Category Archives: Guitar Theory

Music Theory Part 1 – Notes

The understanding of music theory is so much more important to skilled guitar playing than many people think.  Although it is often fun to get past the learning process of theory and just start playing, to understand guitar playing at a higher level you will need to revisit it.  It’s definetely great to start playing to keep you interested in guitar because chances are very likely you won’t last long learning all about guitar and music theory without actually playing.  The problem is many people avoid music theory because it’s intimidating, time consuming and sometimes just beyond dificult to learn especially without a good teacher.

The good news is, you have us.  The point of this post is to get you started on music theory in a very understandable way.  We know if we can keep it interesting, than the chances of you continuing with it are much greater.  The reason to learn about music theory is that it helps you understand how music is built, how to put different aspects together that sound good and how to avoid things that just don’t work.  In the end, music usually ends up having many of the same structures from one style to another because the concepts of music theory are like a web that hold together the changing pitches and rythyms we call music.

In this beginning part we are going to discuss one aspect:  notes

I think everyone can probably tell you basically what a note is.  It’s a certain frequency of sound that is distinct and relatively different from the note either before of after it.  Notes have names, and although there are only 7 different names, there are variations of those.  Also, those 7 notes repeat both upward and downward in distinct patterns.  Let’s take a look at those notes and see how they relate together.  We are going to start with the note C because the middle of all notes is usually considered the note C, known as “middle C” on a piano.

So here are the basic notes:   C   D   E   F   G   A   B

Now there is a specific tone difference between one note and the next and for most notes this difference is called a whole step.  The only notes that do not have a whole step difference between them are E to F and B to C.  These two gaps are half steps.  If you picture a set of stairs, it helps when applying this idea to notes on a guitar neck.   If you have a flight of stairs, it takes two half steps to get from C to D, two half steps to get from D to E, one half step from E to F and so on.  Applying this to guitar, each half step is a single fret.  Check out this graphic for a better picture of that:

Basic Scale Steps

So if you are playing an “A” note on the guitar, there are two half steps to get to the B, which equates to two frets upward to arrive at a B note.  Fairly simple, right?  Now what about those steps without notes on them?  They do have names too, but their names are based on the notes surrounding them.  If you are on the step between A and B for example, this would be A# or Bb pronounced “A sharp” or “B flat”.  Both names are equally correct to call that note.   The same goes for the other notes.  C# and Db, D# and Eb, F# and Gb, G# and Ab.

There is your start to notes, the names we call the different tones that make up the music we play.  A few bullets to remember:

  • Every fret on the guitar equates to a note.  One way or another you can name it by the conventions explained above.
  • Notes always maintain the same gap, from one instrument to another.  A note is tied to a specific frequency of sound wave.  When two different instruments are playing the same frequency, or when you use frets from two different strings to play a sound that has the same frequency, then those are the same notes.

Our next part of the music theory lesson will be about where the notes are on the guitar neck.