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Major Scales

Natural Minor Scales

Minor Scales Comparison

Chords Formulae


Guitar Theory Lesson 1 - Notes, intervals, scales and the Major & Natural Minor scales


Notes are the building blocks on music. A note is the smallest "building block" in music; you can split chord progressions into chords, chords into notes, and scales into notes. But you can't split notes further into anything else. They are the musical atoms, so to speak.

Notes are organised on scales and chords in such a way that they sound pleasant to the ear and invoke certain feelings, such as tension, resolution...

To begin with, there are 12 notes:
C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B

The notes are the seven letters from A to G plus intermediate notes between two consecutive letters. There are two exceptions, though. There is no intermediate note between E and F, nor between B and C.
By convention, the sequence of notes is usually presented starting on the letter C. Also by convention, the hash symbol (#) is used as a "+ 0.5" symbol. For example, C# is C plus "half a note". There is also another symbol for the "intermediate" notes: the "b" symbol. This symbol acts as a "- 0.5" modifier. Db is D minus "half a note".
You might have already guessed that C# and Db are different representations of the same note. These "different" notes that after all sound the same are technically called enharmonic notes.

So, another way to write the previous sequence of notes is:
C Db D Eb E F Gb G Ab A Bb B

Note once again that there is no note between B and C nor between E and F. So, there is no such thing as Cb nor Fb.

We have just learnt the first scale: the chromatic scale. It's a fancy name for the pallette of all the notes there are.

The palette of notes (or the chromatic scale) only has 12 notes. But if you keep increasing the pitch after you've reached the last note of the chromatic scale, you'll reach new notes. These new notes are named from A to G again; the naming of the notes kind of "wraps" back to the start. So, the note immediately higher than B is called C, but it's said to be an octave higher than the previous C. So, an octave is a span of notes from C to the next higher B.

C Db D Eb E F Gb G Ab A Bb B      C Db D Eb E F Gb G Ab A Bb B
----------------------------------------      -----------------------------------------
                  Octave 1                                               Octave 2

The same name-wrapping happens if you go lower than C, The note immediately lower than C is B, but this B is said to be an octave lower.


An interval is the offset between two different notes. The interval measures the "distance" between the two notes in the chromatic scale. In other words, it counts how many steps it takes to go from one note to the other.

Let's explain it in context. Consider the chromatic scale.

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

There's an interval (a "space", an offset) between any two different notes. Each "space" or "step" you take from one note to the next (or to the previous, if you're going backwards) is, by convention, called a half-step. C is separated from C# by one half-step. And so is D from D#. And A from G#.

Between C and D there are two half-steps, which we can call a full-step. From C to E, for example, there are two full steps (or four half-steps), just like from F to A. This is what an interval is all about - the number of full steps or half-steps separating two notes.

Another way of defining half-steps and full-steps is this: a half step moves to a contiguous note on the chromatic scale; a full step skips one note, completing two half steps up or down the chromatic scale.

You're probably aware theorists love to come up with names for everything. Needless to say intervals have a name for each amount of half-steps.

So, if you do the math, you'll realize you can take up to 12 half-steps before you wrap to the note you began counting from (ending up in a different octave, of course). Each of these 12 interval possibilities has a name. Let's see a chart of these names, using C as the first note just for the sake of illustration.

                  Starting from C, we took...         This interval is called....
C                        No steps                              Unison
C#                      1 half steps                          Minor second
D                        2 half steps                          Major second
D#                      3 half steps                          Minor third
E                        4 half steps                          Major third
F                        5 half steps                          Perfect forth
F#                      6 half steps                          Diminshed fifth
G                       7 half steps                          Perfect fifth
G#                     8 half steps                          Augmented fifth
A                       9 half steps                          Major sixth
A#                     10 half steps                        Minor seventh / dominant seventh
B                       11 half steps                         Major seventh
C                       12 half steps                         Octave

DON'T FRET! I know this is a lot of names! There's no need to memorize them (at least not for now). You'll gradually memorize them without even noticing it as you hear / read those names. Besides, some intervals are more important than others. You'll realize that over time. Whenever you need, feel free to consult this table (or other table of this sort you eventually find in the internet).


