The One Thing You Need To Make Sense of Learning Music Theory

Music is a language and like any language, there's building blocks to understanding it.

For English we have the 8 parts of speech (verbs, adjectives, nouns, etc.)

In music we have the 6 intervals in the Major Scale.

Some definitions:

Intervals - Space between notes

Half Step - One note up or down

Whole Step - Two notes up or down

Flat - 1/2 step down

Sharp - 1/2 step up

The intervals consist of Whole Steps and Half Steps. Whole steps meaning skip a key (on piano) or a fret (on stringed instruments) and Half Steps meaning go to the next key or fret.

The formula for the Major Scale is:


You start with the 1 (or Root) then move a Whole step to 2, Whole Step to 3, Half Step to 4, Whole Step to 5, Whole Step to 6, Whole Step to 7, and then Half Step to 8.

Instead of memorizing the entire pattern, you could just say there's a half step between 3 and 4 and a half step between 7 and 8.

Once you recognize this core pattern, you start to see that every other scale variation is just a modified version of the major scale.

For example, let's take a look at the minor scale.

The formula for minor scale is:


Instead of memorizing an entirely new pattern we can just recognize that the minor scale has a b3rd (flat 3rd), a b6th (flat 6th) and a b7th (flat 7th).

The key of C is easy to look at because the Major has no sharps or flats.

C Major:


C minor

C D Eb F G Ab Bb C

Now the real trick to learning this language is applying it!

Exercise 1

I challenge you to learn the major scale with the correct hand positions on your instrument and then go chromatically up the scale! For example you could start at G on the 3rd fret of the 6th string of your guitar play the Major Scale forwards and backwards and then move up to the G# on the 4th fret. Call out the notes as you move up! This will help you memorize the spaces where the notes begin.

Exercise 2

Here's a backing track. Find the G Major scale on your instrument and make up your own solo using notes from the Major scale!

Happy practicing!

If you want help understanding music theory or learning your instrument, please reach out. We have teachers who would love to show you the ropes!

We offer virtual or in-person lessons! Learn more here:

Pachyderm Music Lab, Elephant Music

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