In practicing, I strongly advice to become just as familiar with the minor
scales for all pitches, as you are with the major scales for all pitches. Also,
understand the relative minors to each scale. The best way to do this, I feel,
is through the Circle of Fifths.
The Pentatonic Scale
Ah, the Pentatonic Scale. The crutch of the rock guitarist. The cliff notes
of tonal theory. The scale responsible for making Eric Clapton a millionare!
The pentatonic scale is just another type of scale, similar to the major
or minor. As such, a major and minor pentatonic scale exists. So, how 'bout
we have a good look at those today.
Let's look at the diatonic scales (major and minor) again, and look at the
intervals a little differently than we were. I was introducing them as
either (t-t-s-t-t-t-s) or (t-s-t-t-s-t-t), for major and minor, respectively.
Here's another way to look at it.
Let's take C major again (are we getting sick of this scale, hmmmmm?)
C - D - E - F - G - A - B
Start with the root, and another way to think of the scale is
Root - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7
Okay, boring. Whatever. Look at Cminor and you'll notice where I'm going with
C - D - Eb - F - G - Ab - Bb
Root - 2 - b3 - 4 - 5 - b6 - b7
Okay! Now do you see where I'm going with this? A minor scale is just a
major scale with a lowered 3rd, 6th, and 7th.
Now, how can we use this information for evil? Well.....wait, wrong thread.
Anyhoo, looking at the scale as a whole group of intervals, in relation to
the root, can be easier than thinking, "okay, Eb, um....minor, okay, first
um, tone, then um....a....semitruck, um, tone, then....um....wait!" See
what I mean?
I like this approach when I'm looking at the fingerboard. If you understand
the intervalic relationship on your fingerboard, playing any scale will be easier,
knowing the intervals of the scale from the root.
So how does this pentatonic stuff fit in? Like I said, it's just another type
of scale. There's nothing more special, or less special, about it, in comparison
to the diatonic scale.
Okay, here's Pentatonic Major: (director's cut):
t - t - 1.5t - t - 1.5t
Okay, humor me. C Pentatonic Major. Start with the root, C. Move up a tone,
D. Move up another tone, E. Now, one and a half tones to G, then another tone
C Pentatonic Major = C - D - E - G - A - c
Here's how I like to think about it:
Root - 2 - 3 - 5 - 6
Ahhhhh, so root = C. Then a second, D. A third, is E. What's a fifth from C,
why, it's G! Then a 6th, A.
While I'm thinking of it..... C Pentatonic minor:
1.5t - t - t - 1.5t - t
C Pentatonic Minor. Start with C. Follow the formular, um....C, then Eb, then
F, G, Bb.
Here's how I like to think about this one:
Root - b3 - 4 - 5 - b7
C - Eb - F - G - Bb - c
Pentatonic Major and Minor. So, what do you do with them? Why jeez boy, the
same thing you do with every scale, you play it and play it and play it. You
play it ascending and descending. You play it for two octaves, then 3. You play
it out of sequence. You doodle around in using only scale tones. You figure
out the triads in those scales, you play those. You let your ears get the flavor
of the scale. You let your fingers know them inside and out. You solo in them.
Pentatonic scales are the lifeblood of rock music. Listen very closely to the
differences between the Pentatonic Scales and the Diatonic Scales. It's just
a matter of letting your ear here what is different. What is a Pentatonic
Major scale but a Diatonic scale without the 4 or 7?
What is the Pentatonic Minor scale but a Diatonic minor scale without the
2 or 6?
A good question to ask yourself is, why take out those notes to build a scale?
