If you're a beginner, read the theory philosophy
first. Learning music theory is optional. Each section is designed to be
read several times. It makes
more sense each time you read it.
Diatonic - Chromatic
Dominant - Subdominant - Tonic
Major - minor
The Root, Tonic,
Fundamental or 1 note.
This can be any note. This note represents the "place" the music wants to return to.
It's the "home" of the key signature.
If you hum your favorite song, the
tonic note is probably the last
note. Most songs end on the tonic note or the tonic chord.
system uses 12 notes.
Other systems use
different numbers of
pattern is called the Major
It's shown in pink.
Next we change the
This simplifies things eventually.
If you're wondering why there's no "white square" between 3 and 4, it has to do with note
resolution and the overtone
series. We'll get to that in
suggested… there are a
thousand things to learn, but there aren’t…Hundreds
of tunes are
with the same doggone chords, sequences, scale passages and interval
you have a complicated scale you want to play it’s just a compound of
be any note.
If you put C in place of 1
you get the C Major scale. It's
outlined in red. Notice that it matches
the Major scale shape.
The C Major scale has no sharp or flat notes. Notice that when the note series reaches G it starts over
again at A.
pattern repeats over and over.
Each repeating series of
notes is called an Octave
here are no sharp or flat notes between (E
) and (B
always next to each other. Also notice that A
The color pattern matches the color coded guitar
white squares are sharps #
or flats b.
This chart shows the interval pattern of the Major scale. Notice that
) and (7
there's no sharp or flat note.
people call a sharp augmented and
a flat diminished.
will be repeated later.
these to the scale numbers.
Most people use the flat names (red)
when referring to interval numbers. It's easier to simplify. For example, most people say b3
instead of #2
Remember, 1 can be any note. Use any note as 1 and apply it to
the Major scale pattern.
Let's try using G
as the 1 note. This note becomes
(outlined in red). This key signature
(chord and scale system that sound good
together) has one sharp
The blue arrows remind you that the
pattern continues in both
directions. For the sake of simplicty I'm only showing 1 octave
of the scale.
Lets look at another key signature, Ab Major
(outlined in red). This scale starts on Ab
(as the 1 note). Notice that this scale has 4
Why did we use flats instead of
sharps? Sheet music notation has a system for labeling key
signatures. This key signature is
instead of G#
. But here's what G#
looks like. It looks and
sounds exactly the same. It's simply not used because
of notation reasons.
This is why we used flats instead
of sharps for the Ab
This is the standard method of notating Ab
Major (which is the same as G#
If you notice, there are 4 flats marked
on the treble cleff
and 4 flats marked on the bass cleff
These flats corrospond with our
This is an
introduction. This will be covered in the sheet music
For now, simply understand
why we're using flats instead of sharps.
Other key signatures use sharps
instead of flats. If in doubt, Google it.
Use the free color sheet music,
Use the guitar key wheel, click here.
Use the color coded guitar fretboard,
This is the same notation method on
standard sheet music.
extends higher and lower
through several more octaves in both directions.
this seems confusing or redundant, thats OK! Simply read it and
start understanding it. It gets easier every time you read
lots of extra information so your education can be complete.
Root, 2nd, Major 3rd, 6th, Major 7th, Octave
These are part of the Major scale pattern which is shown in pink.
These are also
part of the Major scale pattern.
(b2), minor 3rd
(b3), diminished 5th
(b6), minor 7th
or dominant 7th)
These aren't part of the Major scale pattern, they're the white sharp - flat notes.
(#4) This is the same interval as a diminished
5th or b5.
distance between notes.
names are shown in red.
relationships are always the same.
A major 2nd interval is always 2
notes up (or down). A perfect 4th interval is
always 5 notes up (or down). A perfect 5th
interval is always 7 notes up (or down).
