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Andrew Cockburn
Introduction to Scales


We've looked at a few basics around the guitar, and discussed what notes are, the very foundation of music. The next step is to start understanding scales. The problem is that when some people are presented with scales for the first time, and realize that they are being asked to play endless variations of these scales for the foreseeable future, it can become a daunting task. In this introductory lesson we are going to explore some of the reasons that scales exist, and why we make such a big deal about them.

What are scales? A Technical View

In a previous lesson we discussed the 12 possible notes we had available for constructing music out of. Western music has evolved such that rules have emerged over how and when you use these notes together. Although this is merely convention, you will be so used to hearing the various common scales that when those rules are not applied, or are applied differently you will immediately notice that something is wrong or different. There is nothing written in stone about the way these things are organised, but we are all so used to hearing music from an early age that incorporates these rules that we don't even think about the alternatives until we start to study musical theory in depth.

As a guitar player, you need to understand these rules if you want to play western style music at all. A fundamental part of these rules and conventions are the musical scales we use.

What is a scale? It is a restricted sequence of notes, chosen from the 12 available, that work together to give a certain desired mood or effect to the music. The best way to describe individual scales is as a list of gaps between the notes, we use the term Tone or Semitone to denote our Half notes or Whole notes, and give the formula using their initial letters, T and S.

Some people use Half and Whole (W,H) to denote the gaps, and another way is to list the number of semitones (1 or 2). Either way, these three are identical and all give the gaps for the major scale:

1. T T S T T T S
2. W W H W W W H
3. 2 2 1 2 2 2 1

Lets see how this works. Picking a scale at random - G# major. This initially tells us two things. First, our root note (or first note in the scale) is G#. Secondly, we will be using the Major scale formula to work out the notes.

So, we start with our G# note, and add the first step of the formula which is a T, meaning a Tone. So starting with a G# and moving up a tone or two half notes puts us onto A#:

G# + T = A#

Next, we start with A#, and look at the next letter in the formula - its a Tone again, so we add 2 half notes to A#, to give us a C:

A# + T = C

Next, we start with a C and check the formula - this time it is a semitone, which takes us to C#:

C + S = C#

If we carry on with this we get the following:

C# + T = D#
D# + T = F (remember there is no such thing as an E#)
F + T = G
G + S = G#

So, we have built our scale of G# major according to our major scale formula to get the notes:

G# A# C C# D# F G

The majority of scales we use have 7 notes in them but that is not a hard and fast rule. For instance, the minor pentatonic scale only has 5 notes in it (its formula is 3 2 2 3 2 - I used numbers here instead of T and S because it has a couple of Tone and a half leaps, which is 3 half notes, and that is more easily written down as a 3 instead of something like "T + 1/2", but it all means the same thing). Some scales have more, for instance the chromatic scale has all 12 notes in it.

So that's how scales work! The formula describes them and we pick whichever root note we want to construct them around. The next step is to convert these notes into a pattern so that we can play it.

Scales vs Patterns

A lot of the most common questions posted by beginning guitarists are around how scale patterns work and why they are important. There is a difference between "patterns" and "scales".

A "scale" is a group of notes with a specific amount of distance between them - just as we described above. These distances determine what "patterns" we need to use to produce the desired "scale".

If you know one major scale "pattern", you know how to play EVERY major "scale" on a guitar in standard tuning. To play a C Major Scale, start the pattern with your on C. To play a D Major Scale, start the pattern on D. So on so forth. The same goes with minor patterns, diminished patterns, harmonic minor patterns, etc .... once you know the pattern, just start it on whatever note you want, and you're playing that scale.

The C Major scale consists of the notes C D E F G A B. It has consisted of these notes for a very, very long time. It consisted of these notes long before the 6 string guitar as we know it was invented.

Musical instruments, the guitar included, are used to produce these notes. On a guitar, these notes are produced by pressing the string down at a certain point on the fretboard and striking the string so that it will vibrate at the correct frequency to sound the desired note.

Here is the important point: The C Major scale PATTERNS that we all struggle with as beginners were created to reproduce the notes C D E F G A B - the C Major SCALE - on a guitar in standard tuning. They are the patterns that players have determined to be the most convenient to reproduce the desired notes. A pattern is NOT a scale....it is a pattern used to produce the notes of a scale. The PATTERN was created to fit the SCALE. This may sounds confusing - but think of it this way: scales are part of music THEORY because a scale is just an idea - a theory - until it is actually played/sung/whatever....and the way that we, as guitarists, put this theoretical SCALE into action is by playing a PATTERN that produces the desired notes.

To demonstrate, tune your low E string down a half step, your A up a half step, and so on until all strings are detuned by about a half step. No need to be exact here...just make sure your guitar is out of tune. Now play the pattern that you know as "the C Major Scale". Guess what....you're no longer playing a C Major scale, because you're no longer playing the notes C D E F G A B. You are simply playing a pattern that, when applied to a guitar in standard tuning, would normally produce the notes of a C Major scale. But since the guitar is no longer tuned the way it was when that pattern was created, you need to press down the strings in different places to sound the notes you want (C D E F G A B )....so the pattern no longer works. The SCALE hasn't changed - a C Major Scale is still C D E F G A B - but since the guitar is tuned differently, you would need to create a different PATTERN to play the correct SCALE notes C D E F G A B.

