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Deacon Martin's Guide to Understanding Music (for Guitar) / Part 1

Updated on January 26, 2016
vrdm profile image

Born without a clue. A lifetime later, situation largely unchanged. Nevertheless, one perseveres.....

Basic basics

Music is a mysterious place. It is close to being mathematically perfect, but not quite.

Although the original western scales devised by the Greeks were simply multiples of certain lengths of vibrating string, many factors have conspired to make contemporary western scales a little more complicated. For example, to work out the frequency of any note on the piano you would have to apply the following formula:

Pn = Pa(12√2)(n-a)

This would tell you that the frequency of A is 440 Hertz, B is 493.88 Hertz, C is 523.25 Hertz, and so on. These are irregular increments and these irregular increments have implications for all the western scales - but, luckily for you, none for us here today. We're going to keep away from this stuff.

This guide sheet is a beginner's brief glimpse at both the complexity and the simplicity of musical notes, scales, keys, and chords as they relate to the 6 string guitar.

To make best use of this guide you will need to know:

  • what a fret is
  • how to tune a guitar
  • the letters associated with the 6 strings (EADGBE)
  • that a western musical “scale” consists of the letters ABCDEFG

All of the following diagrams represent the neck of a six string guitar, and are referred to as “necks”. They assume 22 frets and the standard (E A D G B E) tuning. If none of this means anything to you, I'm afraid you probably need something even more basic than this guide.

Notes and Scales

So, what is the meaning of ABCDEFG in the context of music? You may be more familiar with the usual “doh, ray, mee, fah, soh, lah, tee, doh” from “The Sound of Music” and your perhaps tedious music lessons at school. They are one and the same thing - the standard 12 note musical “scale” found on every piano.

12 notes? Yes, because hidden among them are the mysterious “half tones”.

Yes, between each of them - EXCEPT between B / C and E / F - there is a half tone. These are the black keys you see on every piano keyboard. To add to the confusion, if you are going up the scale (from low to high), these half tones are known as “sharps”, but if you are coming down the scale, they are known as “flats”. You may have heard of “B flat” or “C sharp”.

In this treatise, hence forward, we will use # (as in C#) to designate sharp and b (as in Bb) to designate flat.

So the scale (going up) actually looks like this: A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G# - giving you 12 notes. Coming down, the scale looks like this: G, Gb , F, E, Eb , D, Db , C, B, Bb , A, Ab . Strange but true.

You will have noticed that pesky absence of half tones between B / C and E / F. There is no rationale for this. It is one of the mysteries of the universe. You just have to accept it and move on. (I discuss these things a little bit more at the end of all this but, believe me, you don't want to know any more about it just yet.)

So, to summarise so far, you have musical “notes” running in “scales” from A to G. These scales also include some half tones.


Deacon Martin's Guide to Understanding Music (for Guitar) - Part 2

Deacon Martin's Guide to Understanding Music (for Guitar) - Part 3

Deacon Martin's Guide to Understanding Music (for Guitar) - Part 4

Deacon Martin on Youtube


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    • vrdm profile image

      Deacon Martin 2 years ago from Bristol, UK

      Keep an eye out for Part 4 Dressage. All the best, DM

    • Dressage Husband profile image

      Stephen J Parkin 2 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

      I would love to know why the missing half tones too!