What is so special about those notes? Now, I could give you some answers as
to what is accepted in music circles, but really, it's more important to listen
to the differences of those scales, and LET YOUR EARS tell you
the differences, so that you can make up your own mind about how you
want to use these scales, and how you want to play them. I can't encourage that
Scales for all Keys
Okay, so now we've seen the major and minor scales, pentatonic scales, and
We've seen the "formula" for creating scales is a system of using
whole tones and semi-tones (whole steps and half steps). I also mentioned that
there are twelve different tones (or notes) in music, so we have scales for
twelve different keys. Let's look at the notes of the major scales for all twelve
keys. Remember, we start with the tonal center, or root, and use the formula
of t-t-s-t-t-t-s, which is also 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 as discussed in another post.
So, here we go:
C: C - D - E - F - G - A - B - c
F: F - G - A - Bb - C - D - E - f
Bb: Bb - C - D - Eb - F - G - A - bb
Eb: Eb - F - G - Ab - Bb - C - D - eb
Ab: Ab - Bb - C - Db - Eb - F - G - ab
Db: Db - Eb - F - Gb - Ab - Bb - C - db
Gb: Gb - Ab - Bb - Cb - Db - Eb - F - gb
B: B - C# - D# - E - F# - G# - A# - b
E: E - F# - G# - A - B - C# - D# - e
A: A - B - C# - D - E - F# - G# - a
D: D - E - F# - G - A - B - C# - d
G: G - A - B - C - D - E - F# - g
Now that we see all of the major keys, we know that the relative natural
minor for all of these keys is the sixth position (Aeolian) of the
major scale. So for Cmaj, the minor key is:
A - B - C - D - E - F - G - a
For Gmaj, we have:
E - F# - G - A - B - C - D - e
Go through all twelve keys, like I did for the major keys, and get the natural
minor key. So build the natural minor, t-s-t-t-s-t-t, or (1-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7).
Do this for all keys.
I like the manner of deriving the scale from the intervallic relationship.
Instead of thinking tones and semitones, remember that your whole scale is your
1-2-3-4-5-6-7, and to get a minor scale, lower the 3, 6, and 7. Take A Major.
Here's the major scale:
A - B - C# - D - E - F# - G# - a
Lower the 3, 6, and 7 for the minor key:
A - B - C - D - E - F - G - a
Building chords is a system of 3rds. I've discussed some of these intervals
before in talking about Major, Minor, and Diminished Triads, all which
appear naturally in the major and minor scales.
To refresh, a 3rd is an interval, a distance from one note to another.
· A Major 3rd is a distance of 2 whole steps, (or two whole tones)
· A Minor 3rd is a distance of 1.5 steps, (or one whole tone and one
Again, here's the chromatic scale:
C -- C# -- D -- D# -- E -- F -- F# -- G -- G# -- A -- A# --
From D, a major 3rd is F#
From E, a major 3rd is G#
From G, a major 3rd is B
From E, a minor 3rd is G
From C, a minor 3rd is Eb
From F, a minor 3rd is Ab
Again, when away from your instrument, a great exercise is to go over these
in your head. What's a major 3rd from G? What's a minor 3rd from B? Do this
over and over. Get it in your head.
Note: Notice how from C a minor 3rd is Eb, not D#. Although Eb and D#
are enharmonics, (the same note), the note is written as Eb, not D#. In
intervals, the notes are chosen by their distance from one another. From
C, a 3rd will always be E. If it's a major 3rd, we know it's E natural.
If it's a minor 3rd it's Eb. If it's an augmented (raised) 3rd, then it's
E#. If we want to go to another interval, a 2nd, then from C, we go to D.
If it's a major 2nd, then it's D natural. If it's a minor 2nd, then it's
Db. If it's an augmented 2nd, then the note is D#. Notice that an augmented
2nd, is the same as a minor 3rd, but they're written differently. Take some
time reviewing this concept.
Now, recall the three triads found in a major scale:
Major: Root + Major 3rd + minor 3rd
Minor: Root + minor 3rd + Major 3rd
Diminished: Root + minor 3rd + minor 3rd
Incidentally, here's another triad. It does not appear naturally in the major
Augmented: Root + Major 3rd + Major 3rd
Let's build TRIADS from the scale. Once again, constructing chords from
a major scale, let's say Cmaj, we use intervals of 3rds. I've placed the scale
position, in Roman numerals, underneath each scale tone. We take every other
note to build our triads.
