Supplemental Material for Page 15 (Chapter 2)
Musical facts, terms, and symbols
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As the heading says, this page contains musical facts, terms and symbols that you'll need to familiar with. It's basically an introduction to "music theory", the study of how musical elements are combined and notated. Some knowledge of music theory is essential to a broader understanding of how to play or write music, and is required in order to communicate efficiently with other musicians. The introductory material here is basic, but crucial.
Most importantly, this page talks about the names of the notes on the 6th and 5th strings of the guitar. But before you can learn those notes by name, there are a few simple definitions you'll need to know:
Wholesteps and halfsteps (sometimes called "wholetones" and "halftones", or "tones" and "semitones") are specific distances between notes. On any particular string on the guitar, a wholestep is the distance of two frets, and a halfstep is the distance of one fret (i.e. from one fret to the very next). Let's use the 6th string (the low E) as an example:
Play the 6th string, 3rd fret (you can use any finger). Now move up two frets, so that you're playing the 6th string, 5th fret. You've just moved up a wholestep!
Next, let's start on the 6th string, 3rd fret again. Now move down 2 frets, to the 6th string, 1st fret. This time, you've moved down a wholestep. So wholesteps are simply distances of 2 frets on any particular string. Notice also that moving "up" simply means from a lower fret number to a higher one, like from the 3rd fret to the 5th fret. Moving from (for instance) the 3rd fret to the 1st fret would be moving down a wholestep.
Halfsteps work the same way. If you move from (for instance) the 6th string, 3rd fret to the 6th string 4th fret, you've moved up a halfstep. 3rd fret to 2nd fret is down a halfstep. So motion in halfsteps is simply motion by one fret at a time, without skipping any frets, sometimes called "chromatic" motion.
Remember that "steps" (wholesteps and halfsteps collectively) are distances of one or two frets on the same string. For instance, moving from the 6th string 3rd fret to the 5th string, 5th fret is not the distance of a wholestep.
Steps, being just a fret or two apart, are relatively small musical distances (or "intervals"). Larger intervals (three frets or more, or the equivalent) are "leaps".
Sometimes, musical distances are described by combining, or "adding up" steps. A wholestep can be called two halfsteps, or two "semitones". The distance of three frets might be called "a step and a half", etc.
BTW: Why say "wholestep" and "halfstep" instead of "one fret" and "two frets"? Because you may want to talk about these intervals with musicians who play other instruments. For instance, you can't tell a piano or trumpet player to play something "two frets higher". (Pianos and trumpets don't have frets.) You'd say "up a wholestep".
Sharps and Flats
These are the symbols used to indicate that something should be moved up a halfstep ("sharped") or down a halfstep ("flatted").
The sharp sign is similar to (but not exactly the same as) the "pound" sign (#). The flat sign vaguely resembles a lower case letter "b". Since the proper musical symbols are not available on a computer keyboard or in a standard font, the pound sign and lower case b are informally used online and in musical documents created in word processors, etc. (However, there are fonts available that include the actual musical symbols.) So for our purposes here, "sharps" and "flats" are:
# (sharp) and b (flat). Imperfect, but serviceable.
The Musical Alphabet
Musical notes are given letter names (or letter names combined with the "sharp" or "flat" designation) using the letters A, B, C, D, E, F and G. Proceeding in alphabetical order, the corresponding pitches are moving upward (or "ascending"), from lower notes to higher notes. Of course there are more than just seven notes (guitars typically have over 36 playable notes), so the musical alphabet repeats itself over & over (A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D...etc) to cover the entire range of musical pitches. (We're putting aside the "sharps" and "flats" for a moment here.)
You'll sometimes see the musical letter names written from C to B (or C to C) rather than starting on A:
C, D, E, F, G, A, B, (C)
This produces a very recognizable, "correct"-sounding pattern of notes called a "major scale", which will be introduced on page 16.
Most of the notes that are alphabetically adjacent (like A to B, or D to E) are a wholestep apart. (There's a fret between them, which will be designated with a sharp or flat.) However, B to C is the distance of just a halfstep. Same for E to F. (They're right next to each other, with no fret in between.)
Wholesteps: A to B; C to D; D to E; F to G; G to A.
