This article is about basic notions of music theory for guitar
7 letters, 7 music note names
In music theory, the first notion is the naming convention of music notes, and the beginning of the alphabet is used:
And below are music notes on the fretboard and on the lowest string:
And below are music notes on a piano keyboard (you can see that the alphabet is repeating):
Read more: Note names
Whole steps & half steps (tones & semitones ) on a guitar
Another essential point in music theory is the notion of whole steps & half steps (tones & semitones ):
one whole step = two half steps
one tones = two semitones ).
And the distance between two frets is one half steps (semitones )
Below is a example written in treble clef, on a piano keyboard:
In other words, there is only one half steps (semitones ) between E and F, and only one half steps between B and C
Read more: Whole steps & half steps (Tones & semitones)
Tablature, the pitch Notation
Folk and rock guitars use a tablature to indicate which string will be played. Each line of the tablature (TAB) is a string of the guitar:
And here is an example of tablature:
The lines of the TAB correspond to the lines of the guitar, and the numbers indicates which fret to press. 0 (zero) means that no fret is pressed, it is an open string. 1 mean you had to press the first fret, and so on...
And below, the same tablature with the classic guitar notation:
With the classic pitch notation (5 lines) you notice that there is a clef, and in this case it is a treble clef.
Read more: The staff (stave), Treble clef (G-clef)
Accidentals: Sharps, Flats, and Naturals
Music theory says this:
An accidental is a sign to raise or to lower the pitch of a note, and they are always written before the note.
A sharp (♯) is an accidental that raises the note by a half step (semitone ).
A flat (♭) is an accidental that lowers the note by a half step (semitone ).
A natural (♮) is an accidental that cancels the previous accidentals.
Below is a A natural (natural because without accidental)
Below is a A sharp (A♯)
Below is a A flat (A♭)
And below are a A flat (A♭) and a A natural (A♮). The natural symbol (♮) cancel the flat symbol (♭)
Remember that there is only one half steps (semitones ) between E and F, and only one half steps between B and C, so:
E♯ is played with the same fret as F
F♭ is played with the same fret as E
B♯ is played with the same fret as C
C♭ is played with the same fret as B
Guitar chords and music theory
Music theory for guitar provides us chords diagrams, and bellow is a very common diagram chord:
- The vertical line on the left is the biggest string of the guitar (low E string)
- The vertical line on the right is the smallest string (high E string)
- 0 (zeros) mean empty strings (no finger pressed on it)
- The numbers 1 and 2 indicate the fingers of the left hand (from 1 for the index to 4 for the little finger)
- Em means E minor in Anglo-Saxon notation
so here is to play this chord:
Another example with the chord Am (A minor):
- The X symbolizes a string that should not be played by the rigth hand
- The O means empty strings (no finger pressed on it)
- The numbers 1, 2, and 3 indicate the fingers of the left hand (from 1 for the index up to 4 for the little finger)
And her is how to play the chord diagram (Am = A minor)
And one last example with th Cm chord (C minor):
- The number 8 indicates the eighth fret of the neck (always starting from the head of the guitar)
- The bar with the number 1 indicates that your first finger (index) covers all the strings
- The number 3 indicates the position of your 3rd finger
- The number 4 indicates the position of your 4th finger
Note and rest values
In music theory, notes have a pitch but also a duration in order to play rhythms.
| Double-whole note|
| Whole note|
| Half note|
| Quarter note|
| Eighth note|
| Sixteenth note|
| Thirty-second note|
| Sixty-fourth note|
| One hundred and twenty-eighth note|
And below are note signs equivalences
And when music use silences, weuse rest value:
| Double-whole rest|
| Whole rest|
| Half rest|
|or|| Quarter rest|
| Eighth rest|
| Sixteenth rest|
| Thirty-second rest|
| Sixty-fourth rest|
| One hundred and twenty-eighth rest|
Read more about: Note values, Rest values, Relations between note and rest values
Increase the duration of a note
In music theory, the ways to increase the duration of a sound or of a rest are: Dots, ties and fermata:
Dots (augmentation dost)
A dot placed to the right of the note-head or to the right of a rest, increases its time-value by half.
A dotted whole note is equivalent to a whole note and a half note.
A dotted semibreve is equivalent to a semibreve and a minim.
A dotted eighth rest is equivalent to a eighth rest and a sixteenth rest.
A dotted quaver rest is equivalent to a quaver rest and a semiquaver rest.
Ties merge multiple notes of the same pitch:
Ties can be used across bars (barlines ) :
The fermata, also called hold or bird's eye, is a semicircle containing a dot which may lie above or below a note or rest or over a bar (barline ). The fermata indicates that the note (or rest) should be prolonged beyond the normal duration.
Read more: Dots and Ties
Tempo refers to the speed at which a piece of music will be played.
The tempo is always perfectly regular like a clock, and a beat is a regular pulse which can be dictated by a metronome.
Measure (bar )
Below is an example of empty measures (bars )
Bellow are some common time signatures:
means that there are 4 beats per measure and that one beat has for value (quarter note / crotchet )
means that there are 3 beats per measure and that one beat has for value (quarter note / crotchet )
means that there are 2 beats per measure and that one beat has for value (quarter note / crotchet )
is the is the abbreviation of
is the is the abbreviation of and means that there are 2 beats per measure and that one beat has for value (half note / minim )
Read more: Time signature
Repeat bars (Repeat barlines )
Repeat bars are used to repeat a segment of the score:
On this staff (stave ), there are two repeat signs, it works like mirrors. The first measure (bar ) is played, nothing special.
The 2nd measure is played normally, but you will have to memorize the location of the repeat sign, here it is simple because the staff has only one line.
The 3rd measure is played normally.
The 4th measure is played normally.
After you have fully played the 4th measure, the repeat sign indicates that you should go back to the previous repeat sign.
The 2nd measure is played again.
The 3rd measure is played again.
The 4th measure is played again.
Mission accomplished! We played the passage between the two repet signs, we can continue our way.
Repeat signs with first and second endings:
On this staff (stave), there are two repeat signs and measures with numbered brackets. Measure with first bracket (1.) is called first-time bar (or first ending) and the second bracket (2.) is called second-time bar (or second ending).
The 1st measure is played.
The 2nd measure is played normally, but you will have to memorize the location of the repeat sign.
The 3rd measure is played.
At the end of this measure called first-time bar (or first ending), there is a repeat sign, so we go back to the previous repeat sign.
We play one more time this measure.
And we jump to the second-time bar (or second ending), because we have already played the first-time bar.
- First ending is used the first time
- Second ending is used the second time (after you go back to the start repeat)
Read more: Measure (Bar), Repeat signs
A famous example to recap all this
Because you came here as you were, here is an example to recap all music theory needed to play guitar: