Music Theory for Guitarists Part 2: Intervals, Circle of Fifths, and Scale Degrees
Welcome to Part 2!
Hey guys! Before we get started with more advanced music theory for guitarists, have you read the Introduction? Better read it first so you can easily understand this article. All done? Now that you know how to make basic scales like the major and the minor scale, we can now discuss how to make diminished and augmented scale and chords. Why do musicians have to learn scales? As with any instrument, knowing the scales will help you achieve a certain skill that not all musicians have. So, practicing scales will give you a special connection between you and your instrument. You will be more flexible when doing solos, in any key if you know the process on how to make a scale. This will be a solid foundation for you, future musicians!
Other topics in this article will include the musical alphabet, key signatures, circle of fifths, and intervals.
It is going to take time to learn music theory, just like the process of learning a new language. But worry not – Guitar-Elite will make your experience learning more easier! Because our services will surely be a benefit to you as an instrumentalist.
Music Theory: Key Signatures
Understanding key signatures
It took me ages before I was able to memorize all the key signatures. But on the bright side, I also learned a method to understand key signatures simply. It all starts with the major scale. Take this as an example: You are studying a song in the key of C – so how do you find the next chords? Just follow your major scale pattern C D E F G A B C– this is where the melody and chord progression of the song will play around. For your C major scale, the musical alphabet or notes are all natural, no sharps and no flats.
C Major Scale
C Minor Scale
So basically, this is what sharps, flats, and naturals look like (and sound like):
Pro Tip: Enharmonic tones are notes that share the same sound, but with different names. C# has the same sound as a Db; G# has the same sound as an Ab; and so on and so forth.
Most of the time when learning a pop song, chord progression will always be I-IV-V or I-ii-V.
Given that your first chord is C, which is your I, the next possible chords that you look for can either be ii or IV and V. Keep in mind that the mentioned chords are commonly used for “pop songs”. Sometimes a song might have a bridge that uses another chord progression that is not in the key you’re using – this is where modulation comes in (this will be discussed in future articles). When it comes to playing songs, the music theory on modulation will surely come in handy!
Some key signature examples
Music Theory: Circle of Fifths
Why is the circle of fifths an important part of guitar theory? This method is a powerful tool for guitarists because if you know your circle of fifths, there will no problem for you when it comes to composing your own songs or creating instrumental music. Sadly, a lot of people don’t know how to use it.
So how exactly do you use the circle of fifths? One way to use it is by picking a key to start in and slowly progress in one direction. Whether it be clockwise or counterclockwise, it wouldn’t matter since each key is related to the one beside it. Let’s take the Beatles song, “You Never Give Me Your Money“- this song follows a counterclockwise pattern from the key of A minor. Look at the image below: (1) Am is the 5th of Dm; (2) Dm is the 5th of G; (3) G is the 5th of C; (4) and C is the 5th of F. The circle breaks from there, but if you also noticed, the last group of chords – E and A minor – these are 5ths too.
Still confused about using the circle of fifths? Don’t worry – we have teachers who can help you understand it better. Sign up to Guitar-Elite and get access to more music theory lessons!
Music Theory: Intervals
In music theory, intervals are the relationship between any two notes. First off, you have to learn the distance between your root tonic or (I) to the other notes within the scale given. Take C D E F G A B C – this is your C major scale. The distance between your C and D is two, so the interval for those notes is a “2nd”. For beginners, knowing the distance between notes is already a good start. Some teachers also teach the types of intervals aside from just the plain “distance”. I am suggesting that you practice the distance of your intervals first before going to the types.
Try this out for yourself! Tell us – what are the intervals between…
- C and E?
- C and A?
- E and G?
- F and B?
Let us know your answers in the comment section below!
Distances of Notes and their Special Names
Keep in mind that the following distances are all in ascending order (the first note mentioned is lower than the second note mentioned).
- I = Unison – The distance between two identical notes is called a unison.
- II = Second – The distance between C and D is called a second. If we count the middle C as one and D as two, this a distance of a second.
- III = Third – Now, the distance between C and E. Middle C is I, D is II and E is III. So, this distance is a third.
- IV = Fourth – C to F is the fourth in this series.
- V = Fifth – If you already figured it out, the fifth is C to G.
- VI = Sixth – You’re getting the idea, right? The sixth would then be C to A.
- VII = Seventh – Last but not the least, the seventh. This is the distance from middle C to B.
Pro Tip: The eighth distance, or the “octave”, is not considered in this series because it is basically a repeated tonic.
The notes on the scale each have their own special names too! Some people do not prefer using them because it’s quite unnecessary, but it would be good to mention them at least, especially those who look into furthering their knowledge on music theory.
- Tonic (C) – The root note and the final note in your C major scale.
- Supertonic (D) – Latin: (Super) above the tonic, the second note from the root (C).
- Mediant (E) – The note between tonic and dominant, 3rd scale degree.
- Subdominant (F) – The preparation for your dominant. This fourth scale degree function is to balance the dominant to the tonic.
- Dominant (G) – The fifth scale degree in your C major scale. It is your strongest chord towards the tonic. This is also called “The Pull”.
- Submediant (A) – Middle note between your dominant and high tonic: Sixth scale degree.
- Leading tone (B) – The seventh tone of the C major scale, It is a half step lower to your high tonic (C), It is also the 3rd scale degree of G that is why it almost always has the same function as the dominant. It may lead to a resolution to the tonic.
Basic Types of Intervals
- Major (M)
- Minor (m)
- Perfect (P)
- Augmented (A or +)
- Diminished (dim or º)
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