Unlike some forms of traditional eastern European and Asian music, western music uses 12 notes. Figure 13-1 shows the names of the notes:


The names of the 12 notes used in music

The difference of pitch between two adjacent notes in our scale is called a "semitone". Each fret on your fretboard equals one semitone. Each string on your guitar can produce every note in the scale though the notes are found in different frets on each string. In standard tuning the top and bottom strings are tuned to the same note, ('E") so, they do produce the same notes in the same frets. Standard tuning results in having your strings tuned to these notes:

(Top string)- E A D G B E -(Bottom string)

See the lesson about TUNING for more details regarding how to tune your guitar.

The sharps (#) and flats (b) in our scale can be considered one note with two names. For example, C# (C Sharp) is a semitone up from C but it is also a semitone down from D and can be called 'Db' (D flat). (E and B don't have sharps, and F and C don't have flats, however, there are some very rare instances when the names E#, B#, Fb, and Cb are used instead of F, C, E, and B respectively).

To determine the note produced by any fret, use the alphabet (A, B, C, D, E, F, G, then repeat A, B, C etc.), starting with the note to which that string is tuned. If your top string is tuned to E then playing the first fret on that string would give you an F note, and the next fret would give you an F# note, and the next fret gives you a G. Remember, the only notes that don't have sharps (#) are E and B, and the only ones that don't have flats (b) are F and C.

Before we proceed, I should explain what an octave is. The word octave implies 8 of something...... notes perhaps... yeah... that's it.... notes! So, an octave is basically a series of 8 notes, also known as a scale. The problem with that definition is, it doesn't really describe the relationship between the first and the last note of the series or "scale". Therefore, to be really technical and precise:

An "octave" is a range of notes starting with any note and:

a) Ending with a note that is higher in pitch AND has exactly twice the frequency (rate of vibration) of the first note.


b) Ending with a note that is lower in pitch AND has exactly one half the frequency (rate of vibration) of the first note.

An "open" string is one played without being fingered anywhere on the fretboard. If you play an open 'E' (top or 1st) string, and then finger that string on the 12th fret, you hear an E note an octave higher (often represented by two inlays in that fret). If you go from that note to the open E string again, you hear a note an octave lower than the 12th fret note. Unlike the tonic sol-fa, which only includes 8 notes of an octave, your fretboard provides 13 notes of an octave on each string. In fact, due to the length of the guitar neck, notes are repeated above the octave on each string, but for now we will only concern ourselves with the first 13 frets.

If you play an open E on your top string and proceeded to play each fret between the open string and the 12th fret, you would be playing the CHROMATIC scale of E. A Chromatic scale consists of all 13 notes within one octave. (e.g. The Chromatic scale of E is: E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E). Figure 13-2 shows every note in the first 12 frets of each string (Chromatic Scales).


Guitar fretboard showing every note on each string in the first 12 frets


You probably learned, or heard at least, the "sol-fa" scale: "Do Ra Me Fa So La Ti Do. The Sol-fa can also be called "The Major Tonic Scale". It consists of eight notes, starting with any given note and ending with the next higher octave of that same note. The starting and ending notes of an octave harmonize perfectly with each other due to the fact that the frequency (pitch) of one is an exact multiple of the other. The starting and ending notes use the same note name, but they are numbered as 1 and 8 respectively. In the case of the tonic sol-fa we use 'Do', which represents the starting note (1), and can be any note from A to G#.

Let's use the note "E" and call it "Do" in the scale. Use your top string to play the entire Sol-Fa. Play your top string open and sing the note as "Do" then use Figure 13-3 to find the rest of the notes in this Sol-fa scale.


Guitar fretboard showing the tonic sol-fa for the scale of E major

You have just played the E Major Scale. You started with E (called the Root) and ascended by specific steps (intervals) toward the next higher octave of E (numbered 8). The 4th note (sung as "Fa") is an A. The 5th note (So) is a B. The numbers - in this case, the A being the 4th note and the B being the 5th - represent a position in the scale relative to the starting note (Root) of the scale. You can transpose this scale to any other key (starting note or Root note) by moving up by the same amount of frets (semitones) as you did from your open E string. Try it by playing your open A string as the starting note and singing it as "Do". Figure 13-4 shows the frets played and the resulting notes in the scale of A Major. Although the notes of this scale are different, you can see that the pattern of the notes (that is, the number of frets between each step) is the same as the E Major scale in Figure 13-3. Notice that the 4th note is now a D. We can express this in a few ways. We can say that "D is the 4th in the A Major scale", or, "if you play A and move up a Major 4th, you get a D". When you played the E Major scale in Figure 13-3, we could have said, "A is the Major 4th of E", and, "B is the Major 5th of E".


Guitar fretboard showing  the frets played and the resulting notes in the scale of A Major

Whenever you see or hear "3rds, 4ths, 5ths, 6ths, or 7ths mentioned, it simply refers to the relative position of that note in a scale. You need to know if the note in question is part of a Major or a Minor scale, but, once you know the pattern of these two types of scales you can determine the names of the 3rd, 4th, 5th, etc. note(s), and where they are located on your fretboard. I mentioned earlier that each fret on your fretboard equals one semitone. It doesn't take a math genius to figure out that two semitones must equal a "Tone" (for you math lovers: Semitone * 2 = Tone). If one fret equals a semitone then 2 frets must equal a Tone. You can remember the "intervals" (number of Tones and/or Semitones between the 1st note and the other notes in a scale) by using a shorthand expression. Look at FIGURE 13-3 again and you'll see that as you ascend the fretboard the Intervals in relation to the Root (1st) note are: TONE, TONE, SEMITONE, TONE, TONE, TONE, SEMITONE. The shorthand expression for Major Scales can be written as TT.S.TTT.S. Start with any note, move up according to these steps (Tone or Semitone) and you have the Major scale of the starting note. Figure 13-5 is a table showing the 12 MAJOR scales and their intervals including the Dominant 7ths and Major 7ths.

NOTE: The Dominant 7th is not actually part of the Major scales, but it has been included in the chart because it is the 7th that is used in standard chords marked as: E7, F7, F#7, G7, G#7, A7, A#7, B7, C7, C#7, D7, D#7.


Table showing showing the 12 Major scales and their intervals, including the Dominant 7ths and Major 7ths




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