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We are about to learn THE most important scale in all of music:
THE MAJOR SCALE
Why is this scale so important? Well, because the vast majority of music you hear comes directly from it. And when musicians talk about other scales, they still use the Major scale for comparison.
Like all scales, The Major scale has a formula. In other words, it has a specific pattern that it must adhere to. You can measure the Major scale or any scale’s formula by measuring from note to note to note, etc. In music we measure these using half-steps (1 fret) and whole-steps (2 frets). (Later on we’ll experiment with others).
The Major scale uses 7 different notes to produce a “happy” sound. The eighth note is the same as the first, and in traditional theory you should start and end a scale on the same note.
The formula for ALL Major scales is:
This means that you play a note on any given fret. We’ll call this number (1), then go up a whole step to land on number (2). Count up another whole step and you end up on number (3). Next count a half-step to reach number (4). Another whole step to find number (5), and another to get to (6). A final whole step will take you to (7). Count up one more half-step to find your octave.
Here is the Major scale formula on your guitar neck:
You can start this formula on any fret or string and play a Major scale. Try a few (make sure to stick with the formula!). Does it sound happy yet? If not try again…it should start sounding like the “Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti/Si, (Do)” that we all remember from childhood.
We just learned the Major scale up one string. It works fine, but the linear shape requires a lot of movement up and down the neck. But NO WORRIES!!! One of the coolest things about the guitar is the fact that you always have the option to play something with a different fingering. Let’s try a more condensed version of this scale:
Guitarists are always looking for new ways to expand their creativity and find new sounds on their instrument. A very simple way to accomplish this is to change the tuning of the guitar.
The most common introduction to this practice would be to tune all the strings evenly up or down.
If we lower each string by 1/2 step, we would have: Eb(6th) Ab(5th) Db(4th) Gb(3rd) Bb(2nd) Eb(1st).
We could still use any shape/scale/chord, but now they are named 1/2 step lower. Think of it this way: if you are in standard tuning, a C is a C. But if we detune a half-step, that C chord has effectively dropped down, too, making your C chord sound like a B chord (1/2 step lower than the original name). Your G chord is now a F# chord, A would be a G#, etc.
Essentially, you are playing familiar shapes and fingerings, but with the sounds lower than standard. They still retain the same relationship to each other.
You can also try tuning a WHOLE step down. Your strings would now be: D(6th) G(5th) C(4th) F(3rd) A(2nd) D(1st). This is the same idea as above except your shape actually sounds a whole step lower. For example, if you are playing a G chord it is in reality an F. An A would be a G, etc.
Can we also tune higher than standard? Sure…but not much.
It’s possible to raise your strings a half-step making: F(6th) A#(5th) D#(4th) G#(3rd) C(2nd) F(1st). Now every chord would sound a half-step higher than the shape you are playing. An E would sound like an F and a G would sound like a G#. Theoretically you could tune higher, but do so at your own risk.
Tuning higher adds undue stress on your instrument, especially acoustics. It’s much more common to use a CAPO than it is to tune UP. You can find out more by checking out the Using a Capo page.
All of the examples above keep the relationships between the strings even. But it’s also possible to tune the guitar to change these relationships. This can be as simple as altering one string or tuning every string differently!
Probably the most common alteration is called Drop D Tuning. This tuning expands the range of the guitar by effectively giving us 2 extra notes below the Low E String. We just tune the Low E string DOWN to D. Now your tuning should be: D(6th) A(5th) D(4th) G(3rd) B(2nd) E(1st). Remember that your 6th string is the only one that’s been altered.This tuning is extremely popular in new pop, rock and metal. It sounds more aggressive and also allows one finger Power Chords. (Most common metal riffs would be a bit more difficult if you tried to play the conventional two finger version).
*** Many heavier bands use the idea of Drop D Tuning along with tuning a 1/2 step or whole step down. Remember that the term “Drop D” now is incorrect-but it helps other players to know that their 4th and 6th string should be tuned to the same letter. Example:
1/2 step down/drop D tuning would mean your guitar is now tuned to: Db(6th) Ab(5th) Db(4th) Gb(3rd) Bb(2nd) Eb(1st).
Whole step down/drop D tuning would mean your guitar is now tuned to: C(6th) G(5th) C(4th) F(3rd) A(2nd) D(1st).
You can experiment with variations on this idea, and if you like to consistently tune low, you might consider having your guitar set up for this tuning using heavier gauge strings.
There are TONS of different tunings!!!