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Guitar Lessons With The 12 Tone Western Music System

May 6, 2008
This lesson will cover the names of intervals that we use in our 12 tone Western music system. Also, I will include musical examples as ear training exercises to help you recognize these intervals. Before we proceed, lets review a few musical terms and their definitions.

Definitions: # Western Music System - This is defined as the system that we use to compose music. The basis of which is the 12 tone per octave scale or the Chromatic Scale. # Half Step - This term is defined as the smallest distance there is between two notes in Western music. The distance from A to A# is one Half Step. On the fretboard of the guitar, a Half Step is 1 fret up or down from the current note being played. # Whole Step - This term is defined as the combination of two Half Steps. The distance from A to B is one Whole Step. A to A# being one Half, A# to B being one Half. On the fretboard of the guitar, a Whole Step is two frets from the current note being played. # Sharp (#) - This term and its corresponding symbol is defined as raising the current note one Half Step. A# is one Half Step raised from A. # Flat (b) - This term and its corresponding symbol is defined as lowering the current note one Half Step. Ab is one Half Step lowered from A. # Enharmonic Equivalent - This term is defined as one note or one pitch, that has two different names. G# and Ab are the same note or pitch. The different names are used depending on context. Usually, if one is showing a scale moving upward, sharps are used. If the scale is moving downward, flats are used.

Chromatic Scale The Chromatic Scale is a 12 tone scale from one note to an octave above or below. For example, lets view the C Chromatic Scale: C / C#(Db) / D / D#(Eb) / E / F / F#(Gb) / G / G#(Ab) / A / A#(Bb) / B / C

If you were to play the C note on the third fret of the 5th string and then play every note all the way to the C note on the 15th fret, these are the notes that you would have played. You will probably notice a couple of things right off hand about this scale. First, several notes have two names. These are known as Enharmonic Equivalents. A# is the Enharmonic Equivalent of Bb. Db is the Enharmonic Equivalent of C#. You will also notice that there is no sharp or flat between B and C and between E and F. The reason for this goes back to when our 12 tone system was first being created. If you're interested in music history there are many sources available for further investigation. For now, let it stand that, for the most part, we will not use B#/Cb or E#/Fb. There are times in which you will see these but you need not be concerned about that quite yet.

The interesting thing about the Chromatic Scale and the reason it is included here, is that the scale contains every interval in our Western music system. So, lets take a look at those intervals.

Intervals Intervals are how we define the distance between two notes. Scales and chords are constructed of intervals. An understanding of intervals will help you to better understand the fundamentals of all music. What we will study are the names of the intervals, how each interval is played on the guitar and an example of each interval in music. In the musical examples, the bold face indicates where the interval is in the lyrics. To the right of each interval, you will see the abbreviation that is used for that interval. As a guideline, an upper case letter means Major and Augmented and a lower case letter means minor and diminished.

Unison This interval occurs when the same note of the same pitch is played. Strike the C note twice, that is Unison

Minor 2nd (m2) This interval occurs when two notes are separated by 1 half step. C (5th string, third fret) to C# (5th string, fourth fret) is a Minor 2nd. Examples: The recurring two notes in the theme from the movie "Jaws"

Major 2nd (M2) This interval occurs when two notes are separated by 1 whole step. C (5th string, third fret) to D (5th string, fifth fret) is a Major 2nd. Example: "Happy Birth-day to you."

Minor 3rd (m3) This intervals occurs when two notes are separated by 1 whole step and 1 half step. From this point on, intervals will be described using only half steps, as that is the norm. So, this interval contains three half steps. You will notice, as is logical, that the number of half steps equates to the number of frets between the notes, since one fret up or down is one half step. So, between the two notes in a minor 3rd, there are three frets. C (5th string, third fret) to D# (5th string, sixth fret) is a minor third. Examples: "To dream the impossible dream" and "Oh-o say can you see" (Star Spangled Banner)

Major 3rd (M3) This interval occurs when two notes are separated by four half steps or four frets. C (5th string, third fret) to E (5th string, seventh fret) is a major third. Examples: "From the halls of Montezuma" and "Have your-self a merry little Christmas" and "Well I come from Alabama" (Oh Susanna)

Perfect 4th (P4) This interval occurs when two notes are separated by five half steps. C (5th string, third fret) to F (5th string, eighth fret) is a perfect fourth. You'll no doubt recognize this interval as most of your guitar strings are tuned to perfect fourths! Examples: "Here comes the bride" and "Born free as free as the"

Diminished 5th (d5) This interval occurs when two notes are separated by six half steps. C (5th string, third fret) to F# (5th string, ninth fret) is a diminished fifth. Examples: "Ma-ri-a" (from West Side Story) Okay, maybe not an example that you know, maybe your parent's have it around!

Perfect 5th (P5) This interval occurs when two notes are separated by seven half steps. C (5th string, third fret) to G (5th string, tenth fret) is a perfect fifth. Examples: "Yo-ee-oh" (War chant of the Wicked Witch's guardsmen in The Wizard of Oz)

Minor 6th (m6) This interval occurs when two notes are separated by eight half steps. C (5th string, third fret) to G# (5th string, eleventh fret) is a minor sixth. I don't have an example for this interval.

Major 6th (M6) This interval occurs when two notes are separated by nine half steps. C (5th string, third fret) to A (5th string, twelfth fret) is a major sixth. Examples: "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean" and the first two tones in the N B C chimes.

Minor 7th This interval occurs when two notes are separated by ten half steps. C (5th string, third fret) to A# (5th string, thirteenth fret) is a minor seventh. Examples: Theme from the original Star Trek (first two notes).

Major 7th This interval occurs when two notes are separated by eleven half steps. C (5th string, third fret) to B (5th string, fourteenth fret) is a major seventh. Examples: The last phrase of "So have yourself a merry little Christmas now."

Octave Okay, well we have made it to the big octave! The interval that occurs when two notes are separated by twelve half steps. C (5th string, third fret) to C (5th string, fifteenth fret) is an octave. Examples: "Some-where over the Rainbow"

So there you have the intervals that make up Western Music system. Practice learning thsese intervals not only by sight, but by sound. Learn to play these intervals and study them in context to chords and scales. See you next time!
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HREF="http://www.50blues.com/blueschordsandscales.htm">blues guitar scales and many more. With videos, articles and backing tracks to
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