C - D - E - F - G - A - B
The first chord is C-E-G. This chord has C, the root, followed by E,
a major 3rd, to G, a minor 3rd from E, which means it's a major chord.
So we have:
C: (I) : C-E-G : C Major
D: (ii) : D-F-A : D minor
E: (iii) : E-G-B : E minor
F: (IV) : F-A-C : F Major
G: (V) : G-B-D : G Major
A: (vi) : A-C-E : A minor
B: (vii) : B-D-F : B diminished
These chords are TRIADS, because they're chords built from 3rds, containing
a total of 3 notes.
7th chords are the logical extensions. 7th chords, still using 3rds,
add a forth note, the 7th!
Here are your common 7th chords:
Major 7th: Root + Major 3rd + Minor 3rd + Major 3rd
Minor 7th: Root + minor 3rd + Major 3rd + minor 3rd
Dominant 7th: Root + Major 3rd + minor 3rd + minor 3rd
Minor 7th (flat 5): Root + minor 3rd + minor 3rd + Major 3rd
Let's build one of each 7th chords for C.
C Major 7th: C to a Major 3rd is E. E to a minor 3rd is G. G to a major
3rd is B. C-E-G-B.
C Minor 7th: C to a minor 3rd is Eb. Eb to a Major 3rd is G. G to a
minor 3rd is Bb. C-Eb-G-Bb.
C Dominant 7th: C to a major 3rd is E. E to a minor 3rd is G. G to a
minor 3rd is Bb. C-E-G-Bb
C Minor 7 (flat 5): C to a minor 3rd is Eb. Eb to a minor 3rd is Gb.
Gb to a Major 3rd is Bb. C-Eb-Gb-Bb
Let's build 7th chords from the scale. Yet again, constructing chords
from a major scale, let's say Cmaj, we use intervals of 3rds. I've placed the
scale position, in Roman numerals, underneath each scale tone. We take every
other note to build our triads.
C - D - E - F - G - A - B
Look at the first chord we've constructed from this scale, which is C-E-G-B.
Look at the intervals. E is a Major 3rd from C. G is a minor 3rd from E. B is
a Major 3rd from G. So what 7th chord is Root + Major 3rd + minor 3rd + Major
3rd? A Major 7th. Do the same for all of the chords, and we have:
C: (I) : C-E-G-B : C Major7
D: (ii) : D-F-A-C : D minor7
E: (iii) : E-G-B-D : E minor7
F: (IV) : F-A-C-E : F Major7
G: (V) : G-B-D-F : G Dominant7
A: (vi) : A-C-E-G : A minor7
B: (vii) : B-D-F-A : B minor7 (b5)
Ahhhh, dear 7th chords. Now, the trick is to play all the major 7th, minor
7th, dominant 7th, and minor7b5 chords for all 12 tones. Listen to the chords
and play them at a piano if you can, so you really hear the chord voiced.
Here are some definitions of some "need-to-know" terms. Some of these
are straight from THE HARVARD CONCISE DICTIONARY OF MUSIC, a must
have for anyone serious in learning theory. I've paraphrased, added, or rewritten
where I thought it made it easier to understand.
PITCH: The perceived highness or lowness of a sound. It is a function
primarily of frequency, though at some etremes of frequency, intensity may also
affect the perception of pitch.
There are twelve pitches (or pitch classes) in Western tonal music, each of
which is represented in each octave of the entire range of pitches.
In slang: "D**n girl, dem be some crazy pitches! Get them pitches out
my face!, knowuti'msayin?
NOTE: The signs with which music is written on a staff. Colloquially,
SCALE: The underlying tonal material of some particular music, arranged
in an order or rising pitches. The basic scale is the diatonic scale, usually
referred to as the major scale, as distinguished from the pure minor scale.
