The Scale and Chord Progression Help Thread

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Alex Smith
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After searching around the board for a thread like this to no avail, I decided to post one myself. The forum title DOES include the words "Music Theory" after all.

We'll start from the basics. I'll talk as if you don't know anything. This isn't meant to be condescending or patronizing, this is me looking out for the beginner. If you feel you are comfortable with a concept, skip it. It may also help to have a piano keyboard handy, or at least a print-out of an image, as it will make this a lot easier.


SCALES
Usually, when you play anything, a melody, a single chord, it will be part of a scale.

A scale is a collection of notes. The most common scales are the Major and Minor scales.

There are twelve available notes in an octave. An octave is the space between one note and the next higher or lower version of this note. Since this is a guitar-player's board, I'll use the guitar as an example.

Play any open string. Now, lay your finger behind the 12th fret on the same string, the frets being the metal bits on the neck of the guitar. It should be easy to find, there's usually a symbol there, most of the time different to all the other symbols inlayed on the neck. This is known as fretting a note, and I'll be using this term from now on. Play the same string, with your finger fretting at the 12th fret. Play the open string again, play the 12th fretted note again. Open string again, 12th fret again. It's the same note, and you should probably be able to hear this. The 12th fretted note is one 'octave' above your open string.

Yes, I know "oct" means eight. I'm getting to that.

So, we'll take one of the E strings. Starting with the open string, all the possible notes in an octave from E to E are:

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

Look at a picture of a piano. The white keys are

C | D | E | F | G | A | B | C

Simple enough. The black keys are the remaining sharps (#), which can also be written as flats (b). So the above 12-note scale could also be written as:

E | F | Gb | G | Ab | A | Bb | B | C | Db | D | Eb | E

Gb being F#, and so on. Whilst some teachers will say that Gb is "enharmonically equivilant" to "F#," I'm a big fan of cutting bullshit. Gb IS F#, and it's a different way of writing the notes, not a different note to fit in with the writing. We're playing music here, we're not playing writing.

There are no other possible notes between these notes. Between E and F, there isn't an E# or an Fb. Same with B and C.

Look at the fretboard on the neck of the guitar. Isn't it slightly coincidental that there are 12 frets between the octave?

Er, no. Somewhat surprisingly, the frets correspond to the possible notes that can be played in an octave.

This all-the-notes 12-sound extravaganza is called the Chromatic Scale. It just means that every note is included. When someone or something talks about chromatic notes, or moving chromatically, they mean you're playing in the chromatic scale.

Now, there are other scales too, that use a fraction of the notes in the chromatic scale. We'll start with the Majors.

Because there are no sharps or flats on the white keys of a piano, we'll use the major scale it forms as the basis of explanation.

A major scale is made up of notes. Duh. However, all major scales have two things in common. One, that they use notes from the chromatic scale, as every scale has to. Two, all the notes have the same relationship between all the other notes in the same major scale.

These relationships are known as intervals. It is the intervals between notes that make up a scale. In the chromatic scale, all the notes are next to each other. This interval is known as a "half-step." Whenever you move from one note to the note next to it in the chromatic scale, you have moved a "half-step." Funnily enough, when you skip a note, you have moved just a "step." So, looking at the chromatic scale diagram above, the interval between E and F is a half step, but the interval between G and A is a step.

The major scale's intervals look like this.

Step | Step | Half-Step | Step | Step | Step | Half-Step

Somewhat coincidentally, this kind of pattern fits in with the white notes on a piano...

C |Step| D |Step| E |Half-Step| F |Step| G |Step| A |Step| B |Half-Step| C

Therefore, the white notes on the piano make up a Major Scale. That's right - it's C Major.

This intervals pattern can be applied to any "root" note, in this case C, known as the "tonic," to make a scale. Start it on Ab, apply the intervals, you'll have the Ab major scale.

There is another common scale, known as the Minor. The Minor's interval pattern is:

Step | Half-Step | Step | Step | Half-Step | Step | Step

Compare this to the Major scale. That's right, it's the Major scale, just pushed a bit that way.

Surely, this would mean that there's a Minor scale with no sharps or flats, therefore making it really easy to explain? Yes.

A |Step| B |Half-Step| C |Step| D |Step| E |Half-Step| F |Step| G |Step| A

And there's the A minor scale.

So what's the difference between the scales, if the notes are exactly the same? Well, we'll come to that. But for now, note that since A minor is the same as C major, A# minor is therefore the same as C# major, etc, etc.

When it's said that something's in "C," just take to mean "C major." When a minor scale is written down, such as A minor, then it will be written as "Am," the little "m" being what makes the scale, assuming it's reffering to a scale, minor.

I know what you're asking. You're asking, are there any other scales that have the same intervals as the Major and Minor scales, such as C or Am? Yes. Modes.

It may be useful to learn the intervals of the major scale on just one string, so I can talk and you can demonstrate to yourself on the guitar at this point. If your a proficient player already, we'll move on. If not, I'll wait.

