Music Theory: These Ain't For No Weight

by Guitarslinger124 (Aug 27, 2010)

Music Theory: Part II - Notes and Scales

An Overview

The following lesson is part two of the Music Theory lesson series. In this lesson I will cover very basic concepts such as notes on the fret board and the major and minor scales. Intermediate topics such as modes and scale structure will be included. I will also touch on variations such as seventh, augmented and diminished scales. This lesson will draw from some several of my previous lesson as well as some new material.

I will add reference points throughout the lesson. Reference links will be marked with a VL. Click on the link and a new tab will open in your browser in order to view the lesson being referenced.

The Basics

Before we move on, it is important that you understand the layout of the fret board.

Whole Notes and Sharps
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
e|| F | F# | G | G# | A | A# | B | C | C# | D | D# | E |
B|| C | C# | D | D# | E | F | F# | G | G# | A | A# | B |
G|| G# | A | A# | B | C | C# | D | D# | E | F | F# | G |
D|| D# | E | F | F# | G | G# | A | A# | B | C | C# | D |
A|| A# | B | C | C# | D | D# | E | F | F# | G | G# | A |
E|| F | F# | G | G# | A | A# | B | C | C# | D | D# | E |

Whole Notes and Flats
e|| F | Gb | G | Ab | A | Bb | Cb | C | Db | D | Eb | Fb |
B|| C | Db | D | Eb | Fb | F | Gb | G | Ab | A | Bb | Cb |
G|| Ab | A | Bb | Cb | C | Db | D | Eb | Fb | F | Gb | G |
D|| Eb | Fb | F | Gb | G | Ab | A | Bb | Cb | C | Db | D |
A|| Bb | Cb | C | Db | D | Eb | Fb | F | Gb | G | Ab | A |
E|| F | Gb | G | Ab | A | Bb | Cb | C | Db | D | Eb | Fb |

A whole tone or major second is the equivalent of two consecutive semitones or half steps. An example of a whole tone movement would be moving from C to D. A semitone is a chromatic movement to an adjacent note, i.e. C to C#.


In western music, we have what is called an octave. An octave is a series of twelve tones placed at half step, or half tone intervals; however, there are definitions for nineteen notes. The notes in an octave are: A A# Bb B Cb C C# Db D D# Eb E Fb F F# Gb G G# Ab. Some of these notes are harmonically equivalent. There are seven pairs of harmonically equivalent notes. These pairs are: A#-Bb, B-Cb, C#-Db, D#-Eb, E-Fb, F#-Gb and G#-Ab.

Scales are generally note groups of seven notes. In some instances that number may vary, such as pentatonic scales, which are groups of five notes or the chromatic scale, which contains all twelve tones in western music. Scales are defined by intervals and not so much by the notes they contain. An interval is the distance between tones, i.e. wholes step or half step or whole tone and semitone. --(Modes are defined as scales inside of one key)-- There are seven modes in any major key. All the modes in a major key will contain the same notes, however, the notes will be placed at different intervals, or in different orders as it were, thus giving them all unique tonal qualities.

The seven modes are:

Outside of western music, there are, but not limited to, Persian, Arabian and Indian patterns. Indian music uses a twenty-two tone octave, while Persian and Arabian music take advantage of quarter-tones which are half the size of the semitones in western music.

The Chromatic Scale


The Chromatic scale is a scale which divides an entire octave into its semitones. In one octave there are twelve semitones (or thirteen if you count the root note twice), or half notes. Here is an example of the Chromatic scale:


As you can see the notes in the scale are C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B and C. Playing in successive half steps is called playing chromatically, hence the name Chromatic scale. The Chromatic scale is the mother of all other scales and chords in western music. The Chromatic scale can be a tough concept for some guitarists out there, even some who can already shred have no clue how apply the scale.


I like to think of the Chromatic scale as a tool used to enhance other scales by throwing in chromatic tones here and there. If you think about it, you play chromatics more often than you may realize. Take the A minor blues scale:

A:----5-6-7---------------|<==You can see the chromatic movement, D-D#-C

In all reality, the chromatic scale is not and "must know scale". But it is a useful tool. I would say that the chromatic scale is to the guitarist as the power saw is to the construction worker. Not a necessity, but a useful tool.

The Major Scale and It's Modes


There are seven modes in every major key. Take C major. Each note in that key is the root note for a mode in that key.

The modes in any major key, in order, are Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian and Locrian. Now, sticking with C Major, you have C Ionian (also known as the C major) as the first mode in the key. Now you go from there:

C Ionain (a.k.a. C Major Scale)
D Dorian
E Phrygian
D Lydian
G Mixolydian
A Aeolian (a.k.a. A Natural Minor Scale)
B Locrian

You ask, what determines the order of the modes or what determines which note in a key will be the root note of a mode? The answer is simple. Each note in a key corrosponds with a degree.
Degrees are the numbered order of the notes in a key/scale.

So, take C major:

C - 1st degree
D - 2nd degree
E - 3rd degree
F - 4th degree
G - 5th degree
A - 6th degree
B - 7th degree

All the modes in a major key will have the same notes. The notes will always go in order of the Alphabet. Each mode will start with the root note of that mode, i.e. D Dorian will start with D and not C even though it is in the key of C major.

