So I just had started learning scaled around three weeks ago and now I'm learning about the concept of relative scales and how many minor scales are relative to major scales. Let's take the G major scale for example. I was taught that if you want to know the relative minor scale of that, you go down two steps (letters), meaning the relative scale to that is E minor. Now, either I understood it wrong or I'm doing it wrong. Do you go two letters backwards? Or is there another rule? Because I'm looking at the G minor scale, and it's saying that the relative scale to that is Bb major scale. I would have guessed that it's just B. Where did the flat sign come in?

Hopefully I'm not confusing you guys. I just thought that it had to do with letters and now sharps and flats, so when I saw that Bb it threw me off.
How's it going mate.

Your issue is being caused because steps don't equal letters (names of notes), and not all letters/notes are spaced equally.

If you are looking for an easy way to figure out relative scales:

- The space between each fret is a half tone.
- The relative minor is 1.5 tones (3 half tones) lower than it's relative major.
And no, Guitar Hero will not help. Even on expert. Really.
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Quote by AlanHB
How's it going mate.

Your issue is being caused because steps don't equal letters (names of notes), and not all letters/notes are spaced equally.

If you are looking for an easy way to figure out relative scales:

- The space between each fret is a half tone.
- The relative minor is 1.5 tones (3 half tones) lower than it's relative major.

Oi mate, thank you for this don't know why the DVD course said two steps down. It said I could either go 2 steps down or 6 steps up to find the relative scale,

Btw, do people still use terms like semitone? I feel like only Mozart would still use those terms. Haven't heard the guy form the Gibson course say it once. Time to get rid of those terms, don't ya think?
Getting rid of those would be like getting rid of the word "note". There's WAY more to this whole music thing than just guitar stuff
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
Quote by Granata
Oi mate, thank you for this don't know why the DVD course said two steps down. It said I could either go 2 steps down or 6 steps up to find the relative scale,

Btw, do people still use terms like semitone? I feel like only Mozart would still use those terms. Haven't heard the guy form the Gibson course say it once. Time to get rid of those terms, don't ya think?

I actually haven't heard of steps being used in that way before. It ignores the fact that there's 12 notes, not 8

As for removing the term "semi-tones", it's a well established part of the language of music. You don't have to use it personally, but it's handy to know what it means in case someone days "we're going to play this a semitone lower".
And no, Guitar Hero will not help. Even on expert. Really.
Soundcloud
Quote by AlanHB
I actually haven't heard of steps being used in that way before. It ignores the fact that there's 12 notes, not 8

As for removing the term "semi-tones", it's a well established part of the language of music. You don't have to use it personally, but it's handy to know what it means in case someone days "we're going to play this a semitone lower".

True, I just never hear it nowadays. If someone were to tell me we'll be playing a semitone lower they'd just use the term half step, and so much on. Interesting, though. I've posted a few times here asking questions about the DVD course I'm watching (learn and master guitar by Gibson) and the instructor hasn't used those old fancy terms at all, so it's strange for me to hear them on here. Oh well.
^^^ If I understand correctly, you believed step = letter.

Therefore half a step = half a letter.

That's a little confusing to me

But yes, half step often means a semitone, or one fret for the guitar.
And no, Guitar Hero will not help. Even on expert. Really.
Soundcloud
Yea, semitone and half step are just different names for the same thing. I have no idea why there are two different names for it, but I've seen both a lot. I personally use half step.

I'm guessing it's similar to how the british use like semibreves and quavers and semiquavers and whatever whereas americans use whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, etc.
Quote by The4thHorsemen
Yea, semitone and half step are just different names for the same thing. I have no idea why there are two different names for it, but I've seen both a lot. I personally use half step.

I'm guessing it's similar to how the british use like semibreves and quavers and semiquavers and whatever whereas americans use whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, etc.

Yes. One of them is used more by Brits and the other is used more by Americans (not 100% sure which way it goes). (Also, to me the American way of naming note values makes so much more sense - well, it's the same way we name them in Finland.)

But yeah, TS, if you are talking about 2 steps, it means 2 whole steps. And this is exactly why you are confused. If you were talking about whole and half steps, there would be no confusion, because you would understand that between G and Bb there's one and a half steps, and that's why Bb major is the relative major of G minor.

Another way of thinking would be that the tonic of the relative minor is on the 6th scale degree of the major scale.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
Granata,

Semitone is important. It says something about how two pitches relate to each other, frequency-wise. Different relationships create different sound qualities, and are what determine how a bunch of pitches sound together. They are the building blocks of all music.