So, a SCALE is a theoretical grouping of notes that are recognized as producing a certain sound when played, like the C Major Scale. A PATTERN is used to produce those notes. All of the patterns you learn are just convenient ways to play a scale.

We will learn about the patterns used to play various scales in later lessons.

There are a couple of different strategies to build patterns:

1. Start on the E string on any note of the scale. Mark that fret in your mind as the home position. Move up that string playing notes from the scale until the next note would be more than 4 frets from home position (counting the home position as fret 1), and place that next not on a higher string. Keep going until you run out of strings.

This approach gives you regular scale boxes - boxes are good because they keep your hand in the same position throughout the scale.

2. Start on the E string on any note of the scale. For each string, add notes until you have played exactly 3 notes on that string then swap strings.

This approach gives you 3 note per string scales - these are good because they have an even number of notes on each string which really helps with speed runs. These patterns are tailor made for triplets.

Change the number from 3 to 2 or 4 and you get 2 note per string scales, or even 4 note per string scales (possible, but very hard to play, a favourite of Alan Holdsworth I believe). 2 notes per string are especially suitable for pentatonic. (In fact for pentatonic it turns out that 2 notes per string and boxes are the same).

3. Whole neck approach - treat each string in isolation, and play entire scales by moving up 1 string. Understand that there will be huge overlap between strings, and figure out all the possible ways of playing an individual note or run on all strings (very hard to do in practice but this is how really top nothch performers see things)

That's all there is to patterns really - and as a point of terminology, I would call boxes a special case of patterns that are constructed using rule 1, patterns is a more general term that realtes to all possible ways to map a scale to the guitar neck.

Scales vs Keys

Although the two are closely related, a scale is NOT a key. Although keys seem to be named after scales, that is a little misleading. A Key is the tonal center of a song, and denotes the chords and notes that the song keeps coming back to. It is perfectly possible to write a song in which you start of with a scale of C major, and then switch briefly to using a scale Ab Major for a bar or two, before moving back to C. The very fact that we moved back to C helps us see this as the tonal centre or heart of the song, the home ground that we keep returning to. The home ground is the Key, and more often than not, we will start with a scale that matches the key. Sometimes we will never leave the scale that matches the key, but it is possible to change between sales without changing the key of the song.

When we change the Key of a song, it is called a "modulation", and here we ARE changing the tonal centre of the song, and we will be using a new scale or set of scales to back that up. The song will be structured so that the new Key is the place we will keep returning to, and the old key and its associated scale or scales is history, unless we modulate back.

So, think of the Key as the anchor for the song, scales as tools to construct the song from, and patterns as the realization of scales on the guitar fretboard.

What Are Scales? A Musical View

OK, we have had a dry technical description of what a scale is - but where is the music in that? Well, in musical terms, a scale is a palette of notes that you can choose from to put together chords, melodies solos, accompaniments, harmonies and just about everything ... hopefully that sounds a little more musical.

Look at it this way - you need to learn English (or the language of your choice) before you can be a poet. Scales are the language of music, and don't worry, there are more than enough different ways to put them together to keep things interesting. Not knowing scales would be a little like trying to write a poem without using real words - in some cases it could work and be very cool, but the chances are better if you stick to a commonly understood medium, which is what scales/language are.

To push the metaphor a little further - there are many types of scales - minor, major, modes etc - think of this as increasing your vocabulary and learning different and more original ways of expressing your ideas.

Why Are They So Important?

There's a good quote from Andreas Segovia, who was deemed the father of modern guitar playing. He maintained that learning scales covers the most amount of technical ground in the shortest space of time. And if you think about it, when you are learning scales you are:

1. Learning how to effectively play one note after another.
2. Improving the dexterity of your fingers, in a useful context.
3. Teaching your ears to hear which notes go together in what sequences. i.e. What notes go into what scales. (This is of paramount importance).
4. Providing you with the muscle memory of how the regular notes and tones go from one string to the next.

It's true that by learning to play in a scale, you are effectively restricting the amount of notes you play. However this is what provides us with recognisable musical structure. If you learn what a large range of scales sound like, you'll be able to quickly select something that suits the mood of the piece you are trying to write. This saves a lot of "fumbling about" looking for notes in the long run.

Sometimes as a more advanced exercise in practice it's interesting to "make up a scale" by picking a set of notes out of the 12 notes available. You'll usually find though that if you research the set of notes you've chosen, that there's probably already a scale which has those notes, but by learning some licks in this new scale, you can jump from something, for instance minor pentatonic, into your new scale for a few seconds, before going back.

What are these "Boxes" That Everyone Talks About?

