Ultimate Guitar Lesson

A Crash Course In Harmony & Theory

This is for somewhat-experienced players who want to catch up on their theory without doing a lot of reading. There is no standard music notation, but it does require you to think. There are several months’ worth of material packed into this. If the explanations are too terse for you then you need a complete beginning theory text—and there’s no crime in that.

I. Major Scale Spelling

Essential Fact 1: There are natural half steps from B to C and from E to F. All other natural consecutive notes are a whole step apart, e.g. A to B. The pitch that lies between A and B is called either A# or Bb. Exactly which name is correct is determined by the starting note of the scale, as we’ll see below.

Essential Fact 2: The major scale formula is whole whole half whole whole whole half. The other way to say it is half steps from 3 to 4 and from 7 to 8. Memorize both.

Each letter is used exactly one time in any major scale, which determines whether a sharp or flat is used to maintain the correct order of whole and half steps. If done correctly you will not need to mix sharps and flats in any major scale.

Half steps are marked with carets (^).

G major scale: G A B^C D E F#^G
  1 2 3^4 5 6 7 ^8

D major scale: D E F#^G A B C#^D
  1 2 3^4 5 6 7 ^8

Db major scale: Db Eb F^Gb Ab Bb C^Db
  1 2 3^4 5 6 7^8

All theory relates back to the major scale. Practice spelling major scales from all these roots: C G D A E B F# F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb Cb. Don’t move on until the process is clear to you.
A diatonic scale includes all seven notes from one root to the next (Greek dia: across, and tonos: tone). Notes or chords drawn strictly from a particular scale are said to be diatonic to it. Notes or chords that are outside the scale are non-diatonic to it.