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1: Diatonicism

There are only 12 unique pitches. After that there are only octaves. The pitches are
A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, and G#. I won't use flats because B flat is the
same as A#, etc , and having more than one name for the same pitch is confusing.
All adjacent pitches are equally spaced apart, or in other words, the octave is
evenly divided by 12.
The diatonic scale is the basis of all western music. Diatonicism is simply a specific
spread of 7 notes. The spread of the 7 notes corresponds to the natural lettered
notes (no sharps), or a visual way of looking at it: the white keys on the piano. A
mode is choosing one of the 7 notes from the diatonic scale as your tonic, or home
note. That means, because there are 7 notes in the diatonic scale, there are 7
Look at a piano. If you only play the white notes, you have 7 notes, which are A, B,
C, D, E, F, and G. Depending on which note you choose as your tonic (home note),
you are in one of the 7 modes available in the diatonic key. For example, if you
choose A as your tonic you're in the Aeolian or minor mode, and if you choose C as
the tonic your in Ionian or the major mode. Of course there are 7 notes, and you
could choose any of the 7 notes as your tonic not just A or C.
The seven modes of the diatonic scale comprised of the white keys of the piano:
A as tonic: A Aeolian (also called A minor)
B as tonic: B Locrian
C as tonic: C Ionian (also call C major)
D as tonic: D Dorian
E as tonic: E Phrygian
F as tonic: F Lydian
G as tonic: G Mixolydian
Note that Aeolian and Ionian are also called the minor and major mode
respectively. These modes get an extra name because about 99% of western
music is in one of these two modes. They are heavily favoured.
This is only 1 of the 12 diatonic keys though. To go through each key, we will
transpose the pattern up a semitone 11 times. If we transposed it up a 12th time,
we'd be back where we started at a higher octave (12 semitones is an octave).
Piano is not a great transposing instrument, but guitar is, so it's tab time!
You can see above I just played the notes A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and finally A an
octave higher. This is the same as the white notes on piano. If we choose the first
note as the tonic we are in the minor mode, and since the first note is A we're in A
minor. Choosing the second note as our tonic would put us in B Locrian mode, third
note: C major, fourth note: D Dorian, fifth note: E phrygian, Sixth note: F Lydian,
seventh note: G Mixolydian. Same as before!
You should realize that no matter which mode you are playing in above you are
playing the exact same 7 notes. The only difference is which note you choose as
your home base (tonic). This is why A minor is called the relative minor of C major
and C major the relative major of A minor. Because the two modes are the same
Above we tabbed the diatonic key of A minor / C major. (the diatonic key is defined
either by it's minor or major mode. Hence you see the key of A minor, or key of C
major, but you would never see the key of D Dorian, even though all three modes I
just listed are the same notes. Essentially, music in modes other than the major or
minor, historically was never really written, so now the keys are limited to their


Above is A# minor/ C# major. All we did was transpose every note up one
semitone. The pattern, or spread of the notes is the same. The modes that
correspond with this diatonic key (A#minor or C# major) are:
A# Aeolian or A# minor
C Locrian (because B# is C)
C# Ionian or C# major
D# Dorian
F Phrygian (because E# is F)
F# Lydian
G# Mixolydian
Now we've tabbed 2 of the 12 diatonic keys.
Continuing to transpose up a semi tone we get the diatonic key of B minor/D

The modes of the above key are:

B Aeolian or B minor
C# Locrian
D Ionian or D major
E Dorian
F# Phrygian
G Lydian
A Mixolydian

That's 3 of the 12 diatonic keys. We can continue this pattern to get all 12 diatonic
keys, each with 7 unique modes.
So that's about all there is to it. but let's continue with a practical example to make
sure you understand.
Say someone says "I'm playing in F# Dorian bro!".
Okay. Here's D Dorian as we saw before, with the tonic in brackets:


So we need that D (bracketed note) to be an F#. F# is 4 semitones higher than D,

so we raise every note 4 semitones:

Now the bold note, which is the Dorian mode is an F#, so we're in F# Dorian. We
can also see that F# Dorian is the same notes as:
C# minor (the first note, the 9 on the E string is a C#)
D# Locrian, (the 11 on the E string is a D#)
E Major (12 on the E sting is an E)
G# Phrygian (11 on the A string is a G#)
A Lydian ( 12 on the A string is an A)
B mixolydian (9 on the D string is a B)
2: The Pentatonic Scale
The pentatonic scale is simply a subset of the diatonic scale.
For example here's A minor as we saw before, followed by A minor pentatonic,
both scales with the tonic bracketed.