Moving back to patterns for a little while - most systems of learning patterns partition the fretboard into "boxes". A box is nothing more than a group of notes in a scale that are easy to reach without moving your fretting hand about the fretboard too much. Boxes are constructed by moving up the bottom E string, note by note within the scale, starting on that note whatever it is, and playing notes out of the scale. This means that there will be a box for each note of the scale. In the case of the major scale there will be 7 boxes, whilst there are only 5 pentatonic boxes.

If you have studied the CAGED system you will notice that it only has 5 boxes for the major scale - there is nothing mysterious about this. When constructing patterns we want to cover the most ground possible, and a couple of the possible boxes for the major scale are only separated by one fret position on the neck. This doesn't really add much so we tend to drop those, and the remaining boxes are separated by either two or three frets.

So, boxes are patterns!

Boxes and Scales

There is another very important point to understand about boxes/patterns, and that is the fact that they stay the same no matter what key you are playing your scale in. If you are playing a scale of G major, using a particular box or pattern, and you want to play a scale of A major, all you have to do is move that pattern up the neck by 2 fret positions. Why is this? Well, G and A are separated by 2 semitones. If you just slide the box upwards, none of the gaps between the notes will change, so you are playing exactly the same formula, just using a different root note. This means that you need to learn each pattern once, and you can re-use it for each of the 12 root notes! So, when learning boxes, learn the patterns, not what frets they are on.

How Should I Practice Scales?

When practicing scales, the first step is to learn one or more of the boxes for that scale. Play all of the notes in order up and down and keep repeating the sequence. When you can do this without mistakes, the next thing to do is to start playing it to a metronome, slowly increasing the speed over time. This helps to cement the notes in your mind, trains your playing abilities and helps with speed and technique. Start with an initial box, then learn all of the other boxes so that you can play them all cleanly and fluidly at the same speed.

When you have that down, start on another type of scale!

A Note on Roots

A source of confusion for some people is the fact that a lot of patterns are shown on which the lowest note is not the root note. If you think about it, this makes sense. Look at the way we construct boxes. Lets start on a scale of G major. Our first box would be started on the lower E string, 3rd fret - that is a G, and we add notes from there to make a standard scale:

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

To construct the next box, we would move up a tone from G to the 5th fret which is A. Now, we start to build our scale from there:

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

It took us 7 notes to get to our root note G! Well its no big deal - you have to understand what and where the roots are, but there will more often than not be notes above and below the root notes that are part of the scale, and perfectly valid notes to use in playing.

Root notes are important because they identify the scale you are playing (along with the type, major, minor etc). You need to know where the roots are, they are your signpost to figuring out what scale you are playing, but there is no rule that says you must start a scale by playing the root note all the time.

When practicing scales, it IS good to start on the root note. Doing this trains your ear to the sound of the scale. However, when playing, you shouldn't limit yourself to always playing on the scale you practiced between the root notes. The idea of a scale is that it is a palette of notes for you to pick from in your playing, not a thing in its own right. So, when looking at it from that perspective, the root note is less important and you should feel free to use any of the notes marked.

How do you get from one to the other? Well, when training with the scales, start by playing in between the root notes, then as you become more familiar with the scale, perhaps, go a note or two below the root note and back up to it, or a note or two above the top root note, until you are able to include all of the notes in your scale. That way, when you want to use the scale in your playing, you will be familiar with all the notes, not just the ones between the root notes.

What Scales Should I Learn?

Whichever scales you want! Scales are an important part of your creativity arsenal. The more scales you know, the more ways you have of expressing yourself. If you want to take a tried and tested path that will allow you to play the music of many great musicians, I would suggest you learn scales in the following order (but it is of course entirely up to you!)

1. Minor Pentatonic. This is the first scale a lot is people learn. It is easy because it only has 5 notes, and straight away it opens up huge possibilities for improvisation and blues/rock style playing. Some guitarists never need more than this scale.

2. Major pentatonic. This is a variation of the minor pentatonic and is pretty similar

3. Major Scale. This scale is the bread and butter of western music.

4. Natural Minor scale. Along with the major scale, these form the backbone of western music. In fact, the pentatonic is actually the minor scale with just a few notes left out, so wherever you use the minor scale you can also use the pentatonic scale.

With the above collection of scales under your belt you are rocking, and can probably play 95% of music that you are familiar with. If you stop here you can still be a very competent musician. The next scales are more limited in their application, but rarer and cooler and will start to give your music a more unusual and distinctive feel.

5. Harmonic Minor/Melodic Minor. Two variations of the minor scale that give a different feel, especially the harmonic minor.

6. The major modes (Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, Locrian). Modes are really variations on the major scales that are built according to special rules. Depending on which you use, they will give your music a different feel. Modes are great to take on when you are thoroughly experienced with the scales I have listed above.

A lot of people don't make it past the major modes - by the time you have the major modes and the other scales under your belt, you are an accomplished musician, with a large range of scales and stylings to feed into your composition and soloing.

