The Crusade. Part 4: Scales

What do Julie Andrews and shredders have in common?

logo
Ultimate Guitar
0

What do Julie Andrews and shredders have in common?

They both have bad haircuts, and they both use scales.

Ha ha, just kidding about the bad haircuts! While I currently look like a marine, I had an extraordinarily tasteful style that went halfway down my back, and looked classiest when pumped up with aquanet. (Hey, how do you think I earned the nickname Poodleman?) High stylin', indeed.

But back to the lesson...

Today, we'll be examining the construction of the Major Scale, and how to play it on the guitar. Even if you already know this, keep on readin'. I'm sure you'll find something useful.

Are you ready, brave crusaders? Onward, and upward, then! Wait! I think I hear a doubtful voice asking why the heck do I want to know a scale that Julie Andrews sang in The Sound of Music? I want to shred, bro! Ah, a valid question. So much music theory rests on a solid understanding of this pillar of western music, you've gotta know it. Plus, you can make it rip, believe it or not.

First, let's check out the formula for a major scale.

W W H W W W H

Hmmm...Could this be What Would Harry Winters Want With Hats?

Nope!

W refers to Whole as in Whole Step. A Whole Step is a melodic Major 2nd. In plain English, this means two frets. Playing an A on the 5th fret, and then moving up a whole step gives us B on the 7th fret.

H means Half Step, a melodic minor 2nd, or one fret.

This is the recipe for creating a major scale. Instead of adding sugar and oatmeal for a cookie recipe, we add whole steps and half steps for a scale.

For example:

Josh Urban's Brainiac Theory Geek 1st Fret Major Scale Recipe Start on the 1st fret of any string. Add a note a Whole step above that. Add a note a Whole step above that. Add a note a Half step above that. Add a note a Whole step above that. Add a note a Whole step above that. Add a note a Whole step above that. Finally, finish off with a note a Half step above that.

Bake at 350 bmp for two hours, garnish with arpeggios, and enjoy.

Ta Da, you've just played a major scale. If you've started it on the 1st or 6th strings, using the 1st fret as the launching pad, the first note, (technically called the root note of the scale) would have been F, yielding an F major scale. If you chose the 5th string instead, starting on the 1st fret, the root note would have been Bb, creating a Bb major scale.

Now, this particular fingering is slightly inconvenient. Scales are usually seen in box patterns, and not along one string. However, they're exactly the same notes. As you've seen before, there are different ways to play a major scale across strings instead of along them. The layout of the guitar makes it possible to play the same note in several different places.

So, we have our recipe:

W W H W W W H

Translated into frets, we get:

2 2 1 2 2 2 1

Here's a third way to picture the construction of a major scale, with the numbers in the table being the degrees, or notes, of the scale:

Adding letters to the mix

So far we know how to build a major scale, and most of you have probably already played versions of it a million times. However, we're after the guts of the thing, the why. What are the notes of a Bb major scale? This is something that's very useful to know (really!)

Before we can do that, we need to look at this:

The order of the letters

Steppin' into the piano section of our virtual music school, we notice a funny fact. The white keys on a keyboard aren't equally spaced. There's black keys between some, but not all, of the keys. But why the heck am I talking about keyboards? While our aim is to play guitar, using this keyboard visual can help us understand elements of music theory. Besides, the notes are the same on any instrument, and the keyboard gives us an especially logical and visual way of viewing things.

Here's a chart of the notes in the system of western music. (Note that the musical alphabet doesn't go to H, it starts again at A):

Notice that the distance from A to B is a whole step (2 boxes), while B to C is a half step (one box.) Putting this into the context of the fretboard, A to B is two frets, while B to C is one fret. Each box represents one fret.

Hey Josh, what are the blank spaces?

Sharps and flats. The empty boxes in the above chart are the Black Keys on the keyboard.

Here's the chart with the sharps and flats.

We notice that A# occupies the same square as Bb, and while it's a different name, it's the same note. A# and Bb are said to be enharmonic, meaning they are of the same pitch but have a different name.

You could think of this as calling me Josh, or Mr. Urban. I'm the same person, but those are very different names. (And nobody ever calls me Mr. Urban...)

Why the heck do they do this? Doesn't it needlessly complicate matters? While it appears to at first, we'll see later on down the line just why having two names for a note can come in handy.

The main point to get here is: All the notes have sharps and flats in between them, except for B-C, and E-F.

Applying it

Now that we have our recipe, and our map of notes, let's start generating some Major Scales.

Let's start with C Major. Why not A? Read on.

First, our chart, the same as above, with our starting note changed to C (the notes are in the same order, and have the same spacings. Note that the half steps are still between B-C and E-F):

Our recipe:

W W H W W W H

Starting with C.