As we can see the pentatonic scale is a specific selection of 5 of the 7 notes in the
diatonic scale.
So, of course, when playing in any pentatonic mode you can seamlessly switch to
the corresponding diatonic mode, and vice versa, e.g., A minor pentatonic <--> A
minor diatonic. Really, the pentatonic is diatonic (but not vice versa!)
The pentatonic scale has 5 modes, because it has 5 notes, just like the diatonic
scale has 7 modes because it has 7 notes.

Above is the pentatonic scale comprised of the notes A, C, D, E, and G. The

corresponding modes of this pentatonic scale are the same as the modes of the
diatonic scale that this pentatonic scale is a subset of (minus the 2 modes from the
2 omitted notes of course).
The modes are:
A minor pentatonic
C major pentatonic
D dorian pentatonic
E phrygian pentatonic
G mixolydian pentatonic
Same as the diatonic scale, in the pentatonic the minor and major modes are used
almost exclusively, and in blues it seems the minor pentatonic mode is heavily
favoured over the major, although the major mode is used.
As we did with the diatonic scale, we can transpose the pentatonic scale up a
semitone 11 times to arrive at all the pentatonic keys.
Here's A# minor pentatonic:

(If the 9 was bracketed it'd be C# major pentatonic)

Here's B minor pentatonic:

That's 3 of the 12 pentatonic scales with the minor tonic bracketed, and we can
obviously continue this pattern to play them all.

Of course it's nice to have more than one octave, so here's the most commonly
used 2 octave fingering of the (major) or [minor] mode.

• note that all the bracketed pitches are A and all the parenthesized pitches are C,
so above is 2 octaves of A minor or C major, depending on which pitch you
choose as your tonic.
And 2 octaves of [A minor] and (C major) pentatonic:
3: Basic Barre Chords
Triads are three note chords, which are the most commonly used chords by far. We
will see which triads belong in which key, and how to play triads as barre chords.
First let's look at barre chords without worrying at all about the theory behind
them. Let's just look at the finger patterns.
Below I've tabbed The open chords E major and E minor:

For now note three things:

• 1, the lowest note in both chords when fingered like this is the root note of the
chord (don't worry about why for now), which is the note that determines the
letter of the chord. Since the root is an E, the chords are E chords.
• 2, The only difference between E major and E minor, is that one of the pitches in
E minor is a semitone lower.
• 3, even though both chords play all six strings, there are only 3 unique pitches
being played.
Now that we have the finger shapes for E major and E minor we can use the same
shape moved up the neck to make every major and minor chord.
It is the same idea we used to make every diatonic key, i.e., we will slide every
pitch up a semitone.
Here is F major, and F minor

• Note that since there are no open strings, we need to use our index finger to
barre the first fret (you can think of your index as a moving capo. Above you
have capoed the first fret). Most of you are familiar with barre chords, so I'm
not going to get too into how to finger them.

Here is F# major and F# minor:


Here is G major and G minor:


We can keep going up the neck one semitone at a time to play all 12 major and
minor chords.
But, say you want the lowest pitch and root note to be on the A string. Can we use
the same shape, and just move every finger up a string (up with respect to tab
notation)? Almost. If we moved every finger up a string from E major or E minor to
try to make A major or A minor the shapes would look like this:

The problem is the second and fourth chords above aren't A major and A minor.
The reason they aren't is because of the tuning anomaly on guitar.
The guitar is tuned as shown below:

Each string is 5 semitones higher in pitch than the string below it, except the B
string, which is only 4 semitones higher in pitch than the string below it. This
tuning anomaly was adopted to make fingerings easier, but definitely makes
visualization of theory on guitar harder. Oh well… something to be aware of.
So to make A major and A minor chords we need to raise the pitches on the B
string up one semitone.
Here are the proper shapes for A major and A minor:

As before, we can slide everything up a semitone at a time to make all the other
the major and minor chords.