7. Exotic Scales. I call any scale that I haven't listed above an "exotic scale" - that's just my label for it. There are literally hundreds of exotic scales, many of them used in specific types of folk music or Jazz. You could spend many many years learning them all, and you can get reference books on them such as the Guitar Grimoire. Its sometimes fun to browse through these for inspiration

8. Modes of Exotic scales. Modes don't just exist for major scales - every scale has associated modes, which give you an even wider palette of notes to choose from.

A Final Word

Music theory and scales are a great place to start because they train you in all of the ways mentioned above, but at a certain point (after much practice) you transcend the scales and play what sounds good to you and that is where the music really is, not in the theory itself. Knowing your scales trains your musical reactions (just as practicing moves in martial arts trains your reflexes). When your musical reactions are well trained, you don't think in scales, you think more in musical ideas, and the scales training backs you up by allowing you to play what is in your mind without thinking about it. At the end of it all, we learn scales so that we can internalize them and then forget about them, at least when we are playing, though you should always keep some scales as part of your practice regimen.

This lesson includes material from Wheeler and Tank, used with permission, minor edits applied - thanks guys!
Hemlok
So by learning minor pentatonic, i basically learnt major pentatonic also. alright time to learn major im hungry
Andrew Cockburn
QUOTE (Hemlok @ May 27 2007, 05:58 AM) *
So by learning minor pentatonic, i basically learnt major pentatonic also. alright time to learn major im hungry


Enjoy smile.gif
JVM
*Bows*

I get it now! I'm off to start practicing my first few scales now. Thanks all involved.
AIB234
When you say that you can play the minor pents in a minor scale, does this apply for the major pent and regular scale as well?
Andrew Cockburn
QUOTE (AIB234 @ Jun 6 2007, 09:34 PM) *
When you say that you can play the minor pents in a minor scale, does this apply for the major pent and regular scale as well?


Yes it does - for example, a C major pentatonic is:

C D E G A C

C Major is:

C D E F G A B C

So C major Pentatonic is a subset of the notes in major smile.gif
JVM
So I noticed it's missing the F and the B, does that apply to all pentatonics (not having looked at all of them, sorry if the answer is obvious biggrin.gif)? Or rather, not all, but I'd make a guess that for example B major pentatonic would include B D F G A B or something like such?

[edit] I'm not looking for the answer of what notes each scale would have in it, as I can look them up, but is there a reason the pentatonics (having only 5) exclude certain notes and not others?
AIB234
Also...

Is there a certain formula or way to determine which notes the pentatonic scales do not have? Is it always missing the 3rd and another note?
Andrew Cockburn
@AIB, @JVM

You are both nibling around the same concept - the formula for the pentatonic scale. We can define all scales by the gaps in between the subsequent notes - for a Major scale it is 2-2-1-2-2-2-1

For Minor Pentatonic the formula is 3-2-2-3-2

To generate the notes of the scale you just need to apply it to all possible notes using the gaps defined by the formula.

All possible notes : A A# B C C$ D D# E F F# G G# A

For your B Minor pentatonic scale you just start at B, skip 3 tones to get D, skip 2 tones to get E, skip 2 tones to get F#, skip 3 tones to get A, and finally skip 2 tones and you are back to B again, to give you B,D,E,F#,A (B Minor Pentatonic)

For Major pentatonic the formula is 2-2-3-2-3.

Start at B, skip 2 to get C#, skip 2 to get D#, skip 3 to get F#, skip 2 to get G#, and finally skip another 3 and you are back to b, to give you B,C#,D#,F#,G# (B major pentatonic).

That is how every scale is built, from its formula. There are other ways to figure it, but the formula way is probably the easiest.

Using this techgniques you can build any scale as long as you know the formula, and what root note you want to start on.

So to answer your specific questions:

AIB, its not so much that the pentatonic scales are missing notes form the major scales, its just that the pentatonic scale has a different formula with only 5 notes, but it just so happens that those 5 notes all conincide with one of the 7 notes in the Major scale (for Major Pentatonic) and Minor scale for (Minor Pentatonic).

JVM, you pretty much asked the same question. You were close with your idea on how to get B Pentatonic, but you need the exact formula and you have to run it against all possible notes, not just whole tones.
JVM
Ah, I got a bit carried away. Very easily explained, thanks Andrew.
Kaneda
QUOTE (JVM @ Jun 7 2007, 04:47 AM) *
[edit] I'm not looking for the answer of what notes each scale would have in it, as I can look them up, but is there a reason the pentatonics (having only 5) exclude certain notes and not others?


Like Andrew said, the reason the pentatonic scales "exclude" certain notes is their formula. It's just how the scale is built. The real cause-effect goes the other way round: There's a reason people use those scales a lot for improvisation.

And that reason is, that they happen to "exclude" certain notes. Conveniently, those notes are the "problematic" notes in the major and minor scales - the ones that are 1 semitone (1 step) away from another note in the scale. In other words, the 4th and 7th step of the major scale, and the 2nd and 6th step in the natural minor scale.

