Thursday, March 6, 2008


We are forging onward to Music Theory Lesson #2!

So last entry, we discussed the 12 notes of the Western Harmony System, and gave every single one of them a name. Now, we're going to start organizing them in ways that are musically useful.

How many of you remember this woman?

Remember "Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do"?

Yes. Tonight, we're going to talk about the mother of all scales: THE MAJOR SCALE.

There are several scales at our disposal, and believe me, we're going to eventually cover all of them, but we have to start here, because this is the one scale from which all other scales are derived.

When I said it was the "mother of all scales," I wasn't kidding.

Then again, maybe you could make a case for the Chromatic Scale being the mother, but I don't. Just assume that the Chromatic Scale gave all of the others up for adoption, and since the Major Scale is the one who stepped in and did the job, she is the one we're honoring today.

(What the hell am I talking about.)

Ahem. Moving on...

Here is a C Chromatic Scale:

Now... we come up with a Major Scale using an important formula known as TWO AND A HALF / THREE AND A HALF. Remember the WHOLE STEP and the HALF STEP from last time? We're going to organize them in this order:


Two and a half on the left. Three and a half on the right.

Start with "C" and move a whole step (2 notes) to the right. We end up with a "D", right? Next, move another whole step to the right. The result is "E." That's two whole steps! Now we need to finish the "Two and a half" part of the equation with a half step. From "E", this ends up being an "F."

C - D - E - F.

Follow me so far?

We still have "WWWH" to deal with.

Starting with "F", we move a whole step to "G", a whole step to "A", a whole step to "B", and finally a half step to "C." THREE AND A HALF.

This gives us all 8 notes of a C MAJOR SCALE.

Let's isolate them from the rest for a few minutes:

It's probably all-too-apparent at this point why I chose the key of "C" for this exercise; no sharps or flats to deal with on this one.

Now that you know the notes that make up a C Major Scale, here is where to find them on the neck.

First, let's look at the scale as if we were playing it on one single string. Notice the way that the WWH / WWWH relationship plays out on the fretboard of a guitar. We find our "C" starting on the 3rd fret of the "A" string.

"D" is on the 5th.

"E" on the 7th.

"F" on the 8th.

"G" on the 10th.

"A" is on the 12th fret, or the "snake eyes" as we like to call that area of the guitar neck.

"B" is on the 14th, and then "C" falls on fret #15, which corresponds to fret #3.

But nobody plays a scale all on one string, because that'd be a hassle. So here are two other ways that you can play the C Major Scale instead. The one on the left is commonly known as the "condensed" version, because all of the notes are compacted into a small area. The one on the right is called the "extended" version because you're going to have to stretch those fingers just a little more to play it. This doesn't mean it's any less useful.


Practice playing those two versions of the scale; memorize the shapes!

What we've done tonight is we've established an extremely critical framework for understanding all other scales. And that's not all. The implications of this are even more far-reaching than what it might seem at the moment.

So congratulate yourself on a job well done, and when we return next time, we'll begin talking about the "atomic particle" of music: the INTERVAL.

Sunday, March 2, 2008


Hey there... thanks for visiting. This is the first post, and it's going to be a good one.

That is, it's going to be good if you have absolutely no foundational knowledge at all about individual musical tones and the names assigned to them. Chances are this entry will not even be "101" for most of you. But you're going to read it anyway, because you're curious.

Let's get it on.

Those of us living in Western Civilization adhere to a 12-tone system when we make music. All of these 12 notes put together make up what we call THE CHROMATIC SCALE. I'm not going to get too in-depth with the science of what makes a note, but just know on a very surface-y level that every note corresponds to a certain frequency (Hz) or number of vibrations that travel through the air, and your ear interprets them as SOUND.

To name the notes, we simply use the first 7 letters of the alphabet: A through G.

So that accounts for 7 of the 12 notes, but what are those blanks in between each letter? What are those notes called?

It'd be helpful at this point to mention two more concepts, and then we can pick up where we left off by naming notes 2, 5, 7, 10, and 12.

First off... whenever moving throughout the chromatic scale, anytime you move the distance of one note (i.e. the distance from note #1 to note #2), we call that moving a HALF STEP. If moving one note creates a halfstep, can you guess what we'd call moving a distance of two notes?

That's right. A WHOLE STEP.

Very important to remember those two terms, because we'll be using them quite a bit in the future.

Also, looking at the picture up above there, if you move a half step to the right (start at note #1 and move to note #2), which in effect "raises" the pitch, we call that SHARPING a note. And here is the symbol that we use to designate a SHARP:

If we want to move to the left instead (from note #8 to note #7), which "lowers" the pitch, we call that FLATTING a note. Here's the symbol for a FLAT:

Going back to the blank notes that we've not termed yet... I think of these notes as the redneck tones who were born in the hills of Boondocks USA and given two names (Billy Bob, Peggy Sue, etc.)

Starting with note #1 ("A"), if we move one halfstep to the right over to note two, we've taken an "A" and sharped it. We can call note #2 an "A Sharp."

But what if we started at note #3 ("B") and moved one note to the left?

We can also call note #2 a "B Flat."

If it was supper time, and you walked outside of your log cabin to holler at note #2, you could call it either A# (A Sharp) or Bb (B Flat.) It'd come a-runnin' to both, because both are correct.

You might've noticed that there is no blank between notes #3 and #4. Two exceptions here in our chromatic scale: there is no note between a "B" and a "C", and there is also not a note between "E" and "F."

There is no such thing as a "B Sharp", because that would be a "C." There is no such thing as a "C Flat", because that would be a... "B." No "E Sharps" or "F Flats" either for the same reason.

But everybody else has an inbred cousin, so let's get back to them.

Moving on to note #4 (a "C"), if we sharp it, we'll have a "C Sharp" on note #5. But if we started at note #6 (a "D") and moved backwards one (flatting it), we could also call it a "D Flat."

Following the pattern here?

Sharping #6 yields "D Sharp" for #7. Flatting #8 gives us "E Flat."

Number 10 can be called either an "F Sharp" or a "G Flat."

Number 12 can be called either a "G Sharp" or an "A Flat."

That's the last one. And just like a circle, once we come to the end of that, we start all over at "A" and begin the cycle again.

Playing every note of the Chromatic Scale in succession wouldn't sound very musical at all. But if you check in again sometime soon for another entry, we'll begin discussing ways we can organize all 12 notes into combinations that make sense and sound pleasing to the ear.

I promise, eventually, we'll delve into some musical concepts that will blow your mind and change the way you approach your guitar. We're going to load up on some serious ammo.

But for now, you would do well to memorize all of the notes in the picture above.

Thanks again. Until next time...