Notice that a perfect 5th
interval (down) lands on the 4th
(relative to the root note). This relationship is called an
interval inversion. Most inverted
intervals sound very
similar. If you want to hear the perfect 4th
. More interval
inversions will be covered later. These are
different from chord inversions (also covered later).
You can also
describe intervals as steps.
A half step is
the next note up or down. A whole
step = a Major
2nd. Two whole steps = a Major 3rd.
names are in
names refer to the "flat names" for the intervals. Sharp names use the word augmented
Music majors are
= augmented 4th
= the same interval? But they
aren't?!? Lol. Here's why.
That looks the same to me.
But they disagree. It has to do
In the top example, the 4
is augmented (so if scale numeral 4
, then the
In the bottom example the 5
diminished (so if scale
, then the diminished 5
In my mind, this is exactly the
same. If you want your life to be simple, it's the
same. If you want to be legit, you
should know the difference. That's up to you.
Let's look at it one more time.
That looks the same to me. It
has some practical uses though. For example, a Lydian mode has an
), and a diminished Locrian mode
. I'll repeat that later.
The next problem. A
and an augmented 4th
. So therefore:
= a minor 2nd
So a b2
be a diminished 2nd??
No!! A diminished 2nd is actually a flat minor 2nd or a
unison (the same note). That's worthless.
= a minor 3rd
So a b3
should also be a diminished
3rd?? NO!! Lol. A diminished 3rd
is actually a 2nd. I'm sure it made sense to somebody at some point (while high on opium). None of this is
very important. I'll cover it later in an advanced theory section.
Music majors make theory
harder than it should be. If you want to know proper music
theory, learn the nuances. If you want to make music, make
music. This would be
easier if everything had 1 name and was straightforward, but it isn't. You have to know
all the names because different people use different methods.
2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th
3rd, minor 7th,
minor 6th, minor 2nd, and diminished 5th
good enough for now.
sounds to capture
when recording are the ghost tones"
When you hear a
note, you're actually hearing lots of other notes at the same
determine how music works and the way notes interact with each other.
single note is a blend of other notes
These other notes are
called overtones, harmonics*
is also a playing method.
explains relative tension and resolution
The next section. If
you don't understand this, skip it and come back later.
loudest overtones are close to the fundamental
Intervals: from loudest to softest.
The colors represent tension.
Green is less tense.
mildly tense. Red is very tense.
Overtones = 1 5 1 3 5 b7 1 2 3 b5 5 6 b7 7 1
The largest intervals are
closest to the fundamental.
Major Triad 1, 3, 5 appears in the
There's a strong
1, 5, 3
(a non scale tone!)
overtones are far from
There's no b3
power of 5
Chord is the 1
. This explains the
relationship between 1 and 5.
It helps explain why 5 wants to resolve to the 1 when used in the bass.
Compare the overtones in the note
C with the C
tension of major scale notes can be heard when compared to the
Root. To hear this tension, go to my ear
notes are very dissonant
are tense because
of their location in the overtone series.
This creates a sense of "motion"
that is built into the major
Some notes want to resolve,
or move to stable notes.
Any note is stable or
measure stability by comparing it to the root note (1).
1, 5, 3
"complete" and right
when you play them.
6, 2, 4, 7
want to "move" or
when you play them.
Note: When I first started playing, I liked
the sound of a perfect 4th more than a perfect 5th.
A perfect 4th is an inverted
5th. Some of these rules are suspect. But they're the
Compare a perfect 4th and perfect 5th interval. Click here
. For more of these exercises, see ear training
These notes tend to move
down to the
closest stable note.
This is not a rule, notes can
upwards, or not at all.
resolution for the
it's the most unstable, and the tonic 1
is the most stable.
is called the leading tone
because it has a very strong
towards the fundamental 1.
everything from the root
note, there is no mystery for what you are going to play"
Use your ears. Follow your
notes. Chromatic* notes are non-scale
*Chromatic also refers to a playing
style. Play a pattern, move a few frets and play the
same pattern (5 or 7 frets always sounds good).
notes: natural resolution patterns
notes are called "wrong notes"
But that's not true.