C Ionian C D E F G A B
D Dorian D E F G A B C
E Phrygian E F G A B C D
F Lydian F G A B C D E
G Mixolydian G A B C D E F
A Aeolian A B C D E F G
B Locrian B C D E F G A

All of the above modes are in the key of C major, thus, they all contain the same notes.

Learning how to play the modes is easy. Learning how to comprehend the modes is a little harder. I've sorted out the intverals for each mode so you can go ahead and build your own.

W= whole step H= Half step

(Numbers will refer to the degrees in each scale)

Ionian W W H W W W H
/ \ / \ / \ / \ / \ / \ / \
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1

Dorian W H W W W H W
/ \ / \ / \ / \ / \ / \ / \
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1


/ \ / \ / \ / \ / \ / \ / \
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1


/ \ / \ / \ / \ / \ / \ / \
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1


/ \ / \ / \ / \ / \ / \ / \
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1


/ \ / \ / \ / \ / \ / \ / \
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1


/ \ / \ / \ / \ / \ / \ / \
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1

And... Just to show you what the hell all of the above is, here is an example:

Key of G Major

G Ionian Scale

(Remember, the numbers refer to the degree in the scale)

/ \ / \ / \ / \ / \ / \ / \
G A B C D E F# G
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1

Too Hot Too Touch Baby!

Ok, so have you heard enough about "The major scale and all its modes"?


I have reorganized the modes from the way I showed you above, just to give you another way to look at them.


The Degrees of the Major Scale and its Modes
Here is a diagram showing you all seven modes of a major key up and down one string. Each mode starts on the first fret and I've indicated the degrees of each scale with the numbers in parenthesis.

Nut 1st 3rd 5th 7th 9th 12th
Ionian/Major ||:(1)| |(2)| |(3)|(4)| |(5)| |(6)| |(7)|
Dorian ||:(2)| |(3)|(4)| |(5)| |(6)| |(7)|(1)| |
Phrygian ||:(3)|(4)| |(5)| |(6)| |(7)|(1)| |(2)| |
Lydian ||:(4)| |(5)| |(6)| |(7)|(1)| |(2)| |(3)|
Mixolydian ||:(5)| |(6)| |(7)|(1)| |(2)| |(3)|(4)| |
Aeolian/Natural Minor ||:(6)| |(7)|(1)| |(2)| |(3)|(4)| |(5)| |
Locrian ||:(7)|(1)| |(2)| |(3)|(4)| |(5)| |(6)| |

Sweet Sweet Sevenths
Using the same table as above, I've broken down seventh chords to make them easier to understand. Seven Chords are four note chords made from wierd scale degrees all in one octave. Seventh chords are very useful in creating awesome sounding arpeggios.

Nut 1st 3rd 5th 7th 9th 12th
Major Seven ||:(1)| | | |(3)| | |(5)| | | |(7)|
Dominant Seven (b7th) ||:(1)| | | |(3)| | |(5)| | |(7)| |
Minor Seven (b3rd and b7th) ||:(1)| | |(3)| | | |(5)| | |(7)| |
Minor Seven Flat Five (b3rd, b5th, b7th) ||:(1)| | |(3)| | |(5)| | | |(7)| |
Diminished Seven (b3rd, b5th, bb7th) ||:(1)| | |(3)| | |(5)| | |(7)| | |

Diminished and Augmented Triads

Diminished - Flat 3rd and Flat 5th
Augmented - Sharp 5th/Flat 6th

Ok, now that you know a few basics lets practice some arpeggios using what I've just shown you. For this exercise we are going to play in the key of C major.

Lets first take a look at the notes in C major: C D E F G A B

Now lets make our arpeggios:

Major Triad: C E G

Diminished Triad: C Eb Gb (Flat 3rd and Flat 5th)

Augmented Triad: C E G#/Ab (Sharp 5th/Flat 6th)

Minor 7th: C Eb G Bb (Flat 3rd and Flat 7th)

Minor 7th Flat 5: C Eb Gb Bb (Flat 3rd,Flat 5th and Flat 7th)

Diminished 7th: C Eb Gb A (Flat 3rd, Flat 5th and double Flat 7th)

Here they are:

Maj. Dim. Aug. Min. 7th Min.7 b5 Dim.7th

Lets go over one more extremely important scale for shredding; the Harmonic Minor scale.
I'm going to explain the C Harmonic Minor scale:

C Natural Minor: C D D#/Eb F G G#/Ab A#/Bb

C Harmonic Minor: C D D#/Eb F G G#/Ab A

As you can see, to go from the natural minor to the harmonic minor you flat the 7th. The chord proggression for C harmonic minor is usually as follows:

Cm Ddim D#/Ebaug Fm G G#/Ab Bdim

Cm Ddim.D#/Ebaug Fm G G#/Ab Bdim.

C Harmonic Minor

Well, that about sums up this lesson. The intent here was to give you a pretty good understanding of certain scales and how they work. There are many, many more scales in the universe of shred, but these, in my opinion, are the essentials.

The next lesson in the series will more than likely be on chords and harmony. The lesson will also, more than likely, contain more new material than this one did. Also, if there is something I might have missed, or something you would have liked to see in this lesson or any of my lessons, don't hesitate to let me know.

I am sure you have noticed a lot of repetition in this lesson. I do that because I feel it is the best way to hammer something into someones head. I hope you find these useful.

Rock on!