Your Guide to the B Flat Major Scale
What do Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Eric Clapton’s “I Shot the Sheriff,” and Eminem’s “Love the Way You Lie,” have in common?
They’re all in the key of B flat major.
Here, we’re breaking down everything that makes the B flat major scale, from the basic anatomy of the scale to reading the scale on the page to a few fun things you can do with the scale.
What is the B Flat Major Scale?
But before we fly (or harmonize), let’s talk about the basics of the scale.
The B flat major scale is one of the major scales. If you’re late to the party, the major scales are arguably the most important scales in Western music. They’re hugely important to your understanding of keys and are central to the construction of many songs in the Western musical canon.
For our purposes, all you need to know is that the major scales, including B flat, are a type of diatonic scale. This will tell you important information about how the scale is constructed because diatonic scales have two key characteristics:
- They’re built on intervals of natural notes (no flats or sharps)
- They consist of five whole steps and two half steps
If you’re new to the game, a whole step is two whole piano keys, and a half step is one piano key.
Basic Anatomy of a Major Scale
So, what does this tell you about the B flat major scale?
Well, all major scales follow a specific pattern of steps: whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half.
As long as you know the keynote (the first note of the scale which the scale is named for–in this case, B flat) you can use this pattern to figure out the notes of the scale.
Take a minute and look at a keyboard. Think you can get it?
For those who are still figuring out whole and half steps, the notes of B flat major are Bb, C, D, Eb, F, G, and A (in this case, b represents a flat).
Playing the Scale
Now that you understand the bare basics of B flat, let’s dive into some more detail about the scale so you can start doing fun things.
Intervals and Scale Degrees
An interval in piano refers to the distance between two notes. It seems pretty basic, but if you want to understand how to build harmonies, it’s vital that you understand the notes that make an interval.
For B flat, the intervals are as follows:
- Tonic: Bb
- Major 2nd: C
- Major 3rd: D
- Perfect 4th: Eb
- Perfect 5th: F
- Major 6th: G
- Major 7th: A
- Perfect 8th: Bb
If you’re new to intervals, don’t worry about whether the interval is tonic, perfect, or otherwise–this refers to their sonic quality.
However, if you want to understand how to read the B flat major scale on a piece of sheet music, you should know scale degrees, which are a notation that tells you where a note’s pitch falls within the scale.
For B flat major, the scale degrees are:
- Tonic: Bb
- Supertonic: C
- Mediant: D
- Subdominant: Eb
- Dominant: F
- Submediant: G
- Leading: A
- Octave: Bb
On sheet music, you may see this represented as scale degrees or as solfege syllables, another type of music notation used to teach sight reading and pitch.
Once you’re familiar with the notes of the scale, you can turn to the keyboard to start playing them.
Since there are seven notes in the scale and you have five fingers, playing the scale straight through involves a bit of acrobatics with your hands. Let’s start with the right hand.
Begin by playing B flat with your index finger, then bring your thumb underneath to play C. Once your hand shifts with your thumb, play D with your second/index finger and E flat with your third. To finish the scale, cross your thumb under your hand again to play F, play A with your third finger and B flat with your fourth.
It might seem unnecessarily complicated, but moving through the scale like this actually helps your hands stay mobile enough to play the scale quickly as needed.
To play with your left hand, the fingering isn’t a direct translation of the right hand.
Start by playing B flat with your middle finger. Then, walk up the scale until your index finger hits C and your thumb hits D, and cross your fourth finger underneath to play E flat. Your middle finger will play F, your index finger plays G, your thumb plays G, and your index crosses to play B flat.
Once you’ve mastered the basic form of the scale, you can start playing around with modes, which are more or less scales with a fancy name.
Every major scale has seven modes: Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aolian, and Locrian.
The modes of B flat major are:
- Ionian/Major Scale: Bb- C – D – Eb- F – G – A – Bb
- Dorian: C – D – Eb- F – G – A – Bb – C
- Phrygian: D – Eb- F – G – A – Bb – C – D
- Lydian: Eb- F – G – A – Bb – C – D – Eb
- Mixolydian: F – G – A – Bb – C – D – Eb – F
- Aeolian/Natural minor scale: G – A – Bb – C – D – Eb – F – G
- Locrian: A – Bb – C – D – Eb – F – G – A
For a closer breakdown of modes, check out this guide.
Playing the Entire Keyboard
So, do you think you’re ready to master the ins and outs of the B flat major scale?
If you still need a bit of guidance, no worries. Check out our blog for more tips and tricks to master the entire keyboard.