Those two notes in each scale are "problematic" because - due to that 1 semitone interval - they can easily clash with notes another musician is playing if you're not careful - even though you're playing in the same key. And then they'll sound as "wrong" notes. Play an F note on the beat along with the rhythm guitarist playing a C chord and in many cases (depending on context) it will sound awful.

We leave them out of the vocabulary - problem solved. Carl Off (who wrote Carmina Burana) was also a music teacher, and used the pentatonic scales a lot for this reason.

He also used xylophones a lot in his education of children because it's probably the easiest instrument to cut the vocabulary short on tongue.gif Just remove some of the bars so the child can only hit notes of the pentatonic scale. Then musical understanding can be developed by trial and "error" - but less error, because it's pretty hard to make serious harmonic mistakes smile.gif

Eventually, however, one will want to break out of the pentatonic scales (of course this doesn't mean you abandon them), simply because the very lack of semitone intervals can make pentatonics sound rather monotonous and "un-melodic".
Andrew Cockburn
Yes, its interesting to flip it around like that smile.gif

Another fascinating fact in that vein is that minor pentatonic is often played over a major chord progression. On paper that is plain wrong, as 2 of the notes clash - the 3rd and the 7th.

Minor pentatonic has a minor 3rd, and a dominant 7th. The Scale that the major chords are derived from (the Major scale) has a major 3rd and a major 7th

The clash of the 7ths is not too serious because that gives a Mixolydian feel to the playing, or can be regarded as a passing note making up a dominant 7th chord, but the clash of the 3rds between major and minor is usually a no-no. But in this case, put them together and what do you get? The Blues! A huge part of the tension and feel of the blues is generated by this mismatch.

So this is an illustration of why it is not good to stick slavishly to theory (especially theory relating notes and chords to scales) - if people had done so we would never have had the blues, or any of the later genres influenced by it!
Tinette
Hi Andrew and thanks for writing down those lessons. I have some questions on scales.
I was looking for exercises, because guitarmasterclass has not so many of them.
I found this page http://www.jazzitalia.net/lezioni/antoniod...ad_lezione1.asp , sorry for this being in italian, but as you told music is universal.
The site suggests some exercises on the major scales and its modes. The first of wich is this:
http://www.jazzitalia.net/lezioni/antoniod...elativiModi.gif
The scales suggested are supposed to be major scales, but I can't understand them. The first, i.e., passes from E to G with no F.
If it's a C major diatonic scale where is the F? I'm absolutley sure I'm missing something. mad.gif
Can you please explain me what?

Plus, does anybody of your can suggest a site to get the graphic patterns for major scales? Just to check if I'm doing everything right.
Andrew Cockburn
QUOTE (Tinette @ Jul 16 2007, 04:02 PM) *
Hi Andrew and thanks for writing down those lessons. I have some questions on scales.
I was looking for exercises, because guitarmasterclass has not so many of them.
I found this page http://www.jazzitalia.net/lezioni/antoniod...ad_lezione1.asp , sorry for this being in italian, but as you told music is universal.
The site suggests some exercises on the major scales and its modes. The first of wich is this:
http://www.jazzitalia.net/lezioni/antoniod...elativiModi.gif
The scales suggested are supposed to be major scales, but I can't understand them. The first, i.e., passes from E to G with no F.
If it's a C major diatonic scale where is the F? I'm absolutley sure I'm missing something. mad.gif
Can you please explain me what?

Plus, does anybody of your can suggest a site to get the graphic patterns for major scales? Just to check if I'm doing everything right.


I use this site for chords and scales.

I'm not exactly sure what the link you gave me was supposed to be, it looked like an exercise playing arpeggios (not scales) through the relative modes of C Major ...
Tinette
QUOTE (Andrew Cockburn @ Jul 16 2007, 10:25 PM) *
I use this site for chords and scales.

I'm not exactly sure what the link you gave me was supposed to be, it looked like an exercise playing arpeggios (not scales) through the relative modes of C Major ...


ok, as a matter of fact the first line of the page means: "definition: scalar arpeggios are the fusion of scale fragments with arpeggios sections"

So this means these exercises are not "pure" scale and that I can use them to improve speed and for not getting bored, but not to learn the standard scale.
Ok, if I realized that something was not "the way it was supposed to be", I guess that means I had grabbed some idea of the whole... smile.gif

Thanks a lot
Andrew Cockburn
QUOTE (Tinette @ Jul 16 2007, 04:45 PM) *
ok, as a matter of fact the first line of the page means: "definition: scalar arpeggios are the fusion of scale fragments with arpeggios sections"

So this means these exercises are not "pure" scale and that I can use them to improve speed and for not getting bored, but not to learn the standard scale.
Ok, if I realized that something was not "the way it was supposed to be", I guess that means I had grabbed some idea of the whole... smile.gif

Thanks a lot


Yes, well spotted smile.gif
JVM
You know Andrew, reading through this again (I've been practicing my pentatonic and blues scales lately) it occurred to me why a lot of people, including myself have/had trouble understanding why patterns are the way they are. And more importantly, why people are confused about patterns not always starting on the root note!

