Basic Music Theory for Beginners

16 Jul

Basic theory knowledge

What follows is just a brief summary of basic theory and harmony necessary to understand practical applications on your instrument.

The natural sounds are:

English

C

D

E

F

G

A

B

You might also find in some books the name of these notes in Italian (nothing to do with ‘solfege’!) Do,Re,Mi,Fa,Sol,La,Si and in German C,D,E,F,G,A,H.

Sharps and flats.

# = sharp: raises the given note of a half step.

## = double sharp: raises the given note of two half steps (also noted ‘x’).

b = flat: lowers the given note of a half step.

bb = double flat: lowers the given note of two half steps.

= natural: cancels sharps and flats (double natural cancels double sharps and flats).

The Chromatic scale.

The chromatic scale contains all 12 natural and altered sound (using sharps and flats).

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab A A#/Bb B

Notes called with a different name, but identifying the same sound, are called enharmonic (i.e.: C# e Db). The shortest distance between two sound of the chromatic scale is a Half Step, the distance of a fret on the guitar.

Intervals.

An interval is the distance between two notes.

Intervals of a second, third, sixths and seventh are called major. If a major interval is raised by an half step it is called augmented. If a major interval is lowered by an half step it is called minor. If lowered by two half steps, diminished.

Intervals of a fourth, fifth and octave are called perfect. If a perfect interval is raised by an half step it is calledaugmented. If a perfect interval is lowered by an half step it is called diminished (note the difference).

All the intervals from the tonic of a major scale to any other note of tha scale are major or perfect (i.e. between C and D=major 2nd, C e E=major 3rd, C e F=perfect 4th, and so on…)

Intervals can also be calculated summing up half steps:

N.of htps

1 2 3 4 5 6 6 7 8 8 9 10 10 11 12
Interval m2 M2

m3

M3

P4

4aug

5dim

P5

5aug

m6

M6

6aug

m7

M7

P8

where m=minor, M=major, P=perfect, dim=diminished, aug=augmented.

How to build a major scale.

The spacing of the notes in a major scales follow this rule:

WWHWWWH

Where W = Whole step (a major second)  H= Half step

Example : C major

To build major sales in other keys use exclusively either sharps or flats choosing the notes so that a note with the same name is never repeated. In doing so you will only use Diatonic half steps (given by two notes with different name, i.e. C-Db, opposite to Chromatic half steps given by two notes with the same name, as in D –D#).

This is a list of all the major scales in all keys. The order follows the amount of sharps and flats in the key.

Keys with flats.

C D E F G A B
F

G

A

Bb

C

D

E

Bb

C

D

Eb

F

G

A

Eb F G

Ab

Bb

C

D

Ab

Bb

C

Db Eb

F

G

Db

Eb F

Gb

Ab

Bb

C

Gb

Ab

Bb

Cb

Db

Eb

F

Cb

Db

Eb

Fb

Gb

Ab Bb

Keys with sharps.

C D E F G A B

G

A B C D E F#

D

E F# G A B C#

A

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

A#

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

A#

B#

Relative minor (key)

Every major key has one relative minor which is made of the same notes, but starting from the sixth note. In other words, starting a minor third below (or a major sixth above) the root of the major scale. For example if we take C major its relative minor is A minor, spelled A B C D E F G.

Circle of fifths.

The circle of fifths one of the most used ways to summarize all I explained so far. It is very useful to memorize how many and which alterations a specific key has.

I find very useful to memorize FCGDAEB and the same sequence backwards BEADGCF. The first is the order of sharps the second, of flats. So if a key has, for example, 3 sharps (A major) they will be the first 3 notes in the first seqence (F# C# G#).

Harmonized major scale – How to build chords.

In the example below every note of a major scale identifies a ‘degree’ of the scale. In the example I have used C major, but this is valid for every other major scale in any key.

If I stack on every degree two more notes a diatonic third apart (basically every other one) I end up with different kinds of triads (triad=group of three notes). These triads are shown in the example below. If we analyse the intervals between notes:

Major Triad has a Maj 3rd and a Perf 5th (Eg. C-E-G: C-E=maj 3rd , C-G Perf 5th).