Halfsteps: B to C; E to F
What about the frets between the notes that are a wholestep apart? As mentioned above, those are the "sharps" and "flats". Since "sharp" means "moved up a halfstep", the fret between an A and a B is called "A sharp" (A#). However, since "flat" means "moved down a halfstep", that same note between A and B is also called "B flat" (Bb). It's "A" moved up one (A#), and "B" moved down one (Bb) — so "A#" and "Bb" are essentially two ways of saying the same thing. (However, the terms are not always 100% interchangeable; in many musical contexts a given note should be referred to specifically by one designation or the other. For the basic purpose of knowing the names of the notes on the guitar, both "sharp" and "flat" designations are equally correct and should be learned.)
Also, while there appears to be "no such thing" as "B#" or Cb" and "E#" or Fb", there are musical contexts in which those names may (and should) be used. For our purposes here they don't really need to be acknowledged. However, in case you encounter this, "B#" would mean to play a fret usually called "C"; "Cb" would correspond to a B, "E#" to F and "Fb" to E.
Names of Notes on the 6th String
The open 6th string is tuned to the note E. Therefore, it's often called the "E" string. More specifically, it's sometimes called the "low E". This differentiates it from the 1st string, which is tuned to a higher E, and called...the "high E" (Wow!).
Since the notes are arranged in alphabetical order, the first fret is F. The second fret is F moved up one, so it's F#. The third fret is G (the next letter alphabetically after F). The second fret is G moved down one, so it's Gb. The second fret may therefore be called F# or Gb.
With the third fret being G, the fourth fret is G# (G moved up one). Since G is the furthest we go alphabetically, the fifth fret is A (back to the start of the alphabet). The fourth fret may be called G# or Ab.
With the fifth fret being A, the sixth fret is A#. The seventh fret is B. The sixth fret may be called A# or Bb.
B and C are just a halfstep apart, so the 8th fret is C.
The ninth fret is C# and/or Db; the tenth fret is D, and the eleventh is D#/Eb. The twelfth fret is E.
Many guitars have a distinguishing mark on the twelfth fret. (Perhaps two dots on the side of the neck, while other dots are "singles".) That's to identify where the pattern has been completed "once around" — the open string and the twelfth fret are both E's. (The interval of an "octave".)
If you were to proceed to the thirteenth fret, it would be F, because the E and F are just a halfstep apart (no fret in between). So the pattern that begins on the open string repeats (or starts over again) at the twelfth fret.
Names of Notes on the 5th String
If you know the notes on the 6th string, it's simple to learn the 5th string, because the pattern is the same. However, the 5th string is tuned to an "A" (so it's called the "A string"). This means the first fret is A# or Bb, the second fret is B, the third fret is C (since B and C are just a halfstep apart, with no sharp or flat in between), etc.
Why does page 15 present the notes on the 5th and 6th strings only (omitting strings one thru four)? Two reasons:
1. In the upcoming pages, Sensible Guitar will present chords and scales with roots on the 6th and 5th strings. These will be identified as "First Form" (root on 6th string) and "Fourth Form" (root on 5th string) chords and scales. (The "root" of a chord or scale is the note from which the name is derived. For instance, the root of a G scale is the note G; the root of an Aminor chord is A, etc.)
There tends to be five "forms" of chords or scales on the guitar, i.e., five reasonably good ways to play a particular scale or chord. This is not absolute; some things only work well in one or two places on the guitar, others can be played in more than five spots. However, a good basic way of learning the guitar is to relate the various chords and scales you learn to five basic forms, which correspond to the five major chord forms from pages 2 and 4: A, D, E, G and C. Any guitar method that relate things to these basic forms is sometimes said to be using the "CAGED" method (an acronym for the five basic chords). In that sense, Sensible Guitar basically utilizes a simple version of (or lays the groundwork for) the CAGED method. However, on a more advanced level, the CAGED method extends the utilization of these forms, and derivations thereof, in complex and creative ways that are expounded upon elsewhere.
For chords, Sensible Guitar will emphasize the first and fourth forms, as they generally tend to be the most practical. For major scales, the first and fourth forms will be introduced first, since they correspond to the chord forms we'll focus on. The remaining major scale forms are introduced later. Pentatonic scales are introduced "in order", from first form thru fifth form.
2. As Sensible Guitar will show later, if you know the notes on the 6th and 5th strings, you can easily learn the other strings based on a simple pattern of octave relationships.
Basically, focus on learning the names of the notes on strings 6 and 5, and the rest will fall into place eventually.
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