Music Theory Part 1 – Notes, Tones And Semitones.

Welcome to the first blog in our series on Music Theory!

Before we can get into chords, keys, scales and modes, we need to understand the very basic components – Notes, and the distances, or “intervals” between them.

1) There are 12 notes in music.
They are:    C     C#/Db     D     D#/Eb     E     F     F#/Gb     G     G#/Ab     A     A#/Bb      B

“#” means “sharp”  and “b” means “flat”  –  e.g. C#/Db is one note, that is called either “C sharp” or “D flat” depending on various factors which aren’t important at this stage.  Just be aware that there are two different names for the same thing.

2) Semitones
A Semitone is the distance between any consecutive two of these notes.  e.g.   C to C#, E to F, or A to Bb
On the guitar, this is the distance of one fret.  So to move a note on the 7th fret up a semitone, you would move it to the 8th.  To move it down a semitone, you would move it to the 6th.

3) Tones
A Tone is a distance of two semitones.  e.g.  C to D,  E to F#, or A to B.
On the guitar, this is the distance of two frets.  So, starting with a note on the 7th fret, you would move up a tone to fret 9, or down a tone to fret 5.

Key Points To Take From This :

  • Be aware that a C# and Db are two different names for the same note, similarly D# and Eb, F# and Gb etc etc.
  • Note that there is no B# or Cb and no E# or Fb
  • Remember that a semitone is the distance of 1 fret and a tone is the distance of 2 frets 
  • If you haven’t already, start learning the notes on the fretboard, taking it one string at a time, or for example learning “all the E notes” then “all the F notes” and so on.


Coming Soon – Part 2, on The Major scale and how it is formed.




Technology And Guitarists Part 2 – YouTube

Following on from last week’s blog about using technology to your advantage as a guitarist, now I want to talk to you about YouTube.

If you can manage to navigate around the distraction of cats making cocktails and a Japanese football team’s physiotherapist scoring from the car park, there’s about 5 lifetimes’ worth of Guitar backing tracks to get to grips with.  There being such an array of backing tracks to choose from gives the some great opportunities.

You can practise a variety of styles, changing your entire musical canvas with a single click.
The first 4 (of 1,010,000) results for a search of “Guitar backing tracks” are “Power Ballad”, “Smooth Jazz”, “Blues” and “Hard Rock”.

One fantastic thing you can find by searching “<song name> guitar backing track” is either a backing track of that song minus guitar and vocals, or sometimes minus guitar but with original vocals intact.  This is brilliant for practising in context and great fun too.

So Guitarists, don’t take YouTube and its backing tracks for granted!  Make the most of it, and use it to help you practise, improve and have fun.  It’s only 10-15 years ago that you’d have had to spend £20 on a CD and book containing the tab and backing tracks for a handful of songs by one specific band.  Now, thanks to YouTube and other sites, just about everything you need as a developing guitarist is completely free!

….Except one-to-one lessons of course.  For those you’ll have to contact us!


Using Technology To Your Guitar-playing Advantage

I’m going to tell you about a few ways to practice, progress, and be creative by recording yourself play

Firstly, “Recording” here means just about anything – whether it’s recording software, a loop pedal, your phone’s voice record function, or a dodgy old relative’s dodgy old twin cassette deck.  Anything

1) Testing Out A Multi-Part Idea
So you’re writing a song for your band, you’ve got some chords, and now you want a lead guitar part.  You can very quickly test out how the parts work together by recording the chord progression into a little dictaphone or voice recorder on your phone, then playing it back while you play the lead part.
It’s very rough and ready, the tuning might not be 100%, but you’ll know whether you’re on the right lines or not straight away.

2) Measuring Your Progress Over Time
If you’re serious about improving as a guitarist you’re going to be playing as much as you possibly can.  But this means that you’re probably not going to realise how much you’ve improved.  (In the same way as when you see someone every day you don’t notice their hair has grown or they’ve lost weight etc)  So you should record yourself playing for a few minutes and keep hold of the clip.  Do this once a month, once every 2 or 3 months, whatever you like.  Then listen back and you’ll soon see how you’ve improved in those intervening periods.  You’ll feel great, and keep your motivation to practise hard.

3) For When You Keep Making The Same Mistake!
Maybe you’re trying to learn a really tricky riff or solo.  You’re just about getting it, but you’re always making the same mistake in the same place, every single time.  It can become like a curse, and you start to go wrong in the lead up to the difficult phrase as it plays on your mind.  Record your attempts.  Record yourself trying to play it, slow, medium and fast.  Then listen back and analyse what’s happening.  You should find you can figure out what’s going wrong and why so much easier when you’re not focusing so hard on trying to play it!

4) Remembering Things You Write
Nothing is more frustrating for a songwriter than writing something you think is brilliant, then forgetting it in the time it takes to make a cup of tea or take a phone call.  Just record a quick clip of you playing and singing the song into any device you have, just enough to trigger your memory later on as to how the song goes. Problem solved.

More coming soon on how to use technology to your advantage as a guitarist!