It seems that it's never explained by itself, it's always assumed that the learners would get it. You did explain it in your lesson here, but its broken into two separate pieces, and read separately most people will probably miss out.

Myself, I study the scale patterns but I also play each scale string-by-string, so it was more obvious to me. Now then, i'll just say it in the way I find most basic smile.gif

When you start your first pattern, say you're doing A minor pentatonic so your first note is on the fifth fret of the low E string, you are effectively at a crossroads. What you can do, is you can go forward, or go up. What I mean by that is that you can play the pattern or box, and you will play the scale. Or you can play it just on the low E string. If you choose to play it on the low E string, you're going to play 5 notes (if you just go from one tonic to the next) - and each note you play will also be the basis of one of the boxes.

So next note up - it's a C, 3 frets up from your A on the 8th fret of the low E string. Once again, you can go up through the pattern, or you can keep going on the E string to the next note, and the next box. So as you can see, there is a reason for the patterns, and a pretty solid reason why they don't always start on the root note.

I know it's really basic, and I think most players get it when they start, but its still kind of a mystery (especially to those of us who like to know why, as well as how). I think most people understand that basically, but its still slightly confusing until it's laid out in words.

Sorry if someone else already said it tongue.gif

[edit] And I guess that's the whole basis of the CAGED system right? Or not tongue.gif I haven't gotten there yet.
Andrew Cockburn
Good explanation - especially the crossroads bit, I like that!
Willster
Hey 1st off great article. Not to confusing but theroly done. I've got a quick question though. If I'm improvising to a song thas dominant chord is a G major, (lets say knocking on heaven's door) could I play Gminor pentatonic or do I really need to play Gmajor pentatonic?
Andrew Cockburn
QUOTE (Willster @ Aug 8 2007, 11:12 PM) *
Hey 1st off great article. Not to confusing but theroly done. I've got a quick question though. If I'm improvising to a song thas dominant chord is a G major, (lets say knocking on heaven's door) could I play Gminor pentatonic or do I really need to play Gmajor pentatonic?


Hi there - yes you are kind of correct that you should use a major pentatonic in that situation, but the minor pentatonic has an interesting magical property that even though you are mixing a minor and major 3rd when you use minor pentatonic over a major scale, it sounds great (and is in fact the basis of the blues). So, it is in fact Ok, even though the theory says no smile.gif
Willster
Ya that seems to make sense to me. Because when I play minor pentatonic over major chords it sounds great. Thanks for your help.
voluto
This is fantastic! Thanks! The only thing that could possibly surpass this is if you could read it out. Then us aural learners could snuggle up and be spoon fed via mp3, at bedtime. tongue.gif
FretDancer69
Great lesson andrew, but i have some doubts and i was wondering if you could help me...
  • Why do you say that Minor Pentatonic scales have only 5 notes? The first scale i learned was the Am Pentatonic and according to this diagram, it has 12 notes..im so confused...


thanks andrew. im addicted to theory now smile.gif
DeepRoots
Hey Fretdancer-

You see the scale diagram- start playing it from the lowest orange note - our root note.

Its the 5th fret on the lowest E string, the A note.

Well our Am pentatonic starts here....if we assend up the scale to the 8th fret E string we have the second note ( C ) , our third note is 5th fret A string (D), our fourth note is 7th Fret A string (E) and finally our fifth note is 5th fret D string (G).

Now...

when we move to the next orange note in the scale we see that it is also an A note...and so begins the scale again.

So as you see- there are 5 notes, but more than one octave wink.gif
Kaneda
QUOTE (FretDancer69 @ Dec 9 2007, 12:51 AM) *
Great lesson andrew, but i have some doubts and i was wondering if you could help me...
  • Why do you say that Minor Pentatonic scales have only 5 notes? The first scale i learned was the Am Pentatonic and according to this diagram, it has 12 notes..im so confused...

thanks andrew. im addicted to theory now smile.gif


The box has twelve notes, but 7 of them are duplicates in different octaves.

The A minor pentatonic scale has the notes A C D E G.

The notes on the fretboard you supply are, from bottom to top, left to right:

A C D E G A C D E G A C - the orange notes are all the 'A's.
FretDancer69
QUOTE (DeepRoots @ Dec 8 2007, 05:58 PM) *
Hey Fretdancer-

You see the scale diagram- start playing it from the lowest orange note - our root note.

Its the 5th fret on the lowest E string, the A note.

Well our Am pentatonic starts here....if we assend up the scale to the 8th fret E string we have the second note ( C ) , our third note is 5th fret A string (D), our fourth note is 7th Fret A string (E) and finally our fifth note is 5th fret D string (G).

Now...

when we move to the next orange note in the scale we see that it is also an A note...and so begins the scale again.