Minor Triad has a min 3rd and a Perf 5th.

Diminished Triad has a min 3rd and a diminished 5th.

You will have the same series of chords in all the other keys Eg: F major: F, Gm, Am, Bb, C, Dm, Em.

If we stack another note a diatonic third apart from the last note of the above triads we will have Seventh chords.

This again is valid for all the 12 keys. This concept is vital to understand how songs are built and how to pick the correct scale for a solo.

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Gianni

Gianni Chiarello has gained a reputation as an extremely versatile musician, having professional credits as a guitarist, bassist, arranger and producer. His music is a preconception-free mix of Jazz, Funk, Blues, R&B and contemporary elements, influenced by . Born in Italy, in his forming years he performed with some of his country's finest musicians working towards developing different styles, from rock to pop, funk and jazz. In 1999 he moved to Boston to attend Berklee College of Music, on a scholarship program, where he graduated with a Degree "Magna cum laude" in Professional Music, studying under the direction of Mick Goodrick, Hal Crook, Brett Willmott and Dave Samuels, also playing in the Boston area and along the States' east coast as a freelance musician. Alongside studio work, he has been performing with, and leading as Musical Director, numerous bands and orchestras, comping for celebrities from the sixties like The Platters, The Coasters, Bobby Arvon, The Diamonds, Vegas – Broadway entertainers like Tony Tillman, Kenny James, Hal Fraiser, Lorna Luft, Ben Vereen, Susan Anton and Roy Walker. Furthermore his work entailed musical theatre style production reviews, encompassing shows such as “Smokey Joe’s Café”, “We Will Rock You”, “Starlight Express”, “Grease” and “Rent”. After relocating to the UK in 2005, has performed, amongst others with Robbie McIntosh (John Mayer, Paul Mccartney) Jeremy Stacey (Tom Jones, Sheryl Crow), Jason Rebello (Sting, Jeff Beck), Iain Ballamy and many others. His latest instructional eBooks can now be purchased online: “Contemporary solo guitar” (2008) and “Contemporary blues soloing” (2009) “Contemporary Blues Chords and Comping” (2011)

11 thoughts on “Basic Music Theory for Beginners

  1. Um, in the VERY first table, B is “Ti” in the C Major Scale. “Si” is something completely different, it’s the raised 5th interval of a scale, or the raised “Sol.”

    • that is not supposed to be solfege…it’s just the name of the notes in Italian (I am Italian an this article was originally in Italian)…I will edit that section as it proved to cause some confusion.

  2. You shouldn’t have to put “IIm” you should use lower case i and throw out the m. So it should be: I ii iii IV V vi vii°

    This should also be reflected in your roman numeral seventh chords. Also you use a lower case m for minor and a upper case M for major. They should be IM7 ii7, iii7, IVM7, V7, vi7 viiø7

    (the minor 7th is implied you only need to specify M, o, and ø as m, and Mm chords both have m 7ths)

    The word is diminished not diminuished.

    “valid for all 12 keys”??? Really? What about the minor ones? What about modes? All 12 major keys, I believe is what you mean.

    Db has four flats, eh?

    There’s multiple ways of notating things, but this is the generally accepted standard.

    • Thanks for pointing out the couple of typos, I have fixed them. At the beginning of the last paragraph I mention ‘major scale in any key’ so I guessed it was clear I was talking about major scales.
      I get what you say about the Roman numerals, but I wanted to keep this as simple and obvious as possible…the title is ‘basic music theory’ after all!

      Also, please allow me a humorous comment about ‘the generally accepted standard’…I have been playing for over 25 years, most of which spent reading other musicians’ charts…I have yet to find two musicians/arrangers that notate the same way! 🙂

      Thanks for your comment.

      • I think what he’s trying to say is that the notation he suggests is typically what is taught at the collegiate level here in America. That is probably why he suggests that it is “the generally accepted standard”. 🙂

  3. I’m a guitarist and have played for about 7 years, the whole time kind of dipping my toe in theory .. this is one of the best theory basics ive seen! Diagrams are great.

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