So, you’re the baddest axe slinger in your town. You can shred everybody’s face off, you do all the cool antics, you’ve got the right look, gear and attitude. You’re feeling pretty good, so you’re boasting to everyone about your awesome abilities. Your practice regiment includes hitting that metronome and practicing all of your picking techniques, chords and looking sharp in the mirror while doing it.
So if I asked you to spell out a C chord, you can do it, right? No? Then what the hell are you bragging about?!
Music theory scares guitarists. The thing is, the guitar is such an easy instrument to learn quickly that people rarely delve into the finer aspects of music. In fact, a lot of guitarists are proud to not know any theory. That’s all well and good, but if you really want to get the most out of your playing, you should at least know a little about what makes it tick.
Scales are pretty misunderstood. Many a guitarist I know will learn a minor pentatonic scale and simply play it back and forth, thinking that they’re really the shit. Well, they are in fact NOT the shit. Without knowing why a scale is a scale, you’re only getting half of its capabilities.
So what is a scale? Basically, a scale is a bunch of notes that are arranged together in a particular fashion. There is rhyme AND reason to why the notes are there, so let’s look at this relationship.
We’re going to first delve into the C Major Scale. Why C? The key of C major has no sharps or flats, simply natural notes. This makes it a bit easier to understand at first. When I say KEY, I’m referring to the notes of the scale we’re playing in, so playing in the key of C major means I’m using notes that are found in the C major scale! Simple, right?
The notes of the C major scale are as follows:
C D E F G A B C
Not so scary, right? These seven notes (plus the octave C) are what makes up the KEY of C. So what does that mean really? If I’m playing a song in the key of C major, I’m only using these notes when I play; all of the melodies I use and chords I play will use these notes. More on that later.
How Do We Get These Notes?
Now, we didn’t just randomly pick a bunch of notes. Like I said, there’s a rhyme and a reason.
Scales are made up of a series of INTERVALS. An interval is the distance of one note to another. You may have heard of a power chord referred to as a 5th. A C power chord is made up of the notes C and G. Notice that G is the fifth note in the C major scale. That is where the term comes from; G is the fifth note in the C major scale, and thus the two together make an INTERVAL of a fifth.
Intervals are determined by what are known as half and whole steps. A half step is the distance of one note to one a fret higher (E to F or D to D#). A whole step is two frets away (E to F# or D to E). Scales are made up of different combinations of half and whole steps. Lets break this down in relation to the scale using W to represent a whole step and H to represent a half step:
C W D W E H F W G W A W B H C
We can now turn this into a formula. Starting with the root note (R) we get the following: R W W H W W W H
You can think of this as two sets of WWH with a W in between them. We can apply this formula to EVERY MAJOR SCALE.
A B C# D E F# G# A
E F# G# A B C# D# E
G A B C D E F# G
And so on and so forth. Simply take the ROOT note, or note you’re starting on, and then apply the formula.
How to Find Intervals In a Scale
The major scale is made up of the following intervals:
Major 2nd (D)
Major 3rd (E)
Perfect 4th (F)
Perfect 5th (G)
Major 6th (A)
Major 7th. (B)
For instance, a major third is an interval of two whole steps away from the root. A major sixth is four whole steps and a half step away from the root and so on.
In the next lesson, we will learn how to stack these intervals together to make chords.