Theory for Producers

The White Keys and Major Modes

The white keys on the keyboard are full of possibility. Let's get started by mastering the major modes.

45-60 Minutes
5 Sections

Created in partnership with

Welcome to part two of our Theory for Producers series! This series is all about demystifying music theory by looking closely at popular songs and how they demonstrate common musical concepts we can use as producers to improve our tracks. In part one we looked at the black keys on the keyboard. In this section we’ll be examining the white keys and a few different types of melodies you can create with them.

By the end of this course, you’ll have created a collection of grooves using three different scales comprised entirely of the white keys. We’ll look at the songs of Michael Jackson, Katy Perry, and Queen with David Bowie to illuminate the various modes and how you can use them to create your own great music.

This course was created in partnership with NYU's MusEDLab. Visit their site to learn more about their terrific work!

Ethan Hein

Music Technologist & Theory Nerd

Ethan Hein is an adjunct professor of music technology at NYU and Montclair State University, and a founding member of the NYU Music Experience Design Lab, under the leadership of Alex Ruthmann. You can follow all his explorations of music theory, music education, and pop music at

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theory for producers: the white keys and major modes
ethan hein
song analysis

Course Outline

  1. Section 1


  2. Section 2

    "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough"

  3. Section 3

    "Teenage Dream"

  4. Section 4

    "Under Pressure"

  5. Section 5



Who is this course for?

This course was created specifically with producers in mind, but it could be helpful for any musician looking for a better grasp on music theory. Students don't need to know how to read sheet music. Students should be familiar with a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) and should understand notes presented on a piano roll (frequently used in Ableton Live and Logic).

Are there requirements?

While you do not need to take these three courses in order, this is the second course in a three part series. If you haven't signed up for The Black Keys yet, check it out! 

As with all the courses in this series, it will help if you have a basic knowledge of music production and a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) to follow along on.

How long does it take?

This section of the Theory for Producers series takes about an hour to get through. As with any music learning, the more time you can give to practicing the concepts you've learned, the more you'll get out of it.

What can I expect to get out of this course?

By the end of this mini-course, you'll have a solid grasp and understanding of some important major-tonality scales, based on the white keys of the keyboard. You should be able to use the scales to make your own grooves and melodies, and potentially even identify it in songs you hear.

What's next in this series?

In part three of this course, The White Keys and Minor Modes, we examine minor-tonality scales derived from the white keys that can be found in popular music of all types. Jump ahead to start learning with songs by Missy Elliott, Miles Davis, Mary J. Blige, and Björk now!