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Frequently Asked Questions

This is a transcription of a series of email questions I received from several of you. Particular credit should go to
Hammerhead, the author of Your Trick 17.

How many Notes are there?


There are 12 notes total and our ancestors gave them letters for names. It would have been easier if our ancestors
had numbered the notes 1 through 12, but they didn't. They named them A-G instead. They look like this

1. A
2. A# (also known as Bb)
3. B
4. C
5. C# (also known as Db)
6. D
7. D# (also known as Eb)
8. E
9. F
10. F# (also known as Gb)
11. G
12. G# (also known as Ab)

These are all the notes there are in western music. If you want to play them on the guitar, here is one way to do it:

E |­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­|­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­|
B |­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­|­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­|
G |­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­|­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­|
D |­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­|­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­|
A |­­0­­1­­2­­3­­4­­5­­6­­7­­8­­9­|­10­­11­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­|
E |­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­|­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­|

Shouldn't we use the notes on the other strings too?


Yes, absolutely. The point is that this pattern repeats up and down the fretboard. All the other notes are either the
exact same note as these notes or octaves of these notes. Here is the same note and octaves of the same note played
all over the fretboard. This note is A.

E |­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­5­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­17­­­­­|
B |­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­10­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­|
G |­­­­­­­­­­2­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­14­­­­­­­­­­­­­­|
D |­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­7­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­|
A |­­­0­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­12­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­|
E |­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­5­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­17­­­­­|
How about the other notes? For this, we need a good picture. Fortunately, Johan has made one for us. It has all
the notes all over the fretboard. Here it is:
What are Scales?
Most songs uses only seven of the twelve notes. These seven notes are known as a scale. People often say that a
scale has eight notes, but one note repeats like so

C major scale:    C D E F G A B C
Note number       1­2­3­4­5­6­7­1

The C major scale is this list of notes. It does not include A#, C#, D#, F#, or G#. On a guitar it would look like this

E |­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­|­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­|
B |­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­|­­­0­­­­1­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­|
G |­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­0­­­­2­­|­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­|
D |­­­­­­­­0­­­2­­­­3­­­­­­­­­­­­|­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­|
A |­­­­3­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­|­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­|
E |­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­|­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­|    
       C   D   E    F    G    A      B    C

What is a Key?
A key and a scale are really the same thing. If I tell you we are playing in the key of C major, that means we are
only going to play these seven notes listed above and not the five other ones (some jazz guy will write in to tell me
that you can still play the other five notes, but let's start with learning the rules before we go breaking them). So we
use the C major scale for the key of C major. We play the chords that come from the C major scale.

What Key am I in?


Here's a good test to tell what key a song is in:

1. What is the first chord/note in the song?


2. What is the last chord/note in the song?
3. What is the song's most common chord/note?

If the first chord of the song and the last chord are both C major chords, then it is safe to assume that you are
playing a song in the key of C major, which is based on the C major scale. If the first and last chord of the song are
two different chords, then try to count which chord is played more often.

What are Modes?

Modes are like scales only different. You can safely ignore modes for years and still lead a productive life. Most
musicians don't know what modes are and many who do know don't use them. If you found the information on this
FAQ useful, chances are you need to learn more about the basic topics before you get into modes. Please save this
question for later.

If there are pentatonic scales, are there also pentatonic keys?


There are not pentatonic keys, only pentatonic scales . Penta means five, so a pentatonic scale has only five of the
seven notes of a regular scale. G major scale and G major pentatonic scale are almost the same:

G major:              G     A     B     C     D     E     F# 

G major pentatonic    G     A     B           D     E

The pentatonic scale is just missing a few notes. A scale is as much defined by the notes you don't play as the notes
you do play.