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Guitar Tips and Tricks: Theory Journey Pt. 3

By: Josh Lucas

Now that we’ve broken the ice with some theory, let’s dig a little deeper.

What you may have noticed is that the scale is made up of specific intervals. Or wait–do you know what an interval is?

An interval is the distance between two notes. For our purposes, scales are made of half-steps and whole-steps. What’s a half step? On guitar, it’s the distance of one fret; i.e. the distance from the first fret to the second fret. What’s a whole step? On guitar, it’s the distance of two frets; i.e. the distance from the first fret to the third fret.

On any instrument, taken in the abstract, a half step is the distance between a tone and its nearest tone. Thereby, a whole step is the distance when you start on a tone, skip the tone nearest to it, and land on the following tone. Visualize a piano–a half-step is the distance between a black key and the nearest white key, and a whole step is the distance between a black key and the nearest black key.

Our major scale is made from a specific order of whole-steps and half-steps. The formula for a major scale is, “W, W, H, W, W, W, H.”

Stay with me–let’s break down the intervals between each note.

C

(w)

D

(w)

E

(h)

F

(w)

G

(w)

A

(w)

B

(h)

C

The formula for a natural minor scale is, “W, H, W, W, H, W, W.”

“But Josh,” you’re saying, “I’m sick of this and I don’t even understand it!”

Well hold up, remember last time when I said that, “for all intents and purposes, the major scale and the minor scale are the same scale,”?

Well, that’s right. The natural minor scale that relates to “C major” is “A minor” and it begins on the sixth degree of the major scale (the A note). So let’s check out the intervals.

A

(w)

B

(h)

C

(w)

D

(w)

E

(h)

F

(w)

G

(w)

A

Now look back at the major scale–what do you see? The same intervals between each note. A whole-step between G and A, a half-step between B and C, etc. It’s the same set of notes and intervals. Congratulations! It may not seem like much until we start playing it, but you’ve just unlocked the formula for a major/natural minor scale, and this formula applies to every key. By simply beginning this set of intervals on a new note, you’re learning a new key. That’s it! Changing keys just means shifting your scale patterns up or down the fretboard.

For example, let’s learn the key of D by plugging in the major scale intervals starting on D! You can use the piano picture to help you visualize where each note is, and from there where a half or whole-step lands your next note.

D

(w)

E

(w)

F#

(h)

G

(w)

A

(w)

B

(w)

C#

(h)

D

Now that you’ve looked at it on piano, let’s take a look at it on the guitar fretboard–remember when I said that, “changing keys just means shifting your scale patterns up or down the fretboard?” Check this out–the D major/B minor scale is exactly the same pattern as the C major/A minor scale, just shifted up a whole step! That’s because the pattern for a major or minor scale is universal, and you just plug that formula in starting on whatever note you want.

So for next week, practice memorizing as much of the fretboard as you know–do you know more than one position of the major or minor scale, or are you stuck in one spot? Either way, work on memorizing the note name in each spot. You’ve got the C major/A minor scale from last week in fifth position, now let’s name the notes from D major/B minor in seventh position.