Here's A# major and A# minor, followed by B major and B minor, followed by C

major and C minor

And you can keep going to get all 12 major and minor chords with the same
These aren't all the barre chords, technically any open chord (one with open
strings), which you can use your index to move the nut (open pitches), while also
moving the non open pitches with your other fingers is a barre chord, and there
are many many chords that fit that description. But the above ones are used a lot,
and many pop songs use them exclusively, so those will get you started very nicely
4: Triads in key
Now that we can play major and minor barre chords, we will learn which chords
belong in which key.
We'll use A minor/ C major modes as our example key.
Here's one octave of the key again:

I'll do this from the perspective of A minor, (as in the first triad we'll form will be
an A triad, the second will be a B triad, etc ) because the first note in the scale
above is A, so it will just be easier, but you can start anywhere and you'll get the
same triads; they'll just be numbered differently, as in The A triad won't be the
first triad, the B triad wont be the second triad, etc.
Each pitch in the scale will be associated with a triad, i.e., each pitch in the scale
will be the root note of a single triad. There will be 7 triads, because there are 7
unique pitches in the diatonic scale.
Each triad is comprised of three pitches often called the first (or root), third, and
fifth. They are named that way because the 'first' is the first note, the 'third' is 2
scale degrees up from the 'first' (1+ 2 = 3) and the 'fifth' is 2 scale degrees up
from the 'third' (3 + 2 = 5)
Here's the key A minor all on one string:

This helps visualize the distances between each pitch in the key. As mentioned
above, There will be a triad rooted on each of these pitches. So the first triad will
be rooted on the 5 (hence an A triad), the second triad will be rooted on the 7
(hence a B triad), the third triad will be rooted on the 8 (hence a C triad), etc.
To reiterate, because it's important: to form triads in a key, all you do is choose
one pitch in the key, then also choose the pitch two scale degrees above the first
chosen pitch, and the pitch 2 scale degrees above the second chosen pitch. Using
this technique, the first pitch will be the root of the triad, and hence will name the
Here is the first triad in the key of A minor (3 pitches in parenthesis):

• Note that beginning on the first pitch, you move up 3 semitones, then 4
semitones. This is the pattern for a minor triad if you ascend from the root
note, and all the triad's pitches are as close together as possible (i.e, all
pitches are in the same octave. This is also called closed position). So the first
triad is a minor triad, and because the first pitch (root) is A, the triad is A

Often musicians use roman numeral notation for triads in a key, because it's more
abstract, and works for every key. For minor triads lowercase letters are used. So
the first triad in all minor keys is labelled: i

Here is the first triad in the key of A minor played as a barre chord:

Here is the second triad in the key of A minor (as in choose the second pitch in the
key then repeat the pattern of skipping a scale degree twice):

• note that from the first pitch selected. the next pitch is 3 semitones higher, and
the next pitch is another 3 semitones higher. This is the pattern that makes a
diminished triad. The diminished triad is the exception in diatonicism (all
other triads are major or minor), and the diminished triad isn't used much in
pop, if at all.

Since the first pitch is B, and it's a diminished triad, the triad above is B
In roman numeral notation diminished triads use lower case letters and a degree
symbol, so the second triad in a minor key is labelled: ii°
We didn't cover how to finger a diminished triad, but below is probably the easiest
way to do it. Below is of course B diminished:

Here is the third triad in the key of A minor, and the triad played as a barre chord:

• Note that from the root the next pitch is 4 semitones higher, then the next is 3
semitones higher. This is the pattern for a major triad, and because the first
note (root) is C, it's C major.
 Major chords are notated with uppercase
letters in roman numeral notation, so the third triad of a minor scale is
labeled: III
We can continue in the same fashion to form all 7 triads.
The triads will end up being i - ii°- III - iv - v - VI - VII (minor, diminished, major,
minor, minor, major, major)
• note that the roman numeral notation above tells us exactly this: In the minor
scale, the triad built on the first note of the scale is minor, the triad built on
the second note of the scale is diminished, the triad built on the third note of
the scale is major, etc.

