An Introduction to the E Major Scale

Ever watched the BBC, Masterpiece Theater, or pretty much any cartoon [1]?

Then odds are, even if you don’t recognize it by name, you’ve probably heard Antonio Vivaldi’s famous movement, “Spring,” from his world-renowned piece, The Four Seasons.

This piece and many other famous compositions are written in none other than the key of E.

Essentially, what this means is that the composers of these pieces derived the notes for their music from the E major scale.

What is the E major scale? We’ve made it simple for you:

What is a Major Scale?

Major scales are made up of 7 notes. The eighth note in a scale is the same note as the first in the scale, but an octave higher. This means if you are playing the E major scale, you will begin and end with an E note.

Major scales are common in Western music and are most often considered optimistic and bright, as opposed to minor scales that are usually used to create music with a more dark or foreboding tone.

Because of this, major scales typically contain one or several sharps.

The E Major Scale

This being understood, (and at the risk of stating the obvious), the E major scale begins with E and continues with the following notes in order:

E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, and D#.

Typically when playing this scale as a musician or performer, you would again end with the next highest E, eight notes above the original.

If you are concerned with scale degrees, the notes of the E major scale are as follows:

  • E- 1st degree, Tonic
  • F#- 2nd degree, Supertonic
  • G#- 3rd degree, Mediant
  • A- 4th degree, Subdominant
  • B- 5th degree, Dominant
  • C#- 6th degree, Submediant
  • D#- 7th degree, Leading Tone

Scales typically also have a parallel minor or major scale. Therefore, the parallel scale to the E major would be the E minor.

Enharmonic Equivalent of E Major

The enharmonic equivalent of the E major scale is the F flat [2]. This basically means that the F flat scale and music written in the key of F flat, contain the same tones but written differently, i.e. in a different key.

Confused yet?

Don’t be.

Many enharmonic equivalents, especially that of the E major scale, are often rarely used. As long as you can nail the E major scale, odds are you’ll be set for anything written in the key of F flat.

You can also learn the D major scale in this article.

What is a “diatonic”?

The E major scale is what you would call a “diatonic,” scale.

This just means that the intervals, or “spaces,” between the notes in the E major scale occur in the following way:

whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half

The “whole” indicates a whole step up in tone from one note to the next. A “half” is only a half a tone, or what is called a “semitone,” up from the previous note.

Another interesting aspect about the structure of the E major scale is that it is what is called in the musical world, “maximally even.”[3]

Sounds exciting, eh?

In layman’s terms, all this means is that the tones or notes in the E major scale are as spread out as they can possibly be from each other.

How E Major Looks on Paper

If you were to write the E major scale out, it would look like two even tetrachords separated by one whole note.

Each of these tetrachords are made up of two whole tones, (or steps), followed by a semitone, (half step).

Famous Music Written in E Major

Ludwig van Beethoven seemed to enjoy the E major scale, he wrote two piano sonatas in E major: Op. 14, Number 1 and Op. 109.

While Beethoven composed his Piano Concerto Number 3 in the key of C minor, he did include a slower movement in the key of E major. Other composers followed suit and did the same, including:

  • Johannes Brahms when he wrote his First Symphony
  • Johannes Brahms and his Piano Quartet No. 3
  • Sergei Rachmaninoff and his Piano Concerto No. 2

The list of famous pieces written in the key of E major (or in other words, derived from the E major scale), could go on endlessly. So to simplify things, here are just a few other composers who have written very well known pieces in E major:

  • Frederic Chopin
  • Felix Mendelssohn
  • Alexander Scriabin
  • Joseph Haydn
  • Johann Sebastian Bach
  • Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

You know… just a few minor composers… (See what we did there?)

To be fair, however, many of the pieces written by these men were written in a kay other than E major, but had certain movements in E major.

It was also a common practice when writing a song in the key of E minor (or coming from the scale of E minor), to write in a key change for the grand finale and switch the song from E minor to E major.

Thus, the masterful piece was brought to a triumphant end with the exultant key of E major.

Fun E Major Fact

Next time you want to impress someone with a random and useless piece of musical trivia, you can tell them in your snootiest tone that, “Even the clock chime in the tower of London’s Palace of Westminster is tuned to the key of E major.”

Annnnd…mic drop.

When You Might Use E Major

Whether you play the piano, violin, flute, etc. the E major scale is one you will find yourself needing to master and likely practicing again and again as it is common in modern music.

With 4 sharps in its key signature, it may seem a wee daunting to new violinists, or other performers working on their range.

Don’t let the sharps scare you.

The practice of scales like E major is essential for any truly serious musician or performer. Scales, including that of E major, are the building blocks of music, they set the pattern for what your music will follow.

Now check out the F major scale.

For more musical tips and information for beginners, check out our blog.

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