Both major and minor scales may be transposed to start on any one of the twelve
pitches (pitch classes). Thus there are twelve major scales and twelve minor
scales, on in each key.
KEY: In a song (composition), the main pitch or "tonal center"
to which all of the composition's pitches are related; by extension, the entire
tonal material itself in relation to its center. Key is practically synonymous
with tonality, since one may describe a composition as being the key of, e.g.,
TONALITY: A system of organizing pitch in which a single pitch (or tone,
call the tonic), is made central. "Key" is the more popular term.
Tonality being rarely used.
CHROMATIC: An adjective applied to the scale that includes all of the
12 pitches (and thus all of the 12 semitones) contained in an octave, (as opposed
to the diatonic scale).
MAJOR SCALE: Consists of 5 whole tones (t) and 2 semitones (s) in the
following arrangement: t-t-s-t-t-t-s, where the first tone is the key or tonal
MINOR SCALE: Consists of 5 whole tones (t) and 2 semitones (s) in the
following arrangement: t-s-t-t-s-t-t, also where the first tone is the key or
CHORD: Three or more tones sounded simultaneously, two simultaneous
tones usually being designated as an interval. The most basic chords are the
major and minor triads and their inversions. Other chords that play an important
role are the seventh chord, ninth chord, the augmented sixth chord, and the
ARPEGGIO: The notes of a chord played one after another instead of simultaneously.
(Important for bassists, as bassists played arpeggios more often than not).
INTERVAL: The distance (in terms of pitch) between two pitches. Intervals
are named according to (1) the number of diatonic scale degrees comprised, as
represented in the letter names of the two pitches, and (2) the number of semitones
between the two pitches.
I'm not going to get into this definition that well. Harvard's dictionary has
a table which demonstrates it exceptionally well, but took me several reads
to fully understand. As stated in a previous post, the only important intervals,
for now, are the major 3rd (2 whole tones) and minor 3rd (1.5 whole tones).
TRIAD: A chord of three pitches consisting of a pitch called the root
and the pitches a third and fifth above it. There are four kinds of triad, depending
on the exact sizes of the intervals combined: major, minor, diminished, augmented.
DIMINISHED TRIAD: A chord consisting of the root, a minor 3rd, and then
another minor 3rd. Example: C - Eb - Gb. C being the root, Eb a minor 3rd (1.5
whole tones) from the root, and Gb being a minor 3rd from Eb. This chord is
said to be dissonant. It appears naturally in a major scale in the 7th position.
AUGMENTED: A chord consisting of the root, a major 3rd, and then another
major 3rd. Example: D - F# - A#. D being the root, F# a major 3rd (2 whole tones)
from D, and A# a major 3rd from F#. This chord is also said to be dissonant,
and does not appear naturally in the diatonic scale.
CONSONANCE / DISSONANCE: Popularly, a combination of pitches that are
pleasing or displeasing. More accurately, consonances are those combinations
of pitches that have been used in Western tonal music as suitable points of
at least momentary repose and not necessarily requiring resolution. Dissonances
are those combinations that, in Western tonal music, do not serve as points
or repose but require, instead, resolution to some consonance.
This is an extremely subjective issue. The best way to understand this is to
hear consance versus dissonance. Major and minor triads are said to be consanant
while augmented and diminished triads are said to be dissonant. Play both on
a piano. First play a diminished chord, then a major just after. Now try it
the other way around. Listen very carefully to the sound of both, and listen
how, in the first example, the diminished chord resolves to the major (if you're
in the same key with both chords). Dissonant should never be confused with "bad."
Many composers have used dissonance to make very "pleasing" music.
The best example I think, is Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring." I am not
going to touch on this subject much more for now.
ENHARMONIC: Tones that are actually one and the same degree of the chromatic
scale, but are named and written differently, e.g., G# and Ab, which are thus
said to be "enharmonically equivalent." Other examples include, F#
and Gb, A# and Bb, B# and C, E# and F.