minor to that scale. In C major, that would give you the relative minor of A minor. That already gives you two scales that you could use to create a melody: we have the major scale and the minor scale.

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | A

Tone | Semitone | Tone | Tone | Semitone | Tone | Tone

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8

With the minor scale, there’s one alteration that you could make to spice it up, which is to create the harmonic minor scale. This is done by taking the minor scale and changing the 7th to a sharp 7. This is demonstrated below using a variation on the above A minor scale.

A | B | C | D | E | F | G#

Tone | Semitone | Tone | Tone | Semitone | Tritone | Semitone

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8

Using that scale when creating melodies in a minor key is always interesting. It throws in a curveball which is against the norm. There are examples of this scale being used in melodic deep house and melodic techno. The scale creates tension and can be used over a corresponding chord sequence.

Now, let’s look at how this can be used to construct basslines.

Basslines are genre dependent. However, there are usually some themes that translate over genres. From the key that your track is in, you generally want that note to be the basis for your bassline. So if you choose G minor as your key, you want to construct your loop around that. Usually, the bassline does not move around too much. For some styles, basslines often go between the first and the third note of the scale. Then you create the rhythm and groove around those notes. Even going between the first, third and fifth is a regular way of creating basslines. It’s possible to create the bassline for your track with any key you choose using the ideas as above.

Alternatively, your bassline may just be constructed from the chord sequence you choose. This way, your bassline would be the root notes of the chords that you create in the chord sequence. This is a really common way of creating a bassline. Then from here, you can create the rhythm and feel for the track. This will work for the more melodic styles of tracks.

The next article in this series will look into common keys used in dance music. That article is going to show you what certain keys can be used to do in tracks and what keys are better suited to certain styles of dance music. Be sure to keep an eye out for it on the blog soon!

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