Here are all 7 triads of A minor played as barre chords with roots on the E sting:
A minor (i), B diminished (ii°), C major (III), D minor (iv), E minor (v), F major
(VI), G major (VII)
Note that if you ascend the triad's root notes you will play the A minor scale.
Here are the same triads played as barre chords with roots on the A string:

Again: A minor, B diminished, C major, D minor, E minor, F major, G major; and if

you only play the root notes you will play the A minor scale)
This works for any key.
For example the key of F minor:

Here's the scale fingered efficiently through one octave:


Here's the scale all on one string:


Here are the triads of F minor played as barre chords with roots on the E string:

Same triads played as barre chords with roots on the A string:


You can play any pattern of these 7 triads (most pop doesn't used the diminished,
so 6 triads), and solo in the corresponding key.
For example, in F minor (may as well use the key we just tabbed), you could play
this chord progression:
(Roman numeral notation of above progression: i, III, VII, iv)
And solo using the easy 2 octave shape of the minor scale from before:

(hey if you're on electric, you could easily bump up the scale an octave by adding
12 to every number if you wanted)
And you're going to sound alright.

Triads in the major mode

Here's [A minor] and (C major) modes again:

Again, the triads that correspond to the minor mode above are:
i - ii°- III - iv - v - VI - VII - i - ii - III
The major mode is the same pitches, only the major modes first pitch (tonic) is the
minor mode's third pitch, the major mode's second pitch is the minor modes 4th
pitch, etc.
It follows that for the major scale, the triads are the same as the minor scale, only
the numbers are rotated so the III in the minor mode is now I in the major mode:
i ii° III iv v VI VII
vi vii° I ii iii IV V
Of course, normally you'd label the major scale triads one to seven as:
I - ii - iii - IV - V - vi - vii°
I just wanted to line up the major and minor scale triads so everyone would see
that they are identical, just numbered differently.
5: Triad movement minimalized
All triads are essentially the same shape with regards to diatonicism, i.e. there are
three intervals between the pitches in closed position. Two of the intervals skip 1
scale degree (between the first and third < 1, 2, 3>, and third and fifth < 3, 4,
5>), and one of the intervals skips 2 scale degrees (between the 5th and 1st < 5,
6, 7, 8 (8 being 1 an octave higher)>).
With respect to the chromatic scale, for major and minor chords (this doesn't work
for diminished) there are three different intervals of sizes: 3 semitones (between
the first and third for minor, and between the third and fifth for major), 4
semitones (between the first and third for major, and between the third and fifth
for minor), and 5 semitones (between the fifth and first).
The movement between triads should be internalized in not only a transpositional
sense, i.e. shift every pitch up or down the same distance with respect to scale
degrees, and when moving between like chords (e.g. major to major) the same
chromatic distance (which is what we did with barre chords), but also in terms of
minimum movement.
In terms of minimum movement, whatever triad you are playing you can go to the
any of the seven diatonic triads, so you have seven options, that I'll list from
closest triad (least movement) to the furthest (most movement).
1: play the same triad again. All 3 notes remain the same
2 & 3: move one pitch up or down a single scale degree. 2 pitches remain the
4 & 5: move 2 pitches up or down a single scale degree. 1 pitch remains the same.
6 & 7: move all three pitches up or down a single scale degree. no pitches remain
the same.
All these movements are with respect to scale degrees, not chromatic, and all
seven diatonic triads are represented above, regardless of which triad you are
playing initially.

For example, in A minor, recall the pitches available:

Here's all triads in A minor as defined in terms of minimum movement from the
first triad, which is just one of the 7 triads in the key randomly chosen.

Note that the triads in each successive bar are further away (in terms of like
pitches) than the previous bar.

