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...


Kyle said...

well done. since i am learning the piano, this is making things very interesting to me. please keep it up there t(h)om.

Leslie said...

This is definitely more interesting than any of my college classes were.

Bucy said...

I wait with bated breath.

Lisa said...

Nice teaching style.
I'd say turn it all into a book after you've finished.

Kyle W. Schlenz said...

This is cool. I have been trying to learn guitar, but music theory has always confused me. I want to learn it right, though, and not half-ass it. So thanks for starting with the basics.

Gregory Fish said...

Hey man! I'll pass this on to my beginner students. I'll definately check back for some advanced stuff. Later, friend from MO.

MichaelGlawson said...

Good post man. I am a drummer, so music theory doesn't make its way onto the table as often for me. I will definitely refer friends here.

Jared said...

Looks good, Thom. Keep it up.

Angel said...

i took a year of theory and aural skills awhile ago and this is helping me brush the cob webs off. i really enjoy your teaching style too. =)