So as you see- there are 5 notes, but more than one octave wink.gif



i see now, thanks alot man,
Andrew Cockburn
QUOTE (FretDancer69 @ Dec 8 2007, 06:51 PM) *
thanks andrew. im addicted to theory now smile.gif


I'm glad smile.gif

And since you got 2 answers before I even read your question I see I am not needed around here anymore sad.gif

(just kidding - great to see others helping out with theory, and cool to see Kaneda back, even if it is just briefly wink.gif )
FretDancer69
Sorry for bothering alot, but i have another question.... concering scales..unsure.gif:
  • When you create a scale (any) using the formula, how do you know when to change string?

For example, the formula for the Major Scale:

T T S T T T S

Ok, so its 2 tones first (4 semitones). Lets say we're construction a G# major scale so the first note would be G, and the second would be A, and the third would be a note after the tone... what im trying to say is, all the scale formula could be applied to the same string for example:

G# A# C C# D# F G G#

so there we have the scale, but all these notes are found on the E string (E string as an example), that would mean that the scale could be all these notes on 1 string, but i know its not that way, what i dont know, is how and why you change from string to string when constructing the scale?


thanks
Andrew Cockburn
Aha! Very good question!

The answer is that there is no set way to do it.

Do it in one way and you will get boxes, do it slightly differently and you will get 3 note per string scales. Do it as you said and you can play the whole scale on 1 string. What these are, are patterns that reproduce the scale. Each scale has many possible patterns on the guitar, some are more useful and common than others - there are no rules on when to change string though, just convention, and convention is dictated by what works best. Boxes are good for beginners, and arpeggios, 3nps are great for fast speedpicking runs for instance.
Kaneda
QUOTE (Andrew Cockburn @ Dec 9 2007, 02:14 AM) *
I'm glad smile.gif

And since you got 2 answers before I even read your question I see I am not needed around here anymore sad.gif

(just kidding - great to see others helping out with theory, and cool to see Kaneda back, even if it is just briefly wink.gif )


Stop the humble pie. You're essential, Andrew. smile.gif

Speaking for myself, I tend to just complicate things laugh.gif People would run away screaming if I ran the place wink.gif
FretDancer69
QUOTE (Andrew Cockburn @ Dec 9 2007, 05:01 PM) *
Aha! Very good question!

The answer is that there is no set way to do it.

Do it in one way and you will get boxes, do it slightly differently and you will get 3 note per string scales. Do it as you said and you can play the whole scale on 1 string. What these are, are patterns that reproduce the scale. Each scale has many possible patterns on the guitar, some are more useful and common than others - there are no rules on when to change string though, just convention, and convention is dictated by what works best. Boxes are good for beginners, and arpeggios, 3nps are great for fast speedpicking runs for instance.



ohmy.gif I see ohmy.gif ohmy.gif thanks alot Andrew couldn't have explained it better, once again thanks! smile.gif
Andrew Cockburn
QUOTE (Kaneda @ Dec 9 2007, 09:19 PM) *
Stop the humble pie. You're essential, Andrew. smile.gif

Speaking for myself, I tend to just complicate things laugh.gif People would run away screaming if I ran the place wink.gif


Here's the plan then - I'll lure them in with the simple stuff, then you nail 'em when they can no longer run away biggrin.gif

QUOTE (FretDancer69 @ Dec 9 2007, 11:04 PM) *
ohmy.gif I see ohmy.gif ohmy.gif thanks alot Andrew couldn't have explained it better, once again thanks! smile.gif


Cool smile.gif
JensN
A great theory lessons Andrew. I have one question at the moment though.

As I've understood things (from other sources) one should always construct scales with accumulative letter names,
i.e. C D E F G A B, and then apply your scale pattern with sharps or flats as necessary to get your scale.

Now your example look like this:

QUOTE
So, we have built our scale of G# major according to our major scale formula to get the notes:

G# A# C C# D# F G


Was there a specific reason for the C C# choice?
I would have thought it would be G# A# B# C# D# E# F##
If I'm just confused and have gotten things completely wrong, please let me know. smile.gif

The acctual tones played on the fretboad for those 2 would be the same though, if I'm not completly lost...
JensN
Anyone?
Am I totally off here?
DeepRoots
QUOTE (JensN @ Feb 9 2008, 09:52 PM) *
Anyone?
Am I totally off here?

You are right smile.gif

I believe andrew wrote it like that as it is an introduction to scales, didn't want to confuse anybody with double sharps or a B# ("hey i thought there was no such thing?!?")

well picked up though - i see you are on the right track wink.gif
Davidian
It's just a matter of notation, I think.
The 'formula' you wrote down, is exactly the same as the other one. The quoted one is, for me, the easiest. You can't get confused...
I think the way you chose to write down the formula, is the diatonic way, which means you never write the same letter dwon twice...



