Guitar Lesson – Music Theory Part 1 – Take a "Step"

Okay, we are finally at my favorite part of learning guitar — Music Theory!  I like numbers and math… what can I say.

In another post, we already went over the pro’s and con’s of learning theory.  But before we dive in, I just want to say… If you can count to 8, you can learn theory.  If you can add and subtract, you can learn theory.  If you can read this blog but cannot count and add/subtract, then perhaps you’d enjoy these more.

So let’s get started!

First, let’s look at an octave (from a note back to itself again but either higher or lower in pitch) on a piano.

I like using this to illustrate the sequence of notes because a lot of folks may have had piano lessons when they were young.  (Why do all the mothers think their child should play piano??)

On the piano, notes get higher (“sharp”) as you move to the right and they get lower (“flat”) as you move to the left.

Going up starting at C, you get:
C   C#|Db   D   D#|Eb   E   F  F#|Gb   G   G#|Ab   A   A#|Bb   B    (then C again)

In this picture, the ones in blue are the black keys which are the flats and sharps.  C# is the same note as Db.  D# is the same note as Eb.  So on and so forth.

Notice that there are no sharps or flats between B and C and E and F.

The relationship (or “distance”?) between notes are often referred to as “steps”.  Notes next to each other are “1/2 step” apart (on the piano, these are keys next to each other).  So from B to C is 1/2 step.  From C to D is two 1/2 or a “whole step”.
Another example:
   E  to  F           1/2 step
   B  to  C#        whole step

Let’s look how this plays out on the guitar (pun intended).

On the guitar, each fret is a 1/2 step.  On a given string, as you move down the neck (toward the body), notes get higher/sharp.  As you move up the neck (toward the head), notes get lower/flat.
Due to the different strings being tuned relatively close to each other, notes repeat on the guitar.   Notice that playing the 5th fret on the E string results in A which is the same note as playing the A-string opened.   And you can see the same relationship between the A- and D-strings.   Again for D- and G-strings.  The pattern breaks from G- to B-string… the B is on the 4th fret of the G-string.  Then back to the 5th fret on the B-string to get the E.   This, of course, is probably how you learned to tune.  (Now you know why to play those specific positions)

If you pick a string and follow it down to the 12th fret, you’ll end up at the same note as you started except one octave above.  So all-in-all, there are only 12 unique notes (in Western music).


About ckyoungmusic

Guitarist ♪ Songwriter ♪ Instructor ♪ Nice Guy ♪ Music for the Soul | Rock | Country | Blues | Pop | Folk | Funk

Posted on September 2, 2009, in Guitar Lessons, Music Theory, Notes, Steps. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Your way of writing is superb….really!!

  2. Just curious at the ´in western music´ at the end… there arent other notes are there?

  3. Hello Anonymous,As far as I know, no, there aren't other notes used in Western music. However, if you try to play along to the radio, sometimes you might think your instrument is out of turn. That might be because the song is not tuned to "440" (ie 440Hz = the note of A, standard tuning). But if you analyze the song, you will not find more than 12 unique notes (don't count octaves).I've learned recently that Indian music, for example, is not limited to 12 tonal pitches.To relate this to the guitar, the note on the 12th fret on a string is the same as when the string is opened (ie octave). Imagine in the same amount of space, there are more frets. Then you would have more than 12 tonal pitches (per octave).

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