Mozart used them, so they can't be wrong. They're simply tense or harsh.
Without them music would be boring.
I use the b2
the time. I naturally play a Phrygian minor scale that uses a b2.
I also play blues scales
that use a b2
Part of the overtone
2 down / up
Minor 3rd. The
"somber" interval. Not an
3 down /
Not an overtone.
4 down / up
toward 1 as
strongly as 7. Not an overtone.
1 down / up
b5 ** Tritone
(minor 3rd + minor 3rd)
It's an overtone.
down / up
The Major 7 is a major
scale note, but it's very tense.
1 down / up
* A 2nd
notes above the root. A b7
) is 2 notes below. Some of them sound very similar.
** The devils interval.
It was banned by the
Interval listening exercises
b2 and 7
2 and b7
and 6 3 and b6
note can go to any
resolutions sound more
"intense". But they're still resolving.
There are 3 "wrong"
scale note (7) and two non-scale notes.
These notes are one note away from
most stable tones.
Each chromatic note is 1 note away from
a stable note.
Four chromatic notes are next to the
most stable tones (1 3 5). The only note that isn't is
and it's part of the overtone series.
If the next note doesn't sound
keep moving it. In this next example you play a minor 2nd.
If you resolve to the tonic, it sounds different than if you resolve
to the minor 3rd or Major 3rd.
chromatic notes sound right
Slide or Bend to the
faster you move to a stable note, the more "right"
it will sound. They'll assume you wanted that b5
Hendrix hit wrong notes
all the time. He'd bend the note to something
Play it twice.
once and it's "wrong".
Play it twice and they praise your chromatic choices.
Know the way out.
chromatic note has a sequence
that makes it sound
good. These sequences vary.
depends on the style your
playing. Use your ears.
Find note combinations that
allow a b5
sound like it was meant to be.
Play it like
you mean it.
are conditioned. Only
the true artist and enlightened listener
even think the
word dissonant is a conditioned
qualification. How can you say 'all that’s
dissonant?' It's like saying, if you’re
looking at a Rembrandt, 'Oh that’s bright isn't it?' It's
for the artist to think in
those terms. It steals something from
the music, because you don't give the music the first chance of being
listened to for what it is."
To build a chord from a scale, pick
a starting note, skip a note, use
a note, skip a note, use a
color explanations see relative
including the tension colors to force the concept into your head.
There are 7 basic chords in
the Major scale.
To see all seven
chords we'll need to extend the scale
The colors show the relative tension of each chord
These 7 chords make up
we need to re-number each individual chord.
Some chords contain stable
notes. Some chords contain unstable notes. As a result, some chords are
more stable than others.
tonic function chord can become the tonic chord (1 chord). Dominant chords tend to
resolve to a tonic function chord.
1 = 1
It contains all three stable notes.
The tonic can also be the 1
minor 6 = 6 1
contain two stable notes.
is less stable than minor 6
because of 7
leading tone wants to resolve to 1
The minor 6th
or minor 3rd
chords change function
where they're located in a chord progression.
The minor 6
can easily become the tonic.
This happens when Major
switches to minor.
= 4 6
minor 2 = 2
stable then Major 4
it contains the
2 and 4
and no stable notes.
Major 5 = 5
Diminished 7th =
These chords want to resolve.
They dominate the chord
stable because it contains 7
because of 7
(the leading tone) and the
relationship of 5
root note (1
tonic). See overtones
is least stable.
It contains the most
unstable tones, 7 2 4.
It resolves to Chord 1,
because of 7
because the natural resolution of 7
also has a b5
instead of a 5.
This interval is called the Tritone.
It's the most unstable interval
and it "requires" resolution to Chord 1.
This differs from the
natural resolution of each note. This is the natural
for the chord.