I am not an expert in this, and it could be wrong what I just wrote... But I hope it's right, and it helped you out wink.gif
EDIT: DeepRoots was faster than me...
JensN
Thank you both.
I was a bit confused about it, but I'm glad to here I'm on the right track. smile.gif

Edit: and yes, now that you mention it, I can imagine how a B# and double # could be confusing as well.
DeepRoots
Good to see you're having fun with it smile.gif

Now go have fun with the rest of Andrew's awesome series wink.gif

<clutches theory bible tightly> rolleyes.gif
Andrew Cockburn
QUOTE (DeepRoots @ Feb 9 2008, 05:04 PM) *
You are right smile.gif

I believe andrew wrote it like that as it is an introduction to scales, didn't want to confuse anybody with double sharps or a B# ("hey i thought there was no such thing?!?")

well picked up though - i see you are on the right track wink.gif


Thanks for the defence DeepRoots smile.gif

Things get a bit hairy with that many harps and I didn;t want to confuse things but you are absolutlely correct.
JensN
I'm indeed enjoying Andrew's theory lessons.
Big kudos for the effort you have put in here Andrew!

At the moment I have more time then usual to dig into theory since it seems I have been a bit over ambitious with exercises. I will let the guitars rest for a week or two to let my left hand get back into shape. But I think the theory lessons will be a huge advantage when I get back to playing again. smile.gif
Muris Varajic
QUOTE (JensN @ Feb 10 2008, 04:34 PM) *
I'm indeed enjoying Andrew's theory lessons.
Big kudos for the effort you have put in here Andrew!

At the moment I have more time then usual to dig into theory since it seems I have been a bit over ambitious with exercises. I will let the guitars rest for a week or two to let my left hand get back into shape. But I think the theory lessons will be a huge advantage when I get back to playing again. smile.gif


Absolutely,learning theory while you're having practicing break is
THE BEST you can do,thumbs up! smile.gif
JCJXXL
Due to an injury that prevents me from playing I've decided to finally jump into Andrew's theory lessons while I'm healing.

Excellent stuff Andrew! THANK YOU!!!

I have a question about boxes. You mentioned that one could simply move the box up to play in a different key. For example, slide your box/pattern up from G on the low E to A on the low E and you're now in the key of A.

If this is true why are there different shaped boxes then? Why couldn't one learn just one box and simply move the box accordingly to be in the desired key? What is the reason for learning all of the different shaped boxes for a scale?
Andrew Cockburn
A very wise idea - both to rest, and to learn some theory!

So, in answer to your question, its pretty simple really, if you were stuck with one box, you would be limited to a couple of octaves of notes. What if you started with that A major box on the E string but wanted to play some really high notes 3 octaves or more up? Well, you would just use a different box- each box has an overlapping range of notes within the scale, and you pretty much pick the one that suits the register you want to play in at that particular time. When you get better with the boxes you can string them together to make great long scalar runs that span more notes that you would be able to play with just a single box - hope that helps!
JCJXXL
Thanks! I understand your answer, it makes sense.

EDIT: Had another question but I understand why we can't use the same box on higher frets because we'd be out of key then. Duh.
Animosity
Okay..

So, I've decided that I want to learn theory so I am starting tonight. biggrin.gif

I just gave this article a once over (I'm sure I will read it quite a few times) and I have one question so far:

If the formula for a Major scale is 2 2 1 2 2 2 1, what is the formula for a Minor scale?
Sollesnes
W H W W H W W, or 2 1 2 2 1 2 2. It's the same grouping, just starting from the sixth note, as minor is the aeolian mode.
Animosity
QUOTE (Sollesnes @ Jan 20 2010, 01:58 AM) *
W H W W H W W, or 2 1 2 2 1 2 2. It's the same grouping, just starting from the sixth note, as minor is the aeolian mode.


So a G Minor scale would look like:

G, A, A#, C, D, D#, F, G

Right?

Is it not necessary to list the final G? Sort of like an implied note?
All Major and Minor scales using these two formulas will start and end with the same note, correct?
jafomatic
QUOTE (Animosity @ Jan 20 2010, 02:06 PM) *
So a G Minor scale would look like:

G, A, A#, C, D, D#, F, G

Right?

Is it not necessary to list the final G? Sort of like an implied note?
All Major and Minor scales using these two formulas will start and end with the same note, correct?


Correction to your example should be

G, A, Bb, C, D, Eb, F, G

You cannot re-use the same note as you did with: D, D# and A, A#. The rest is correct.
Animosity
QUOTE (jafomatic @ Jan 20 2010, 02:20 PM) *
Correction to your example should be

G, A, Bb, C, D, Eb, F, G

You cannot re-use the same note as you did with: D, D# and A, A#. The rest is correct.



Why not?
Isn't Bb the same as A# tonally?
jafomatic
QUOTE (Animosity @ Jan 20 2010, 09:16 PM) *
Why not?
Isn't Bb the same as A# tonally?


To our ears, yes. To the sheet music, no. The treble clef has but one poor space to represent A and but one poor line to represent B, how would you use both at the same time? The answer is that there IS a mechanism to accomplish that type of trickery but it has its own drawbacks as you'll see when you get to that part in the theory chapters. Further, everyone else will wonder why that extra level of hassle was used incorrectly.

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