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The Major Scale And Basic Music Theory

Updated on June 1, 2012

The guitar can be an intimidating instrument to learn. But never fear basic music theory will not only help you understand the musical world, but will help you understand the guitar and how music works.

In order to understand this we need to look at just some basic music theory. Don’t get scared I will try to explain it, in its simplest form.

In music there are 7 main notes, each of these notes has a letter name, starting with C, and going in order. So the seven main notes are: C, D, E, F, G, A, and B. Now what this means is:

If you play an "A" note on the guitar no matter where it is, in any position on the guitar, it will sound the same, in other words the tone or sound that note makes the ear will be able to distinguish it from the other note sounds, or tones, like "B", or "C". The only difference will be that’s its higher or lower depending on where you play it. It's also the same on the piano, if you play an "A" on the piano; it’s the same as it is on the guitar.

There are also notes in between these major notes. These are called Sharps and flats. For Example: If you play a "C" note the next note up would be "C sharp". Now a flat note is the note before, for example: if you play a "D" note, the note before it would be "D flat". Ok now your confused right? What I'm trying to say is "C sharp", and "D flat" is the same note. Now if you were to play all these notes in a row that would be called a Chromatic scale. Notice there is no "E#" because "F" follows "E" one half step in the scale. This is explained in the next paragraph.

C, C# (# is the symbol for sharp), or D flat, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B

The spaces between these notes are called steps, which are half steps, and whole steps. A half step is up one. A whole step is up two. So if you wanted to go up a half step from C, it would be C#. If you wanted to go up a whole step from C would be D. On the guitar, a half step is up one fret, a whole step is two frets. So if you find the "C" note on the guitar, go up one fret would be C#. Go up two frets would be "D".

The major scale is one of the basic foundations of all music. The formula for a major scale, with "W" (equals a whole step), and "H" (equals a half step) is:

W, W, H, W, W, W, H

So if you use the formula above, and start on "C" and follow this formula, you come up with C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and the scale would start with "C" all over again. Whatever note you start with that is called the "root" note. So this example is the "C" major scale, because it starts with the "C" note, or the root note "C" This is a good example to show because the "C" major scale, following the formula above has no sharps or flats. On the piano a "C" major scale is all the white keys, all the sharps, and flats are the black keys.

Now you can follow this formula starting with any note like: "F", "G" etc. Just remember if you start with "F" it’s the "F" major scale, if you start with "G" it’s the "G" major scale. So if the chromatic scale is:

C, C# (# is the symbol for sharp), or D flat, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B

And you follow the W, W, H, W, W, W, H formula you come up with: (remember starting with the note "F"). So the chromatically starting with "F" would be:

F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E

Following the W, W, H, W, W, W, H major scale formula you come up with:

F, G, A, A#, (or "B" flat), C, D, E. So in this example, there is only one note that is sharp, which is A#, or B flat.

When you pluck an open string one step up would be the first fret. Up one whole step would be the second fret.

If you want to play guitar, while not necessary, it is a good idea to learn some music theory. Not only will you learn the notes, but you'll learn to find your way around the fret board with ease. You will also be able to construct any scale using the formula above. This is just the beginning, and will open up other areas to explore on the guitar such as minor keys.

When you learn scales you can build chords, and in order to play guitar solos, it would help if you had a firm grasp on how to construct a major scale, because as long as you know what key the song your playing is, you will be able to solo over it using the method described above.


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    • markmic36 profile image

      Mick Smith 5 years ago from Warwick, RI

      Thanks to both of you.

    • Modern Lady profile image

      Modern Lady 5 years ago from Chicago, IL

      You've explained this very well. Thanks!