Let's play around with our old chord progression in F minor:


(Roman numeral notation of above progression: i, III, VII, iv)

Let's play this progression as simply as possible with minimal movement.
We could say this progression in terms of movement is, beginning on the minor
tonic triad: 1 down, 2 down, 2 down.
6: Strengths of diatonicism and the major and minor modes
In the diatonic scale, the most important modes are the major and minor mode as
we've seen. But why? There are many reasons, let's look at some fundamental
First, in the diatonic scale there are three major and three minor triads.
Also, the most consonant interval is the perfect 4th/5th (they function almost
identically harmonically as they are inversions of each other). The perfect 4th is 5
semitones, the perfect 5th is 7 semitones (of course, because inversions must add
to 12 semitones).
In the minor mode, the triad rooted on the tonic of the mode, as in the i triad, is,
of course, minor. The triad 5 semitones up (perfect 4th) is also a minor triad, and
the triad 5 semitones down is also a minor triad. Because 7 and 5 semitones are
inversions, you could identically say this as: in the minor mode the triad built on
the tonic, and the triads 7 semitones up and 7 semitones down are all minor.
This boils down in a sentence to: In the minor mode, from the tonic minor triad,
the other 2 minor triads are rooted at the most consonant interval.
Not surprisingly, if you do the same analysis for the major mode with major triads,
you'll find the exact same thing.
Here it is illustrated in A minor / C major:

As you can see, this is the 6 of 7 of the triads in diatonicism. The 3 major triads
are centerd about the major triad rooted on the major mode tonic, with the other
two major triads flanking it at one of the two most consonant intervals, i.e. 5
semitones. Same goes for the minor scale.
This could be identically illustrated with the flanking triads at the other most
consonant interval, i.e. 7 semitones, buy lowering the higher flanking triad by an
octave, and raising the lower flanking triad by an octave.


Whoa, ran out of room there! of course there is no such thing as a negative fret,
but you get the idea.
Then there's the lonely diminished triad.
First, the diminished triad is rooted in-between the two most important diatonic
triads: the I triad of the major mode, and the i triad of the minor mode. It is in a
sense a link between the two most important triads.
Second, it has the unique property that it is the only symmetric diatonic triad, i.e.
ascend it intervallically, and descend it intervallically, and you get the same
intervals. Identically stated: if you reflect a diminished triad through any pitch, you
get another diminished triad, and there is one pitch where the diminished will
reflect to itself.
If you ascend a major triad intervallically and descend it intervallically it's not the
same. Ascending a major triad, is identical to descending a minor triad, and vice
versa. Identically stated, if you reflect a major triad through any pitch you get a
minor triad, and vice versa.
Major and minor chords: Intervalically identical, directionally opposite! They are in
a sense opposites of each other, and in another sense the same.
If we look at diatonicism itself, it is symmetric, much like the diminished triad.
Reflect a diatonic scale and you get another diatonic scale, and one reflection will
reflect the scale to itself.
So what pitch reflects a diatonic scale to itself, and what pitch reflects the
diminished triad onto itself? The answer to both questions is the Dorian mode
tonic. This is the great strength of the diminished triad. It is the only triad
distributed about the symmetric centre of diatonicism.
Further, it we reflect the major mode I triad through the Dorian tonic, we get the
minor mode i triad. Nice. The minor mode iv triad reflects to the major mode V
triad, and the minor mode v triad reflects to the major mode IV triad.
This can be seen by reflecting all triads through the diminished triad.

Minor mode VI VII i ii° III iv

Major mode IV V vi vii° I ii
I've put the diminished triad in the centre of both numeral since so it's easiest to
see what reflect to what.
These triad reflections imply the equivalent triads in the major and minor modes.
7: modulation
Only playing in one diatonic scale, and hence only 7 of 12 notes (if you don't add
any chromaticism), can get boring and repetitive, even if you are switching
between the relative major and minor modes. Changing from one to any of the
other 11 diatonic scales is a solution.
But how to decide which scale to change to. There is no wrong answer of course,
but there are relationships between the scales that can help you choose with new
scale is appropriate for any given situation.
Modulating by the circle of fifths, refers to transposing to the key 7 semitones up
or down from your current key, modulating by the circle of fourths refers to
transposing to the key 5 semitones up or down from your current key. Ascending 7
semitones is the same as descending 5 semitones (you'll get the same pitch in a
different octave) and vice versa, so the circle of fourths and fifths are the same,
i.e. ascending one is descending the other.
Everyone talks about the circle of fifths but not the circle of fourths, so I guess the
circle of fourths is just the arbitrary loser.
Another nice property of 5 and 7 semitones, is that they are prime, and don't
divide 12. For that reason if you ascend or descend continually by one of those
intervals, you will play all 12 pitches before returning to the original pitch.
That's why movement like that is called a circle. You go through every pitch and
then return to your original pitch.
Why modulate up or down 5 semitones? The answer is that the key 5 semitones up
and down has 6 of 7 pitches in common with the initial key, or stated differently,
only 1 pitch is different. This makes moving between these keys easy to sound
seamless, or not abrupt, or whatever.
Here's an example. First I chose an arbitrary key to begin with, then tabbed the
key 5 semitones above and below it:

To make this more obvious, I'll put all three keys within the same octave. I'll
bracket the tonics as they won't all be the first pitch in the scales now.
E|-[8]-10-11----------------|-8-9-11-----------------|-8-10-11--------------This represents, going up once
or down once the circle of 5ths/4ths.
Note that going in one direction you flat a pitch, and in the other you sharp a pitch.
This pattern continues, and if you, for example, continue to sharp indefinitely, you
will return to your original key but improperly stated. You will end up with 12
sharped pitches by the time you return to your original key (only 12 pitches!) but
in classical notation there are only 7 letters ( A through G), so you will end up with
2 sharps and 5 double sharps (2 + 2*5 = 12 sharps), and same goes for flats. Of
course even though the key is accurately described by 12 sharps or flats, in
classical theory you'd never go further than 7 sharps/flats. The propper notation
for any key that needs more than 7 sharps should be stated with flats and vice
versa. And the way you find the proper notations is by going in the opposite
direction around the circle.
Let's now go continually in one direction!
from any initial key, as you move away continually in one direction (up or down,
they're really the same) by 5 semitones (or 7), here are the number of common
tones in each successive key. Let's begin with the initial key (that's why the first
number is 7)
The first and last number are the both the initial key. There are 13 numbers, but
the initial key is represented twice, so this does represent every diatonic key.
If you ascend the numbers from the beginning, you're going one direction in the
circle of 5ths/4ths, and if you descend them from the end you're going the other
direction in the circles.
A couple things to note. There are only 12 unique pitches, so for 2 keys (14
pitches) at least 2 must be the same. That's why it never gets lower than 2.
The way the 3 adjacent keys stay at 2, is that when you continually sharp or flat
one pitch at a time rolling around the circle of 5ths, the 6th and 7th sharps or flats,
are E and B, or C and F respectively, which means your sharping/flatting where the
semitones in the scale are, and hence switching on scale tone for another.
This is a good map of how related keys are and can be used to gauge how abrasive
or fluid a modulation will be. Choose a key for the desired effect.
8: The Hybrid Scales
Below are the major and minor mode rooted on the same tonic, E, as in [E minor]
and (E major). I'll play them all on one string so we can see exactly how different
they are.



(I've only shown the E string this time, because this entire lesson will be on one
As we can see the minor and major modes when on the same tonic, are different
only by three pitches. The third, sixth, and seventh pitch in the minor scale are a
semitone lower than the major scale.
Because in early music listeners seemed to needed for resolution (cadence) a
leading tone, as in a pitch a semitone below the tonic, which only the major scale
has, composers altered the minor scale to have one too.
The harmonic minor scale is the minor scale with the seventh scale degree sharped
a semitone to create a leading tone.
Here's E harmonic minor:

Note that the harmonic minor only has 2 pitches different than the major scale: the
third and sixth. The seventh degree is now the same as the major scale. This is a
hybrid scale that combines the minor and major scale.
The problem with the scale is the imbalance. from the sixth to seventh scale
degree is 3 semitones, but in our natural diatonic scale adjacent pitches are never
more than 2 semitones apart. This new scale has a large gap that is very
noticeable when ascending or descending is by single scale degrees.
The solution to this problem is to also sharp the sixth degree, and that is what the
melodic minor scale is
Here's E melodic minor:

Note that the melodic minor only varies from the major scale in it's third degree.
This is another hybrid scale composed of the major and minor mode.
These two hybrid scales are used often in classical music.