Chords relative to themselves
that each chord is a planet in a solar system. They all
revolve around the
sun (the Major
The sun is the tonic chord.
However, each chord is
a separate planet.
It's stable to itself, with moons of it's own.
Each chord by itself, is stable.
The exception is the diminished
you play the Major 5
, it won't sound tense
until you define
as the Dominant 7 Major 5
chord (black circle below)
by playing the Major 1
and Major 4
chords. If you avoid doing that, it'll
sound very stable, because it's a Major chord (1, 3, 5
Triad = 1
Triad = 1
mathematical relationships as I
compose. “If I play root, 3rd, 5th, I instantly know what
that is, because I was trained to…It’s possible that some of the things
starting out mathematically, but it’s quite automatic now.” -Joe
This chart is the easiest way to understand chords in a mode (this mode is Ionian Major).
Play the major Ionian scale over these chords and it'll sound
In this section,
Major is red and minor is blue.
also label Major, minor and
diminished with roman numerals. You'll
see this quite often.
The minor chords use lowercase roman
This is the same chart as the one above (Ionian Major).
play any mode, scale or key signature, you need to know which chords
and scale to use.
the Aeolian minor chord chart and scale chart.
lets examine how we get this information.
you just play, you just know these
things instinctively...That’s when your on
it. If everyone had to think about what they do,
they wouldn't play anything." -Ry Cooder
is considered a "happy" sound.
Major = 1
is considered a
"somber" sound. minor
A Major chord
Major 3rd + a
A minor chord
is a minor 3rd + a Major 3rd
A minor triad is
triad is stable
you play a minor chord and add the major 3rd, it
sounds wrong. (Blues music does this all the time)
If you play a Major chord
and add the minor 3rd, it sounds
chord is either Major
The exception is chord 7, which is minor diminished, 1, b3, b5
7 chord is Diminished.
It has a b5
instead of a 5
. It's very tense and usually
resolves to the 1 chord. It
always does in popular music.
chart shows the Major and minor chords in the Ionian mode.
minor chords and key
examine Aeolian minor in the context we've been using: the Major Ionian
Major Ionian key
defined by the Major 1
chord, Major 4
chord and a Major 5
chord with a dominant
(black circle below).
If you see these chords, you're playing in Major Ionian (or
something very similar).
is defined by a minor 1
As you can see in the above chart, our minor
are labeled 2
. We need to fix that.
Let's re-make our chart.
, we're in Aeolian.
Aeolian is the relative minor
uses the same scale steps as Ionian, but it
starts on 6 (the blue circle below) instead of 1.
This creates new interval relationships for the Aeolian root note.
new root note is also called 1 (Aeolian), it just starts
on the 6 of Ionian. Because we're using the original Ionian
scale steps (shown in pink), we now have a b3
The blue and red arrows below show
that define Aeolian. The easiest definition is 1
minor, 4 minor
Another defining chord
Aeolian is 1
minor, b6 Major
- black circle below).
If you recall,
Ionian had a defining Major5dom7
chord that was on chord 5. If you follow the root of the Aeolian Major b7dom7
chord to the top of the chart you'll see it was originally the 5 chord
in Ionian. It's root note is simply shifted from 5 to b7.
don't need to memorize this. Remember, there's a simple method to
understand any mode or key system. Just try to understand how
a new mode is created, and how we build the new chord system.
A mode is a
scale. It uses the major scale intervals. It has a root
note that starts on a different interval.
This changes the interval relationships in the new scale. It also
changes the chord relationships.
Our original Ionian scale is still represented.
Aeolian uses the same scale steps as the Ionian scale, it
just starts on Ionian interval 6.
is like a different language. It has different chords, interval
relative tension. Understand how mode relationships work, and you'll understand
any mode system with a few hours of use.
don't need to memorize this. Simply understand how it works.
in the Aeolian mode.
This isn't super important. Notice there are no tense red notes.
