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Intervals -- number names explained

Scales: Major and 3 minor

Inversion of Intervals

Letter spellings and spelling system


Chord construction

Chord Progressions

The four Triads

Minor scale chord progressions

Letter-names — Music’s Spelling System





Music’s letters and spelling system are  too complicated to discuss here in detail. For now we’ll just have to take things as they are.

Here, we’ll  look briefly at relative Major and minor scale/keys, and I’ll provide some comprehensive charts of all Major/minor scale/key spellings plus the locations of all spelled notes on the guitar fretboard.

All guitar fretboard patterns are generic and movable (unlike piano). So on the fretboard you can get plenty of milage out of using music’s numbers alone (standard and Cipher). Nevertheless, you’ll need to begin memorizing the letter-named note locations on the guitar fretboard at some point. Here again, your knowledge of the guitar’s Pattern of Unisons and Octaves will be of great help (if not essential). If you know the letter-names of just the notes on your low E string you will by extension be able to figure out the locations of all similarly named notes across the entire fretboard.

Letter-names assigned to musical tones

Western music theory uses two kinds of alpha-numeric markers to name tones: letters and numbers. Here we’ll have a very brief look at  the letter-names assigned to musical tones (in the book I devote a 50 page section to this masterpiece of a spelling system). Then we'll turn to numbers.

You should know up front that music theory's system of letter-names and spellings evolved in a manner that resembles in both logic and methodology the development of it's allied system of interval number-names:

  • both systems share the fundamental limitation of having too few core designates - seven letters and seven numbers for twelve tones.
  • both systems were forced to use qualifying symbols (superscripts) in the form of accidental marks (flats and sharps) to enable representation of the five non-Major scale tones and many other spelling and numerating requirements.
  • both systems generate enharmonic names e.g. the interval spanning eight half-steps can be called either a "sharped-fifth" or "flatted-sixth".
  • both system components share a built-in bias for the Major scale. That is, the type and placement of virtually every accidental mark employed in music theory or its notation, affixed to either letter or number, is dictated relative to the stuff that is either natural to the C Major scale or not natural to it. In the case of numbers, the stuff that occurs naturally above C of C Major (alone, specifically) is the dictating factor. [Remember, the Major scale bias per-say is not the problem. The fact that the Major scale is a seven tone thing is. Any seven tone scale used to underpin and contain twelve tones would generate an equal amount of disorder.]
  • alas, both standard system components, letters and numbers, render clear instruction and ready comprehension nearly impossible in music education




Relative Major and minor scale/keys

One thing we do have to talk about briefly is Western music theory’s relative Major and natural minor key structure.

First, you need to know what parallel scales are. Parallel scales are all scales having the same starting note. So C Major and all variants of C minor are parallel scales, they all start on C.

The C Major scale (having no flats or sharps in it’s key signature) also provides for and actually embodies a minor scale (or key) employing no flats or sharps — A natural minor. That statement refers to relative Major and minor scales. The term relative is appropriate here. It means, like family or same genes.

The natural minor scale (some say) springs from and is simply a variant of the diatonic (Major) specie — hence the honor of being called pure or natural. If a two octave sample of the diatonic (or Major) scale is examined, you will find within it a group of eight consecutive tones displaying the pattern of intervals commonly called a natural minor scale. Precisely stated; the relative (and natural) minor scale begins on the sixth scale tone of any given Major scale and continues through one octave of the otherwise Major scale tones.

To illustrate the concept of relative Major and minor scales, we’ll identify the relative minor of C Major (Figure 1). A minor (natural) is the relative minor of C Major. Relative Major and minor scales contain exactly the same tones (same genes). Their difference is a matter of starting point. That is, on which tone they begin (given a multi-octave sample of a single repeating diatonic pattern).

Further illustration of relative scales being just different parts of the same whole can be seen by performing a similar but reverse operation. That is, by extracting a relative Major scale from a multi-octave sample of the natural minor scale (Figure 2).

Any relative Major scale begins on the third tone of its relative minor, and continues through one octave of otherwise natural minor scale tones. Given that relative Major and minor scales share the same tones, they exhibit the same number of (and particular) flats and sharps (if any) within their spellings. C Major, for example, has no flats or sharps. Neither (therefore) does its relative natural minor, A minor.

Another example, G Major (Figure 3), employs one sharp, F#. Its relative minor, E minor, also incorporates one sharp — the same sharp, F#.

In this way two scale types (one Major and one minor) and two musical keys (one Major and one minor) can and do share a single key signature in music’s staff notation. You have flat keys and sharp keys and each key signature encompasses both a Major and a natural minor scale. Figure 5 summarizes and spells all relative Major and minor scale/keys. The quantity of flats or sharps used in the scale/key is the same as that exhibited by it’s corresponding key signature on the staff. Figure 4 is very similar but shows just the Major scales.

Figure 6 illustrates how to locate the tonics of relative Major and minor scales on the guitar fretboard, that is by moving either up or down from where you are. Starting from the topic of a Major scale, move either:
up a Major 6th (9°)
down a minor 3rd (3°)

Remember that this pattern is movable up and down the fretboard and it can also be used on other string sets. You can move the pattern over one string (so it starts on your A string) with no change in shape at all. Other string sets will exhibit the pattern shifts discussed when we introduced the Five Degree Calculation Line. The Major 6th interval (9°) up from where you are changes slightly (one fret) on some string sets.



Figure 1






Figure 2






Figure 3







Spelling Charts

Following are three spelling charts:
Major scales spelled, Figure 4
Relative Major and minor scales spelled, Figure 5
Notes of the guitar fretboard spelled, Figure 7
[Notes of the Lefty guitar fretboard spelled is in Lefty guitar section]
[Notes of the bass guitar fretboard spelled is on the bass page]
[Notes of the violin and mandolin fretboard spelled is in the Instruments tuned to fifths section ]



Figure 4







Figure 5






Figure 6






Figure 7



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© Copyright 2002   Roger Edward Blumberg


All  text, images, system components, devices, key terminology* and logos, on this web site are copyrighted [physically at the U.S. Library of Congress]. Reproduction in any form without written permission from the author and creator is prohibited.

[*including but not limited to: The Cipher System, The Cipher, Music Theory Cipher, The Guitarist’s Music Theory Cipher, Blumberg’s Music Theory Cipher for Guitar, Cipher Formula, The Five Degree Calculation Line, Perfect-fourth Calculation Line, The Seven Degree Calculation Line, Perfect-fifth Calculation Line, Fretboard Navigator, Counting Grids, The Pattern of Unisons and Octaves, Rooting-Center, The Fifth String Pattern Shift, The Third String Pattern Shift, Commonsense String Numbering Order.]

Thank you.

© Copyright 2002   Roger E. Blumberg












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