Done? Good. Play your major scale. Now play your tonic, or in simple terms root, note, and then play the note that's two of those intervals DOWNWARDS in the scale. E.g., if your scale is C major, play an A note. Now play your scale, starting and ending on that note, for one octave. That should be your minor scale.

Let's say you're playing in C. If you want to make this really easy, go and learn the C major scale, and I'll wait.

Ah, you're back. Now play your Major Scale, starting and ending on D. Now E. And F, and so on. You just played different modes. Have a lolly.

When you started on D, you played "D Dorian." When you started on E, you played "E Phrygian." Here's a table coming up, it'll make things easier.

Using the intervals of C major, starting on different notes in C major, you played:

C - Ionian (the same as the major scale, Ionian is the correct term for the scale)
D - Dorian
E - Phrygian
F - Lydian
G - Mixolydian
A - Aeolian (the same as the minor scale, Aeolian being the correct term)
B - Locrian

Therefore, E Phrygian has the same set of intervals as C Ionian (C major), but is a completely different scale.

Why is it a completely different scale? Because it depends what key you're in. And so, what CHORDS you play the scale over.


BASIC CHORDS
A chord is three or more notes. Not two, that's a "double stop." Let's lay out that C major or A minor scale, for the purposes of explanation again, and extend it to two octaves so the upcoming explanation can be easier. If you want to use a different scale, write out the notes in the scale, and all the explanations should be transferrable to different scales.

C | D | E | F | G | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | A | B | C

The chords you'll hear most often about are "triad" chords. This is a chord with three notes in it, like a "triangle" has three sides and a "tricycle" has three wheels. Just TRI and understand... OK, moving on.

The most common triad chords are major and minor. We've come across the scales before, but when "Am" is written, it usually means the A minor chord.

The main triad chords, the ones that in theory are the ones you're supposed to play when you're in C major, and the modes in relation to it are very easy to work out.

C | D | E | F | G | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | A | B | C
C major

C | D | E | F | G | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | A | B | C
D minor

C | D | E | F | G | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | A | B | C
E minor

C | D | E | F | G | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | A | B | C
F major

C | D | E | F | G | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | A | B | C
G major

C | D | E | F | G | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | A | B | C
A minor

C | D | E | F | G | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | A | B | C
B diminished

I won't teach finger positions for this here. Find a chord chart.

So, in terms of intervals, the rule for the major chord is, Tonic (root) note, skip two whole steps, Third (in the scale in relation to the tonic) Note , skip one and a half steps, Fifth (in the scale in relation to the tonic) Note. As you could work out from the improvised charts, the intervals in the minor chord are therefore Tonic Note, skip one and a half steps, Third Note, skip two whole steps, Fifth. There's a single half-step difference between the Major and Minor chords.

The diminished chord is a minor chord with the Fifth note lowered down one half-step.

These chordal patterns in the scale can be written using Roman numerals:

I - ii - iii - IV - V - vi - vii dim - I

The capitalised numerals are the majors, the lower-case numerals are the minors. This is the pattern for the major scale. Therefore, for the minor scale, the pattern is

i - ii dim - III - iv - v - VI - VII - vi

The rest of the scale patterns should be a challenge, but doable to work out. I'll leave this to you, it'll be good exercise. If you don't want to concentrate on which specific scale to use when playing chords under a mode-based melody, then just split the scales into three categories of sound; major, minor, and diminished. The placing of the scales is dependent on whether you have a minor chord or a major chord as the tonic chord...

MAJOR:
Ionian, Lydian, Mixolydian

MINOR:
Dorian, Phrygian, Aeolian

DIMINISHED:
Locrian


ADVANCED CHORDS
Chords can be extended by adding more notes in the scale.

Now, if you've got notes One, Three and Five already, you'll be able to add notes Two, Four, Six and Seven to the chord. Don't add all of them at once, that'd just be stupid. And impossible to play on a guitar.

You can add a sixth note, which is just adding the next note in the scale past the fifth. If you play Em, Em6 (the way it's written) would be made up of E - G - B - C, whilst F6 is F - A - C - D. Simple enough.

Sevenths are a little more complicated. There are major, minor, and dominant sevenths... in fact, there's a whole load of other sevenths, but the main ones are:

When you see something like G7, it means dominant seventh.

When you see something like Cmaj7, it means major seventh.

When you see something like Dm7, it means minor seventh.

Minor sevenths and dominant sevenths use the same seventh note. Using the scale of C again, you can see that E is a minor chord. If C is E's sixth note, then D is logically E's dominant seventh or minor seventh note, but only because the E chord in C is E minor.

And in D minor, C is the minor seventh note. Technically, when you play a minor chord, dominant sevenths have nothing to do with it.

Dominant sevenths happen when you play a major chord, but use the seventh note that you're used to from a minor chord.

To find the dominant and therefore minor seventh note, play your triad and add the note that is one and a half intervals above the Fifth note. So C Major's Dominant Seventh note is Bb.

Therefore C7 shouldn't really fit in the major scale. It sounds alright because of the blues, and it's use of the minor pentatonic scale over a major chord occasionally. I won't explain the pentatonic scale now. It's quite simple, and is probably explained many times over on the web.