Guitars are designed so that the pitches produced at adjacent frets on the same string are 1 semitone apart.

Maths-wise (important to the guitar-builder, not the musician), if two pitches are a semitone apart, then the frequency of the higher pitch is 1.0595 times the frequency of the lower pitch. The frets are carefully laid out on the guitar to maintain this relationship along a string. (Same on neighbouring piano keys).

E.g. Start at that 5th fret on the1st (treble) string. This produces a frequency of 440 Hz if in concert tuning). Moving along that string ...

Next fret produces 1.0595 x 440. One semitone above 440 Hz.
Next fret produces 1.0595 above previous (so, 1.0595 x (1.0595 x 440)). Two semitones higher
Next fret produces 1.0595 above previous (so, 1.0595 x (1.0595 x 1.0595 x 440))). Three semitones higher

Keep doing this, for 12 frets on that same string, and you get

1.0595 x 1.0595 x ... x 1.0595 x 440 = 880 Hz, 12 semitones above 440 Hz, aka the octave. This is a very stable sound, easily recognisable by ear. Conversely, the sound of two pitches a semitone apart, played at the same time, is a very unstable sound (but played one after the other, sounds good).

Other combinations have varying degrees of stability (consonance through to dissonance).

Over the millenia, musicians determined which ones work best with each other (e.g. 3 semitones and 4 semitones, when stacked on top of each other, produce the basis of our tonal framework in Western music)

Notice I've note mentioned any pitch names. The physical aspects of combining sounds (pitches) cares nothing for pitch names ... it's all about these relationships. Some mixtures of frequencies create sonic mayhem, while others don't.

In reality, an instrument produces several frequencies when the musician plays one note ... the fundamental (what I'm talking about) and overtones (whole multiples of the fundamental, but typically much quieter, and they may die out faster ... it is these that make an instrument sound like guitar, or like violin etc). It is these that stand out when you play a pinch harmonic on guitar (killing the fundamental).

On some instruments, the overtones actually cause so much mayhem when several notes are combined that some chords cannot be played without their intended sound being ruined.

On guitar, you play a fret, and then 3 frets higher on that string, you always create a relationship of 3 semitones between those two pitches, no matter where you decide to do this. And the sound quality of this is the same, just higher or lower, depending where you start. Again, quick to recognise by ear. But this sounds very different to when the pitches are 4 semitones apart.

So, when you see scale formulae (e.g. 1 b3 4 b5 5 b7 ... the minor blues scale) these are telling you where each scale member is found relative to the start choice for your scale. Once you choose a start pitch, all others are nailed down by these distances. These symbols are musical synonyms for different numbers of semitones. E.g; b5 stands for 6 semitones. b3 stands for 3 semitones.

Ditto with chord formulae (e.g. 1 b3 5 ... minor triad).

Of course, the guitar is designed so the exact same pitch occurs at more than one location on the neck (on a different string), so the two pitches can be played together easily.

Music-theorists can be a little slack with the term "step". Some use the terms "step" and "half-step". This always means one or two semitones respectively. Some just use the term "step" generically, when they talk about moving from one pitch to the next by step or "skip". Here, "step" implies one or two semitones. "skip" is anything bigger.

So, the most important thing is creating the pitches at the right places as per the scale or chord formula. After that, naming those pitches correctly (with letters, flats and sharps) is the next concern.

We could have avoided this whole raft of conventions if the 12 pitches were each given a different letter, and music notation provided 12 lines on the score per octave ... but the latter would be mega-hard to read.

Instead, we're stuck with 7 letters (at least in UK and USA), and the convention for the standard 7 note scales (like major, minor ...) is to give each pitch in the scale a different letter, and then add suitable adjustment (# or b) to place the pitch at the correct semitone distance from the start.

You want to really get into theory, learn about intervals, how they sound, how they combine.

cheers, Jerry
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Aug 21, 2015,
Quote by Granata
Oi mate, thank you for this don't know why the DVD course said two steps down. It said I could either go 2 steps down or 6 steps up to find the relative scale,

Btw, do people still use terms like semitone? I feel like only Mozart would still use those terms. Haven't heard the guy form the Gibson course say it once. Time to get rid of those terms, don't ya think?

Tone/Semitone is how it's said in England.

Step/Half Step is how it's said in America.

