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Basic Music Theory

Tutorials > Theory

submited by dmears

All chords, scales are derived from the beautifully formed framework that is called music theory. Music theory is extremely simple. Mastering music theory gives you an understanding of how chords are derived. And knowing this, you can make up any chords you like knowing a few things. Songs are almost always in one key. A key is something you learn pretty easily with music theory. Now let's get down to business.

The first thing you need to know are the notes on the fretboard. The open strings, starting from the top, are E, A, D, G, B, and E. From these, you can figure out the rest of the notes on the fretboard. The notes consist of plain notes, and sharps (or flats, depending on how you look at it). There are no E sharps and B sharps. The sequence of the notes starting from C are C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B and then back to C. Totaling 12 distinct notes. Now this is where music theory comes in.

Starting from any of the 12 notes, begins a 7 numbered sequence. A half step is the distance from one note to the next. B to C. C to C#. D to D#, etc. A whole step is the distance of two notes. B to C#, D to E, E to F#, G to A, etc.

Now we number the numbers 1 through 7 onto the fretboard. For simplicity, let's start with C. The number 1 goes to C, 2 goes to D, 3 goes to E, 4 goes to F, 5 goes to G, 6 goes to A, 7 goes to B and back to the beginning of the loop... 1 goes to C.

Notice how between 3 and 4 there was only a half step? And between 7 and 1 there was only a half step as well? All the rest of the distance between numbers are whole steps. You just discovered the key of C. C, D, E, F, G, A, B

You can figure out any chord and scale from this numbering system. Let's try and more difficult one. How about the key of A. What notes make up the key of A? Let's find out...

1 => A, whole step 2 => B, whole step 3 => C#, half step 4 => D, whole step 5 => E, whole step 6 => F#, whole step 7 => G# The following notes you just figured out compose the key of A: A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G#.

When you find out what notes comprise of a key, you know the scales as well. Once you figure out and diagram the notes that belong to the entire fretboard, you can pick the notes in order starting from the base note, which is the key it's in. An a scale is simply: A: A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G#, A You can even repeat the scale....A: A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G#, A

Pentatonic scales are simply the notes corresponding to the numbers 1, 2, 3, 5, 6. So in key of C, the major pentatonic scale is: C, D, E, G, A.

Now let's get into the good stuff...chords.

Chords are comprised of the notes corresponding to the numbers 1, 3, 5. So in the key of A, an A chord will comprise of A, C#, E. Forgot how to do the number thing? list all the 12 notes and assign number 1 to the note that is the key/scale/chord you want to play. A whole step is 2 frets, or 2 notes and a half step is one. Between 1 and 2 there is a whole step, 2 and 3 there is a whole step, 3 and 4 a half step, 4 and 5 a whole step, 5 and 6 a whole step, 6 and 7 a whole step and 7 and 1 a half step. It's really essential you either get a diagram or make a diagram of all the notes on the fretboard. Once you have this, it's just a matter of counting.

The C chord is C, E, G, which is the 1st, 3rd and 5th of the notes of the C scale.

The cool thing with this, is that you can add duplicate notes or even remove extra ones generally without a problem.

A  nice reference/exercise...let's try key of B
B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1
The notes in the key of B are: B, C#, D#, E, F#, G#, A#, B
use 1, 3, 5 to find the notes in the B major chord:
B, D#, F#

quick....key of G!
G, G#, A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1
The notes in the key of G are: G, A, B, C, D, E, F#
use 1,3,5 to find the notes in the G major chord:
G, B, D



Try it for every key or until you're comfortable with this. Draw a diagram on your fretboard and label the notes with numbers. See if you can create new shapes with notes for a particular chord.


Keep the music alive. Play an instrument. -Doug
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