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Theory 02: Diatonic Scales

Carlos Eduardo Seo (900) · [archive]
Style: Theory/Reference · Level: Beginner · Tempo: 120
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5

This is the second lesson of my Theory Lesson series. I suggest you study these lessons in sequence, so they make sense toghether. The previous lesson can be found here.

Until the end of 16th century, all music was written in the modal system (using the modes, for example -- I'll cover these in another lesson). Since then, we can see the intensive use of the tonal system, which consists of the two most used modes (Ionian and Aeolian Modes, or Major and Minor scales). We'll cover these here.

First, a concept:
- Scale: a sequence of consecutive notes that follows a specific rule of formation (based on whole steps and half steps).

Major scale

The Major Scale has the rule of formation:
W W H W W W H, where W = Whole step and H = Half step.

- Example:

C major scale


As I stated in my last lesson (Introduction to Music Theory), the major sacle can be divided in two parts called 'tetra chords'. The tetra chords are groups of 4 successive notes arranjed in a way that the second tetra chord of a scale is the first tetra chord of the next scale (according to the Circle of Fifths). In our example, we have the scale of C.So, according to the Circle of Fifths the next one is G. Then, we have:

1st T.C. of C
2nd T.C. of C
C major scale


1st T.C. of G
2nd T.C. of G
G major scale


From what you learned from the exercises about the Circle of Fifths in Lesson 01, you can now play any major scale on the guitar. It's very important to memorize all the scale patterns for all keys on the fretboard, so spend some time doing it before proceding.

Musical quality of the major scale

You'll soon find out this scale has a 'happy' or 'upbeat' quality and it's suitable for Country, Jazz, Fusion and Rock styles. This scale sounds good when played over Major, Major 7th, Major 9th and 11th chords (I'll focus on chords in a further lesson).