What are scales? Scales are palettes of notes. Just like a painter has a palette of colors to choose from for his paintings, a musician uses scales to pick notes to build his songs.
All scales are technically derived from the chromatic scale. The principle is always the same: some notes are chosen from the chromatic scale while others are excluded, and voila, a new scale is built!

The construction of scales has rules, though. Mathematical rules. For each scale there is a set of sequenced half steps and full steps in the chromatic scale that need to be respected. 


The two most used scales are the Major and the Minor scales. Let's start with the Major scale.

Each scale has a type (in this case, the Major scale) and a key. The key, simply put, is the first note of the scale.

The formula for the construction of the Major scale is:

Full step - Full step - Half step - Full step- Full step - Full step - Half step

Or, put in terms of the number of half steps:

2 - 2 - 1 - 2 - 2 - 2 - 1

Let's build the C Major scale. First, here's the chromatic scale again:

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

As this is the C Major scale, the first note is C, just like we saw above. Applying the first step on the formula, which is a full step, we get to D...

C - D

Now, the second step is also a full step, which leads us to E...

C - D - E

The third step is a half step. So, the forth note on the C Major scale is F...

C - D - E - F

Applying the remaining steps, we get the full C Major scale...

C - D - E - F - G - A - B

As you can see, the C major scale has no accidentals (i. e. no notes with a sharp nor a flat). In fact, the C Major is the only major scale with no accidental notes on it. All other keys have accidentals on their major scales.

Imagine you'd want the B Major scale. All you have to do is take the major scale formula again...

2 - 2 - 1 - 2 - 2 - 2 - 1

...and the chromatic scale...

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

Now, instead of starting in C, you need to start in B, since it's the B Major scale. Taking a full step from B takes us to C#...

B - C#

...another full step lands on D#...

B - C# - D#

It's time for that half step again. The forth note is, therefore, E...

B - C# - D# - E

You get the picture. The complete B scale is:

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

As you can see, the B Major scale has few notes in common with the C Major scale. There are a lot of accidentals in there. Each major scale has at least one different note from any other Major scale. No two Major scales in different scales are alike.

There are just as many Major scales as there are notes on the chromatic scale. One could make the F# Major scale, or the D# scale, for instance.

Now, the Minor scale. The Minor scale is known for sounding a bit more melancholic, nostalgic, sad than the Major scale. As it is a different scale, it also has a different formula to determine its notes. There are three kinds of minor scales - the harmonic, the melodic and the natural minor. But we'll talk about the natural minor, for three reasons: it's the simplest to understand for now, it has a close relationship with corresponding major scales (more on this later) and it is not specifically used for harmony nor melody. Now, the formula for the Natural Minor scale is this:

2 - 1 - 2 - 2 - 1 - 2 - 2

You probably won't notice this at first sight, but the natural minor scale and the major scale formulas are the same but starting in different positions.

           2 - 2 - 1 - 2 - 2 - 2 - 1       Major scale
2 - 1 - 2 - 2 - 1 - 2 - 2                  Natural Minor scale

The Natural Minor scale starts two "slots" backwards on the major scale (or 5 "slots" forward, which is the same). This is why there is a close relationship between minor and major scales: for each major scale, there is a corresponding minor scale with exactly the same sequence of notes, but starting on a different note. This might sound a bit confusing; don't worry if you don't grasp this concept completely right now. We'll explore it better later on.

Now, to construct the C Minor scale, for example, let's take the scale formula and the chromatic scale again...

2 - 1 - 2 - 2 - 1 - 2 - 2
C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B

You know the drill. A full step to D, half a step to D#, a full step to F...
C - D - D# - F - G - G# - A#

Here we go, the C Natural Minor scale!

Now, before we finish this lesson, there's something you need to understand about intervals and scales. Take the C Natural Minor scale we just built: what is the interval between F and G? Is it a half-step or a full-step?

You're probably tempted to answer "half-step", as G comes right after F in the C Natural Minor scale. But you need to understand the naming of note intervals is ALWAYS in terms of the chromatic scale. So even if you're thinking about a major or minor scale, when you want to determine the interval between to notes of that scale, you count the half-steps / full-steps between these two notes considering the chromatic scale.

So, in this case, even though there's no note between F and G in the C Natural Minor scale, there IS an F# between F and G in the chromatic scale...

C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B chromatic scale

So the answer is: F and G are separated by a full-step! In other words, a major second, according to that table of interval names :)