Theory 101. Part 1

Basic Major scale theory.

Ultimate Guitar
Ok, I know a lot of people think theory is a waste of time but I disagree. This is my personal opinion so no comments on the subject please. Right, a scale is a series of notes. Simple. Each scale has a different series and intervals (well cover these later) of notes and it is these different set of notes which give each scale its own distinct sound. Every scale uses either 5, 6 or 7 different notes. It is only the Pentatonic scales that use 5 notes. As an example we will look at the C major scale, see below
 C Major;
  C, D, E, F, G, A, B
To reference each note in the scale we give it a number.
 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
 C, D, E, F, G, A, B
The first note is know as the 'Root Note' so instead of a number 1 we use the letter R.
 R, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
 C, D, E, F, G, A, B
Now to expand on this we will look at intervals. An interval is the distance between each note. Western Music is built up of 12 notes; A, A#/Bb, B, C, C#/Db, D, D#/Eb, E, F, F#/Gb, G, G#/Ab and then back to A Note; when written like this there is no B#/Cb or E#/Fb. I should explain that the # sign represents a 'shape note' and the b sign represents a 'flat note'. When you see a note like A#/Bb they are linked by slash because they are 'Enharmonic Equivalents'. This is a long way of saying that they are in fact the same note. But don't worry too much on this. Just as long as you know that they are the same note. Right, so the interval or gap between each note in western music is called a SEMITONE. So the distance between A and A#/Bb is a semitone. The distance between E and F are a semitone and the same for C to C#/Db. The distance between A and B however is know as a TONE. As you can see, the difference is that instead of the next note being the next note it has leaped to the note after. So F#/Gb -> G#/Ab, D -> E and B -> C#/Db are all tones. So if we add this information to the C major scale we can see it like this
 R,  2,  3,  4,  5,  6,  7
    T,  T,  S,  T,  T,  T                T= Tone   S= Semitone
 C,  D,  E,  F,  G,  A, B
This shows us the distance or intervals between each note in the scale. Now we know the order of the C major scale and the interval between each note (or scale degree as they are called). To build on this we are going to turn each note into a chord! With every major scale there is a pattern which is constant when it comes to the type of chord for each scale degree. So the 'Root' will always be a major chord (This refers to every MAJOR scale) The 2nd will always be a minor chord The 3rd will always be a minor chord The 4th will always be a major chord The 5th will always be a major chord The 6th will always be a minor chord And the 7th will always be a diminished chord. So the pattern is Major, Minor, Minor, Major, Major, Minor, Diminished. To make things easier to write a major chord is referred to as M (capital M), a minor chord is referred to as m (lower case m) and diminished is referred to as d (lower case d). Using this the pattern becomes M, m, m, M, M, m, d.
 R,  2,  3,  4,  5,  6,  7
 M, m, m, M, M, m, d
 C,  D, E,  F,   G, A, B
thats all for today kids. Part 2 to follow soon(ish...)

12 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Good lesson. However, your last point, about going into chords, looses me. Why are some Major and some minor?
    Thats what Im gonna explain in the next part. Its all to do with the notes that build up each chord and there relevance to the scale. In a nut shell, its the order of major and minor chords that give each scale its distinct sound. But I will explain this in the next part.
    It says they all have to be major/minor/diminished chords. wrong. You are speaking of scale tone triads, I can have a D Dominant chord in a progression in C major, it would be the V7/v chord in the progression. You need to clear the last part up and either explain scale tone triads fully or not touch them at all. You will either lose people or giver them false info. other than that its not bad, you could have put more info in patterns and fingerings, most beginners do best starting from the simplest method.
    I understand how this works on a piano (basically) and its a good discription, but i am lost on guitar theory. if you could tie it in a bit more with guitar please
    Nice lesson. Would of been even better if you would of explained what a "Dominished" chord is though