Looking at the scale, we can work out with the intervals that the minor sevenths are:

Dm7, Em7, Am7.

What a surprise. Those are all the minors. Coincidence? You decide.

In terms of dominant sevenths, only G7 exists in the C scale.

So what about C and F, and B diminished?

C and F don't have a dominant seventh note, so they use just the seventh note. In C, this would obviously be B. In F, it's E. To find the major seventh, just add two whole steps after the Fifth note of the triad and play the note.

Surely, Bdim (B diminished) just has the equivelant of Bdim7?

Well, it's more complicated than that. Bdim7 is basically Bdim with a 6th note added. To fit into a scale, the seventh note added to Bdim is simply the minor, or dominant seventh. It's known as the Bm7b5, which is simply Bm7 with a flattened fifth. It can also be written as "Bø7."

That's your minor and major and dominant sevenths done. Now, 9ths and 11ths and 13ths are easy. Since there are 7 notes in a scale, the 8th note is the tonic, one octave higher. The 9th is the second note, the 11th the fourth, etc.

When you know the chords in a scale, that isn't everything done.

More coming soon. Feel free to add your own lessons to this thread, make it useful.
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Ricardo
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Otherwise summed up by this:
http://www.carolinaclassical.com/scales/circle2.jpg

Seriously, just study this and you will get the chord/scale connection. :wink:
Alex Smith
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Ricardo wrote:Otherwise summed up by this:
http://www.carolinaclassical.com/scales/circle2.jpg

Seriously, just study this and you will get the chord/scale connection. :wink:
And my informative post for others has predictably been trashed by a simple URL.

...Damn :D
Pyrostasis
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Alex Smith wrote: Therefore, E Phrygian has the same set of intervals as C Ionian (C major), but is a completely different scale.
great post! :D but i think that this part is badly phrased and a little misleading. It should say that E Phrygian has the same notes as C Ionian but different intervals:

C - D - E - F - G - A - B
I - II - III - IV - V - VI - VII

E F G A B C D
I ii iii IV V vi vii

So because Phrgyian starts on the 3rd degree on C ionian its contains the same notes but the intervals have now changed in respect to their scale degrees.
shallowsoul
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Hello to everyone

this post has helped me no end :D

i have always been a fan of steve vai

ever since i owned a black and white ibanez rg 550
10yrs ago

i have been playing guitar for a few years now and only recently took a big interest in music theory, (i want to learn my instrument inside and out)

one thing i cant seem to make sense of, (call me a idiot)

is musical keys
:?

can any of you talented people help me understand them

i love this part of the vai forum its great :D

oh yea just got my copy of G3 in tokyo and vai is awesome
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burnt out
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intervals should be numbered using arabic rather than roman numerals

major scale intervals = 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

phrygian intervals = 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7

eg.

C major scale = C D E F G A B

C phrygian = C Db Eb F G Ab Bb
Alex Smith
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Pyrostasis wrote:
Alex Smith wrote: Therefore, E Phrygian has the same set of intervals as C Ionian (C major), but is a completely different scale.
great post! :D but i think that this part is badly phrased and a little misleading. It should say that E Phrygian has the same notes as C Ionian but different intervals:

C - D - E - F - G - A - B
I - II - III - IV - V - VI - VII

E F G A B C D
I ii iii IV V vi vii

So because Phrgyian starts on the 3rd degree on C ionian its contains the same notes but the intervals have now changed in respect to their scale degrees.
Totally true.
burnt out wrote:intervals should be numbered using arabic rather than roman numerals

major scale intervals = 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

phrygian intervals = 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7

eg.

C major scale = C D E F G A B

C phrygian = C Db Eb F G Ab Bb
I can't tell whether you were referring to me or Pyrostasis here, burnt. So if it's the latter, set your ignore switch to ON. However, I wasn't using roman numerals to indicate intervals - I was using them to indicate the notes of a scale. Namely, the Ist, iind, iiird, IVth, Vth, vith and viith notes. I'm sure you know, in the major scale, the lowercase numerals indicate the notes that the minor (and diminished) chords are based around, whilst the uppercase numerals are the majors. ...Hope that's cleared everything up...
shallowsoul
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burnt out

:shock: wow thanks man for the links

thanks for taking the time to post them

you are one 8) dude

shallowsoul :)
user112
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thanks for this informative post!
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burnt out
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shallow soul,you're welcome!

alex smith,I understood both of your posts were about scale degrees/intervals and was just commenting that arabic numerals are the standard when discussing intervals...roman numerals generally apply more to the chords built on scale degrees so I ii iii looks like the Imaj,iimin and iiimin chords and so on...so applying those roman numerals to the scale degrees to designate intervals can cause a little confusion..I know you guys meant I = ROOT,ii = minor second,iii=minor third,etc. but that could cause confusion or conflict with the convention of labeling chords IMaj,iimin,iii,min,IVMaj,VMaj(or V7),vimin,vii*(dim),etc

I understood what you guys meant but I'm not so sure a beginner wouldn't be a little confused by it,if not now then later when they started to encounter chords labeled with the roman numerals...
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