General Guitar Playing Music Theory

Published on May 1st, 2014 | by Sam


Music Theory – Major Scales

There is a absolute glut of material out there about chords – so why do you need another lesson on it?  Well most of this stuff is taught in a really convoluted, confusing way.  I like to simplify things and bring it back to the music – who cares about numbers right?

Well, we do need to care a little about this stuff or we will be lost in some songs, but it doesn’t need the same amount of attention a lot of people put on it to get going.  I also want to give my readers a good reference so that if you’re reading any of my articles and aren’t sure about something you have a place you can get clarification on triads and 7th chords.

The Chromatic Scale

Think of the chromatic scale like the alphabet – it’s where everything else actually comes from.  It’s not terribly useful to play, but you have to know it.  The chromatic scale is every note that we use in Western music.

C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G G#/Ab A A#/Bb B

The notes with the slashes are the same.  C# and Db are the same note.  When there are two different names for the same note they are called ‘enharmonic.’

It can be useful to think of the chromatic scale as a circle.  There is no real ‘starting point’ or ‘ending point.’  It goes on each way until the ear cannot hear the notes anymore.

The Major Scale

Wha?! SCALES? This was SUPPOSED to be about chords right?

It’s simplest to relate things back to the major scale.  Almost everything in music theory can be described using the major scale – from chord progressions to chord spellings to other types of scales.  It’s easier to memorize a set of 12 scales and then modify certain notes in those scales to get all of the other sounds. So first make sure you have a good handle on the major scales.  The better you know them, the better off you will be throughout your music learning journey.

(If you already know these, skip to the section on triads)


One way to spell a major scale is by using half steps and whole steps.  On the guitar a half step is  one fret.  So if you move from the 4th fret to the 5th fret, on any string, you are moving by half step.  Moving from one note in the chromatic scale to the next is a half step.  So Db to D is a half step.  Whole steps are simply two half steps.  So it can be two frets on the guitar (4th to 6th fret).  It is also moving 2 notes in the chromatic scale – D to E.

You can spell a major scale using these two intervals.  The formula is:

Whole Whole Half Whole Whole Whole Half

If we start on Eb we would get:

Eb (WS) F (WS) G (WS) Ab (WS) Bb (WS) C (WS) D (HS) Eb

Simple right?  There are a couple of rules you have to know.

1. You must have all 7 letters (A B C D E F G).  All of them must be in the scale one time and only one time.  You cannot have Eb and E in the same scale – they will have to be called D# and E OR Eb and Fb.

2. You cannot mix sharps and flats.  Each key will have one or the other.  Knowing which one to choose will be obvious as you start getting into these and spelling scales.

Part 2   Part 3   Part 4

(Photo Credit: Surat Lozowick)

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