What Is a Scale?


Scales are used to measure things, like height or distance. They are also used in music, such as the scale of Claude Debussy’s L’Isle Joyeuse.

Despite the numerous advances in scale development, there is still room for improvement. The present article highlights five of these advances and outlines recommendations for future practice.


Scale is a ratio of the dimensions of a model to those of the real object. It’s used to reduce large objects to a smaller size so they can be more easily handled and analyzed. This is the process by which we create blueprints for building projects that are drawn to a specific scale.

To find the dimensions of a small geometric figure, you simply multiply it by a number. If you want to enlarge the size of the drawing, you multiply by a larger number.

In music, the word “scale” refers to a series of musical notes or sounds that ascend and descend in a particular pattern. It’s one of the most important concepts to understand when learning musical theory and instrumental technique. For example, a C major scale begins with middle C (C4) and ascends an octave to C7. Musicians often practice scales with different intervals to build their proficiency and mastery of a particular scale.


A scale is the ratio between the dimensions of a model or a scaled figure and the corresponding dimensions of an actual figure or object. The term also refers to the relationship between a number of objects of different sizes, such as the scale factor.

When preparing plots by hand or using computer programs for data analysis, it is important to select a reasonable scale. A typical scale will have a set of major ticks along the plotting axis with finer subdivisions (minor tick labels) indicated between them.

The term scale may also refer to a sequence of musical intervals or a particular arrangement of tones of a chord. This type of scale is often used in improvisational music. Explicit instruction in scales has been part of compositional training for centuries. A famous example is the opening of Claude Debussy’s L’Isle Joyeuse. The piece begins with an ascending major scale followed by a descending minor scale.


A system of ordered marks at determinate intervals, used as a standard for measurement: a ruler with a scale; a map with a scale.

A ratio indicating the proportion that a representation bears to the object that it represents: a map with a 1:1,000,000 scale.

One of the scales in a musical composition, such as a major scale: do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do. Also called modulation.

To adjust or vary in proportionate amounts: to scale up or down a plan; to scale a mountain. Also: to move up or down a ladder, pecking order, or seniority system.

To shrink a real-world object’s dimensions on a model, blueprint, or diagram: scale drawing. Scaling is common in preparing maps and to help designers, architects, and machinists work with models that would be too large to hold if they were at their actual size. See also scale factor.


In music, the term scale can refer to a particular set of melodic notes or the corresponding intervals on a musical instrument. In some contexts, it can also refer to a series of scalelike exercises practiced for technical proficiency. In the context of fretted string instruments, it can also refer to the number and positioning of the corresponding frets on a guitar or bass.

Scale is often used as a ratio to represent a real-world object on a blueprint or map with comparatively smaller dimensions. For example, the dimensions of a house on a blueprint are drawn to a scale of 1:100. Scrutulous geographic information specialists avoid enlarging source maps to preserve this scale factor.

Ordinary mechanical balance-beam scales and electronic digital scales measure mass by comparing the force of gravity (which varies with location) against an object’s weight. This distinction is important because the gravitational constant varies significantly, so scales must be calibrated at each location to accurately measure weight.

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