A Whole step (2 boxes, or 2 frets) above C is D.

A Whole step above D is E.

A Half step above E is F.

A Whole step above F is G.

A Whole step above G is A.

A Whole step above A is B.

A Half step above B is C.

Done correctly, we should always start and end on the same note.

Let's try that A major scale you were wondering about.

Our map, the same as the one above, but starting on A:

Starting with A:

A Whole step above A is B.

A Whole step above B is....C#! Watch out to make sure you're going two boxes, a whole step.

A Half step above C# is D. (One box.)

A Whole step above D is E.

A Whole step above E is...F#. (Stay on your toes.)

A Whole step above F# is G#.

A Half step above G# is A.

We see that we need to alter some notes (add sharps in this case) in order to make them fit the formula for a major scale. C major is the only major scale that doesn't have any sharps or flats. The A major scale has three sharps. By the way, the key signature of A major is three sharps. More on that later.

Notice how we could have said A Whole step above B is Db. This would have been the correct pitch, and looked the same on the guitar, but it's not the correct name for the note. We want to say each letter name once, and not repeat any, or leave any out. (They might get their feelings hurt!) In the case of a six or eight tone scale, this wouldn't be possible, but with a seven tone scale such as the major, it's a rule we want to stick to. That's why it's important to have two different names for the note. B to Db skips C#. And poor little C# might start to cry, because it's excluded...

Homework

A dirty word at most institutions of learning, but not at The Crusade! It's how we sharpen the edge of our knowledge to slay the ignorance inside our musicianship, and any non-believers who happen to be listening...!

Here's your to-do list:

  • Play the major scale starting at different notes on your guitar. Start by playing along one string, and then check out my article Soloing, Part II for further major scale shapes.

  • Write down, on paper, as many major scales as you can stand! Start with a random root note, and follow the recipe of WWHWWWH. Write scales starting from every note, and don't forget to double up on the sharps and flats. In other words, write both a C# Major and a Db major scale. They'll look exactly the same on the guitar, but will be spelled differently on paper. Doing this will not only help your theoretical grasp of scale construction, but will also be vital when we get into building chords from scales. (Harmonizing scales, to be exact.) Do it. All of them. NOW. Log off instant messenger, and do something for your career, soldier! Call me Sergent DeWalt, because I'm in that frame of mind.

  • As a bonus, I'll grade your homework! Send your written major scales along to joshurban251@gmail.com

  • The catch? Leave a nice comment on my Blog.

    See ya next time, and learn on!

    Don't forget to check out my blog.

    Copyright 2008 Josh Urban - All Rights Reserved

    Josh Urban (photo) is a musician with a unique perspective on music. Always a thinker, he gains insight wherever he can find it, be it in the clubs as a working musician, busking on the city streets, or teaching in the classroom. A naturally enthusiastic fellow, Josh is always fired up about bringing the lessons he's learned to his readers. Maintaining a website, a blog, and a monthly newsletter, he aims to make musicians stop, think, and play with a little more intensity, integrity, and inspiration. You never know who's listening.

