Scala tutorial – how to change the key of your scale

So, you’re making your own microtonal tunings in Scala. You’ve explored for a while and came up with all kinds of original scales by yourself. There’s just one problem — all those scales are in the key of C! This quick tutorial will show you how to change key in a microtonal scale using Scala.

Changing key in Scala

By default, Scala will assume that the base note of the scale (1/1 or unison) lives on MIDI note 60 (middle C of the keyboard) at a frequency of 261.6 Hz. To change this, we use the Edit Mapping dialog. You can find it at Edit > Edit Mapping.

This page looks confusing, but there are only 3 fields we need to change in order to change the key of your scale.

The first field to change is ‘Key for 1/1’. This field tells Scala which key on a physical MIDI keyboard you want to use for 1/1 (the first note of your scale). You can change this value by 1 for each semitone away from C. For example if you want your scale to start on D then you can enter 62 here. For A above middle C, use 69.

Next, set the ‘Reference key’ field to be the same value as ‘Key for 1/1’. This might seem redundant, but there are situations where they would differ. For an easy time, make these two values the same.

Finally, we can set the ‘Reference frequency’ to any frequency in Hz. So if we want to play in the key of D, we would enter 293.66Hz.

Note nameCC#/DbDD#/EbEFF#/GbGG#/AbAA#/BbB
MIDI note number606162636465666768697071

Saving your keyboard mapping for re-use

You should save your mapping to use it again later. To do so, you’ll need to open the Edit Mapping dialog again (Edit > Edit mapping). Just click on the Save As button that appears on that dialog.

scl/kbm format

Scala saves mappings seperately from tunings. The keyboard mapping data is saved into a .kbm file. You can mix and match your .scl tunings with your .kbm files.

Alternative formats such as the AnaMark TUN file (.tun) store the tuning and the mapping all in one file. So if you’re converting a .scl file into a .tun file, make sure that you have loaded your .kbm keyboard mapping beforehand. The same advice applies if you’re using Scala’s relay feature to retune a hardware synth via MIDI.

Some frequencies are better than others

A little tip for you EDM-loving bass music explorers. The most bootyshakingest bass lives around 45-55Hz. That range approximately covers the keys of F# to A.

You can also use this tutorial to tune scales to 432Hz. Before you follow the tutorial steps, stand outside and absorb sunlight for 10 hours while noticing that the horizon is indeed flat and not a curve. If you see a chemtrail, stand for an extra hour. Finally you can click Save As.

That’s it

Thanks to Paris for suggesting this tutorial. I recently overhauled and it’s now possible to email me directly from my contact page. Most of my tutorials these days were requested by people who discovered my blog. Feel free to send in suggestions.

Further reading

2 thoughts on “Scala tutorial – how to change the key of your scale”

  1. Paris

    WOW! I just found this! This year has been very challenging in family life… somehow I managed to release an album of tracks made on my Casio CZ 1000. But now I’m turning my attention to this again for use with some of my old Yamaha’s. I feel like once I go down this path, I’m not coming back (to 12-tet. So I’m sort of returning my ear taking in various tunings either via recordings or going through scala’s massive archive and finding the ones that really resonate with me and thinking where I want to go with my own turnings outside of very simple ones (e.g. harmonic series, just pentatonic, etc). Anyway… Thank you so much for this and hope all is well with you!


  2. François Chagnon

    Thanks a lot for putting that up but I just thought I would add up the little missing detail I was searching for when I came here :
    The reference key is the key on which your 1/1 root will fall in your DAW while using the .mid file produced in IVOR2 (at least for FL Studio 20)
    Also worth noting : Only the number indicated in the “reference frequency” field seems to determine the frequency that 1/1 will have
    (at least putting 60 in the firs field, 207.something in the ref frequency field and 56 as reference note produces a .mid file which puts the G# note (~207hz) on the G#3 key of the piano roll.


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