Many people have the misconception that guitar, or any other instrument, should be learned either by just playing or going the theory route where the student learns and applies western musical theory to their playing. When it comes to playing guitar, some people just believe that by learning theory they somehow limit their creativity but it’s illogical to think that more knowledge will yield less results. In this lesson I will start out by introducing diatonic scales and their application to modern guitar playing.
The word Diatonic can mean multiple things, but in this context it refers to a seven tone scale where each note appears only once throughout the scale, as well as the fact that they have 5 whole steps and 2 half steps within their scale. The most important scale for theoretical purposes is the major scale as well it’s respective ‘church modes’, which can be constructed from the relative major scale by starting and ending on different notes within the scale, while retaining the actual notes within the scale.
The Major Scale
By far one of the easiest and most important scales on the guitar is the major scale. It is a scale that starts with the tonal center, or starting note, and continues to the major second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh and finally back to it’s original starting note. It should be noted that all chords are based upon their major diatonic scale, so when trying to form different chords, one only has to look at the original major scale and pick out certain intervals to complete a chord based upon that scale(I’ll go more in depth in another article). Since the major diatonic scale has seven different notes, seven different chords can be formed to represent these notes. For instance the C major scale contains the notes C D E F G A B, which can each represent a different chord while still containing the original notes of the C major scale, meaning that they stay in musical key. From this, a progression of chords can be extrapolated to write a song or just jam. This is done by constructing a separate chord for each note and following a pattern that assigns when the chord will be played relative to the other chords that were constructed from the scale. Progressions are simply the building of chords and notes around each other that stray or progress to a chord and thereby the associated ‘mood’ that accompanies that chord. When I say ‘mood’ I refer to the idea of scales and chords producing a certain feeling or emotion in the listener. It’s widely accepted in western musical theory that the major scale portray a kind of happy and uplifting feeling while the natural minor scale actually tends to portray a more dark and solemn sound.