Music Theory 101


It’s good to have an understanding of music theory, the deeper you get into learning your craft as guitar player. And though it may not be completely necessary, depending on what you want to do with guitar, it may make more sense as you continue to learn in your music journey. The biggest part I find in talking with students is, they’re not even sure where to start. So, let’s start small and give you some definitions of things as well as pictures, to help you understand, but take it slow. If you have to go back and review, by all means review again. If you have further questions, drop me a line in the contact tab.

Let’s talk about scales. What is a scale you might ask? A scale is a set of tones from which you can build your melodies and harmonies. And while there are many scales, we are mainly going to focus on the 12 Major Scales to start with. Before we dive into that, there’s a couple terms I want you to familiarize yourself with. Those are sharps and flats. A sharp is a note higher in pitch by one semitone or half step. A flat is a note lower in pitch by one semitone or half step.

Here's is a sharp
Here's a flat
C Major Scale - This scale is the only major scale with no sharps or flats. In this example the scale goes up and comes back down.
This is the C scale on guitar, in 1st position noted in tab & notation

Each scale has Roman numerals that represent scale degrees, as well as chords that are built on them. You may at one time have even heard the term I, IV, V. If so, the Roman numerals represent the chords played in that particular scale. Let’s look at the example here of the Roman numerals and each chord based on the degree of the C Major Scale. Keep in mind, uppercase Roman numerals (such as I, IV, V) represent major chords, while the (ii,iii, vi) represent minor chords.

                                                         C             Dm             Em             F                 G                Am          Bdim

Here’s some examples of songs that use the popular progression I – IV – V Otherwise known as C-F-G

La Bamba by Richie Valens
Twist & Shout by The Beatles
Wild Thing by The Troggs
Keep in mind, while some of these songs may not be in the key of C, the progression can be used in any key.

Another common progression is I – vi – IV – V . Otherwise known as C-Am-F-G You may hear a progression like this in 50’s Doo-Wop. Examples like “Blue Moon” and “Earth Angel” are among some of the most popular ones.