  • 61 comments sorted by best / new / date

      dann_blood
      Glen'sHeroicAct wrote: good read, but how hard could it have been to show just one little diagram of a box pattern?
      The point of explaining it like this was for people to understand the way it is actually constructed. It is also essential when composing to know stuff like this. Good article btw, if I hadn't have known all this you would have explained it perfectly.
      RustedEmbrace
      is this wwhwwwh method the same for every major scale regardless of root note or am i just hoping its that easy? im a noob a theory so help me out
      Track-Runner
      QueenZeppelin wrote: Have you guys heard of Yuwie? It's a HUGE social networking site, that pays users like us, just for logging in. Make loads of cash, buy a new axe! What do you have to lose? Visit http://r.yuwie.com/guitarworld
      you know you got a good article once you've got spammers on your page. btw incredible. im learning buttloads of stuff.
      EnyoAdonai
      Very nicely written. I don't know much theory, but this is so easy to understand! Thanks alot
      init24
      this makes everything so clearer lol Poodleman, i had the same name
      grille
      What Would Harry Winters Want With Hats? HAHA gotta love that
      ShamiqSevenfold
      im a noob so basically you have to move across the frets and not along the strings? Id really appreciate any help
      Jastul
      Bake at 350 bmp for two hours, garnish with arpeggios, and enjoy.
      that made me lol... anyway, good lesson man, even though I knew this stuff already it proved to be an amusing read
      pontiac_45
      "the crusade" by trivium is a ****ing awesome song. no singing, but 8 minutes of fast guitar riffs.
      Nemesis260
      Joey Radical wrote: 1st! Even if I know this stuff already, it was an interesting and entertaining read
      +1 Very good.
      GreekRockr9
      RustedEmbrace wrote: is this wwhwwwh method the same for every major scale regardless of root note or am i just hoping its that easy? im a noob a theory so help me out
      Yes, regardless of the root note, that formula still applies.
      Dimebag Dave
      There's already enough stuff for beginners on this site =/ But an interesting read, nonetheless.
      metalmaniac45
      the major scale is explained on 1 string, but if you wanted to create one on the string below it, would you start at the root note?
      gnome_hovel7
      On the paragraph starting with "Ta-Da", wouldn't the major scale built from the first fret of the fifth string be the "C major scale", and not the "Bb major scale"? I think he was thinking backwards when he typed that, but if I'm wrong, could somebody please correct me? Awesome article, Josh! The Crusade is better than any guitar theory book I've ever purchased, and it's FREE! You could easily sell "The Crusade" in a book format! (I would buy it...)
      ruready1994
      As this comment is nearly 10 years old, I hope you figured out 1st = high e, thinnest string and 6th = low E, thickest string
      gnome_hovel7
      Guitars are designed to have a possibility of up to five places on the fretboard that contain the EXACT same notes. (and when I say the same, I mean both the same lettering AND the same octave. The fifth fret of a string is actually the same note as the unfretted string above it. (except for the fourth string. It's fret that is the same as the note above it is actually the FOURTH fret instead of it's fifth. Because of the possibilities of playing the same exact notes in various places on the guitar, and because it is complicated to know WHERE on the neck to play even is you knew what note you were to play, most guitarists can't read musical notation. That is the purpose for the Crusade I think; To equip guitarists with the musical knowledge that they SHOULD have so they won't be the outcasts of the musical community.
      ShamiqSevenfold wrote: im a noob so basically you have to move across the frets and not along the strings? Id really appreciate any help
      XxXLuisanXxX
      gnome_hovel7 wrote: On the paragraph starting with "Ta-Da", wouldn't the major scale built from the first fret of the fifth string be the "C major scale", and not the "Bb major scale"? I think he was thinking backwards when he typed that, but if I'm wrong, could somebody please correct me? Awesome article, Josh! The Crusade is better than any guitar theory book I've ever purchased, and it's FREE! You could easily sell "The Crusade" in a book format! (I would buy it...)
      0 1 2 3 4 A|A#/Bb B C C# E|-----
      Cdynckl
      GuitarHero1081 wrote: I know all the major scales.....playing 7 years of trumpet sort of gives me a handicap to learning scales on the guitar and bass
      Lol, I've played trumpet for 6. I didn't know any of the scales. I think I'm quittin' the trumpet though. Never found it interesting.
      bass-man9712
      lol knew this already but i would think Db would be upset because it had a shot at being there but you just took it away... anyway on topic im learning alot from your stuff dude, great work
      institutions
      This is really helping, man A lot better than taking a long boring theory class that I'd have to pay for.
      Zeroxsk8er1
      Man GREAT job on these lessons! Out of 100's i've read, these are the ones that i'm learning from! Thanks a TON!
      DimebagZappa
      4 (3 really) lessons deep and my brain hasnt exploded yet. This has been way too easy to learn and retain. Good job.
      chaseNbadguys
      Ive been playing for 15 years. You guys still in H.S and college: PAY ATTENTION IN MUSIC THEORY CLASS. It will pay off, wish I did. Great read.
      BrianApocalypse
      A good article. It's rare that you'll see something that simple. I wish this had been around a few years back when I started learning theory!
      yazi
      3rd, nice lesson. Would you really grade em????Ahhh.....
      Led_Zeppelin992
      Definitely worth waiting for, thanks for the help. And yes RustedEmbrace, the WWHWWWWH method is the same for each root note.
      Ktulu Master
      Note that the musical alphabet doesn't go to H, it starts again at A
      Not if you're German...
      deadpoolxs
      wow, its really been a long wait. another well written article. Good job man!
      magnum1117
      I knew that already but i did not knew how to use it on the fretboard. thanks dude great lesson
      CapnKickass
      The H note is my favorite, I always inform my sister who plays piano about it, but she thinks she's too good for such things =(
      Bonorly
      back at school I learnt this tone tone semitone tone tone tone semitone, or ttsttts. And if someone didn't know that musical notes only go from A-Gthen wtf they doing with an instrument.
      vanderplow
      I'm just starting to learn the guitar and found this really useful. It's hard to find beginner stuff that's actually explained thoroughly.
      selftaught1
      im also a noob and was just wonderin if u can start da scale at any fret or does it have to be on da first?? other then that this lesson has been a great starter for me thanx heaps