There's no Major7
the second chord is diminished and has a b5
in it (like the 7
chord in Ionian). Other chords in this key have a 7
interval. The actual Aeolian scale does not.
This lack of tense notes makes Aeolian a gentle scale that
doesn't have as much natural movement (need for resolution)
the major scale.
However, because Chord 2 is diminished, it provides an opportunity
for movement back to the Major Ionian key.
more tension resolution information, see diatonic
and chord building
Another scale people use is melodic minor
A Major 7 interval is played on
the way up, and a b7 is played on the way down.
pulls toward 1 on the way up, and provides a strong sense of
movement. The b7 is smoother on the way down,
Another minor scale is harmonic minor
This scale has a Major 7 on the
way up, and down. Once again, this provides a strong sense of
played a proper chord in years. I
play proper guitar
avoid the major third like the plague. I
like the ambiguity between the major and the minor chords. I tend to isolate the chords down to
three notes and then octaves
of the notes."
Major and minor
and relative minor
of chord usage.
Every key has a relative
Major and minor system.
systems use the same
notes and chords. They're just labeled
first chord played influences
the sound of the next chord.
If you're playing minor
chords, you can't make
the music sound Major with any scale. You have to play Major chords to
why Major and minor are different
Compare the Major and minor chord systems
Guitars are often tuned in E.
We tend to play in minor.
is the relative minor key of G Major.
If you start playing in Em
, your song
will be minor until you switch to Major, and then it
will be in G Major.
root note is
located on Ionian
is part of G Major.
But you can think of it as
a separate key.
1 - 4
- 5 in minor
and 1 - 4 - 5 in Major are Defining Chord Progressions.
They define the key
progressions can only occur certain ways (in a key).
When you hear one, your ear identifies the root note.
your music ambiguous by avoiding
these progressions until you're ready to identify the
Chords follow the same pattern
differently because of the different interval qualities.
That's the easy chart I was
talking about earlier. You had to understand how we got to this
here's a version with roman numerals.
section is short and important. I recommend all of it.
Modes and Chords
describe the same thing.
They are systems that track groups of
notes. A mode is a scale version of a chord.
A mode can create a new key signature. It uses a different
chord as the 1 chord.
This new key signature has a sound that is different than traditional
are 7 modes: one
for each chord.
Each mode has a
different root interval and root chord. The modes sound different because the interval
relationships are measured in relation to the 1 note.
Compare the Major scale
to the minor scale.
The interval steps (pink
are the same, but the minor scale
has different interval qualities.
The minor scale
mode 6 (Aeolian mode).
Chords follow the same pattern
They're just labeled
differently because of the different interval qualities.
Each mode is Major
or minor, with one note changed
7 has two notes changed. This can be memorized* When
you switch chords, you'll know
what the right notes are.
* Warning: using the modes this way could make you
sound like everyone else.
Modes and chords
learn one, you learn the
modes and scales, it's "important that you know
their relationship to the chords... Every scale has a mood" -John Mclauglin
new key signatures.
They create different
harmonic relationships (sounds) because the interval qualities
of the chords are different.
hear each mode properly, play it over the appropriate 1 - 4 - 5
chord progression (see chart below). If you don't, the mode will sound like the Major scale.
songs use one mode system the whole way through. Other songs change modes at the verse, chorus or bridge.
Why do modes sounds different?
have two very unstable
notes, and some don't have any.
Green is stable.
Yellow is unstable.
Red is very unstable.
Each mode has a relative
Major and minor
Use the music theory key wheel
for quick reference.
The modes have a
different sound, because each one:
to a different 1 note (relative to the Ionian Major scale). This creates a new scale that has
different interval qualities. These new intervals require a different numbering system for the chords.
There's one main
All modes are variations the
Every chord is also a mode.
There are 7
basic chords and 7 modes.
The chords in each mode follow the
same patterns as the chords in the
Musicians often learn these
Your subconciouse will hear these patterns. When
you apply these ideas, they'll seem