Fretboard Knowledge: After you've been practiced Part 1
for a few days I hope you have a good idea of what a major scale sounds like. If not don't sweat it, it will come with time. The worst thing you can do is hold back your progress because you don't have things perfect. Perfection is a myth. Music is human expression, and humans by definition have flaws. That's why I have such a foul-mouth, but hey, this is about rock and roll. Name one rock artist that doesn't enjoy a good f-bomb now and then.
You're going keep practicing the same scales, but now we're going to learn the names of all the notes. You already know the names of the first note of each scale, so we're going to work on the rest of them.
In western music notes are named after letters of the alphabet A
. If you're really smart you may remember that yesterday I said that music has twelve tones, and if you're really, really smart you'll realize that A-G
only gets us seven names. So there are five tones out there that still need names.
The other tones are made up for with the use of sharps (#
) and flats (b
). They actually overlap somewhat an F#
is the same tone as a Gb
which can make life a little confusing at first. However I only use sharps. I'll deal with the flat keys too but for right now I'm going to keep it straight forward.
Since we need to start somewhere, we're going to start with the key of C
. Remember the C major scale
you've already practiced in Part 1
? If not go back and play it a few times.
We're starting with C major
because it's the scale without any sharps or flats. All of the notes are natural.
C D E F G A B C
Notice how the scale has seven different tones (C
is repeated at the top) and each letter is used. This is true for every single major and minor scale. BTW, any scale built off of seven tones is known as a diatonic scale
. So just to reinforce this concept, practice the C major scale
a few more times, but this time say the name of each note as you play it.
Finished good. I want you to notice something else. Which notes came at the half steps? I.e. which notes had only one fret between them? Play it again and figure it out.
You should have noticed that the half-steps come between E-F
, and B-C
. This is critical for the next exercise.
What you'll need for this one is a guitar, a piece of paper or a notebook, and a pencil. For some reason musicians always write with pencil. It probably has something to do with ink lowering libido. If you don't believe me look at all those geeks with pocket-protectors. Do you want to sleep with them? I didn't think so over exposure to ink.
What you need to do is write out the letter names for each of the major scales you practiced in Part 1
. Go ahead and write them out in the order you played them:
Skip the final E
. You already learned a C major scale
so don't worry about that one. To help you out, I'll write out a chromatic scale below. In case you're wondering what the f--k that is; it's a twelve tone scale that hits each and every note possible. It's useful in theory but not very interesting musically since it all sounds the same.
C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B C
If you started on the first fret of the B string
and played up the string hitting every single fret you would play that chromatic scale. Don't worry you won't have to practice it now unless you really, really want to.
Back to the exercise Each scale needs to include each letter. That part should be easy. Your job is to write in where the sharps go. Remember the pattern:
Whole Step Whole Step Half Step Whole Step Whole Step Whole Step Half Step
I'll walk you through the E scale but after that you're on your own.
Start with E
next note is a whole step, or two frets. Looking up at our chromatic scale two frets up would be an F#
. Now two more frets G#
. Half step or one fret A
. Whole Step B
. Whole Step C#
. Whole Step D#
. Finally our half step E
. There we go, we started and ended with E used every letter, and included sharps at F
, and D
. Kick a-s! The letters of the scale are this:
E F# G# A B C# D# E
Now go through the same process for the other scales. I'll write out the letter names below and you have to fill in the sharps.
A B C D E F G A
D E F G A B C D
G A B C D E F G
B C D E F G A B
You may, or may not have noticed that the sharps follow a definite pattern. F
is sharped in all of the above scales. C
is sharped in all but one of them. G
is sharped in all but two. There's an order in which you add sharps, and I'll teach you a silly little poem to remember them.
- Bowling Balls
or F# C# G# D# A# E# B#
. The scale always starts one half step up from the last sharp. So if you have one sharp, the only sharp is F#
, and the key is G
- Wait a minute I thought that there were half steps between E-F
? If you have an E#
isn't that just an F
Damn you're smart. Yeah it gets a little confusing when you have that many sharps. Fortunately nobody in their right mind writes anything in those keys so you shouldn't have to worry about it too much. What it does is allow us to maintain the primary rule that every scale has every letter name in it.
: Play your scales again, but this time say each letter name as you play it. (Don't sing them for this one, you only want to sing scale degrees, not the actual letter names***.) Pay particular attention to where the C
's or C#
's fall as you'll need to know that in subsequent lessons. However, for your ear training, continue to sing the scale degrees for each tone, 1-8
. If you need help here go back to my first lesson
on major scales.
A word on metronomes: I go back and forth on using a metronome. It has to do with the difference between learning something and practicing something. If you're learning you're still figuring it out, and it takes extra time to place your fingers properly. In this stage a metronome will actually distract you, and the only solution is to throw it across the room. Once you can recreate the exercise from memory though, it's time to practice. Now you can turn on the metronome, and practice the exercise in time. Kick up the tempo slowly, but always enough that it's a challenge. You want to sweat a little. At this stage of the game it may be too early to use a metronome, or it may not be. Use your best judgement.
*** - make this distinction because singing letter names is about learning absolute pitch, which is both harder to learn and less useful. Singing scale degrees, i.e. the numbers 1-8
, is for developing relative pitch. Relative pitch is important because it's the distance between the notes that defines the music, not their absolute value. The other nice thing is the numbers stay the same no matter what key you're in. So you learn one skill set and it applies to any key you're working with, which really kicks a-s.
About The Author:
Kevin Armagh has been playing the guitar for over 20 years, and has developed a revolutionary method of learning that combines theory, technique, and ear training in a single approach. His work can be found at Kevin-Armagh.com.