By the way, Mozart and his predecessors pretty much created all of the music we know in the Western world today, see the absolute verbal beatdown delivered to the guy in the Why Classical? thread for more details

I personally find the Semitone/Tone system better for observing how scales are created. For example, I would describe a Major scale as this;

T T S T T T S

T's meaning Tone, S's meaning Semitone, and as I learned all of my guitar related theory by composing music for orchestra, I never had to go through the rigmoral of learning every pattern of every scale all over the guitar neck, it quickly became as plain to me as playing Piano, so I'd highly recommend giving theory and older systems a bash, see if it works for you.
I think using tones and semitones is less confusing than using whole and half steps. Because, as Jerry said, there's a thing called stepwise motion or moving in steps. And it doesn't mean moving in whole steps. It means moving the scale up or down. A melody that goes like C D E F G uses stepwise motion.

But yeah, how would you describe going up one fret if not using "semitones" or "half steps". Why should we get rid of them? I mean, they are pretty essential to understanding anything about music theory.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Charvel So Cal
Fender Dimension Bass
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
Will finish reading all responses above tonight.

Since I am at work and am limited on time, I wanted to ask a quick question before I forget: how important is it for musicians to know which flats or sharps are in which scales and such? Is it important for every musician to know? For example, should every musician know that in the key of G there is one sharp (F#)? Why exactly is it important to know? If someone tells you that they're playing in the key of G, are you basically going to use notes in that scale to develop a sound that matches what the other guys are playing?
IT's important to know the scale formula (the intervals),which dictates exactly what pitches comprise the scale, once a starting pitch is chosen (see above) ... knowing these, and their sounds, you can start to improvise knowledgeably. When you do this, you probably aren't thinking of pitch names.

When you're reading music notation, or writing it, then yes, the #s and bs are important. Miss them out and you'll get different scales as a result (because you've moved the pitch up or down a semitone by this omission).

But be aware there are issues even when using key signatures ... do they denote a major or relative minor scale for example, or are they being abused for a mode (shouldn't happen, but it does).

cheers, Jerry
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Aug 21, 2015,
Quote by Granata
Will finish reading all responses above tonight.

Since I am at work and am limited on time, I wanted to ask a quick question before I forget: how important is it for musicians to know which flats or sharps are in which scales and such? Is it important for every musician to know? For example, should every musician know that in the key of G there is one sharp (F#)? Why exactly is it important to know? If someone tells you that they're playing in the key of G, are you basically going to use notes in that scale to develop a sound that matches what the other guys are playing?

Why is this important to know? Well, if you know that the key you are playing in uses an F#, and you know where the F# is located on your fretboard, you can make sure that you are playing the "correct" notes. Well, of course many times it sounds good to also use accidentals. There's nothing wrong with that. But diatonic notes are the ones that you'll use most of the time when playing in a key.

If you don't think in note names, fine. If that's the case, there's really no use for it.

But if you want to learn theory, note names are one of the first things you should learn.

It's not hard to find out what notes are in which scales. If you know how to build the major scale, the formula applies to all major scales, and even if you don't remember what notes are in that scale off top of your head, you can figure it out.

So I would say the most important thing is to know how to build the scale. That will also help your ear. So learn the intervals of the major and minor scales. Major scale is root, major 2nd, major 3rd, perfect 4th, perfect 5th, major 6th, major 7th. (Natural) minor scale is otherwise the same, but the 3rd, 6th and 7th are minor instead of major.

To get used to the sound, and to visualize the intervals, it may be easy to start with playing the scale on just one string. If you play the A major and A minor scales on the A string, it will look like this:

A major:

0-2-4-5-7-9-11-12 (12th fret is the same note as the open string, just an octave higher.)

A minor:

0-2-3-5-7-8-10-12

As you can see, when you go from A major to A minor, you just need to move the third, sixth and seventh notes one fret down. Everything else stays the same.

This formula works for all major and minor scales. You can play it on any string. If you play the same frets on the E string, you are playing the E major and minor scales. If you play the same frets on the D string, you are playing the D major and minor scales.

The different "box shapes" have exactly the same notes, but they are just played on different strings and in different octaves. They are the same seven notes over and over again (if we are talking about diatonic scales).

If you are playing in the key of G, yes, you will most of the time use the notes in the G major scale. But sometimes you don't want to do that. Sometimes you want to play "outside". But for now, I would suggest learning how to play in key. Get used to how the different notes in the key scale sound like (or maybe start with the pentatonic scale - major pentatonic over major key and minor pentatonic over minor key), and after that start experimenting with accidentals. You can use all of the 12 notes over any key. But you just need to know how to use them. And this you will learn by using your ears.

It may be easy to start with just using the scale on one string to get used to the sound of the different notes, because that way it's very easy to visualize.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear