Major Scale shapes versus Major Scale notes

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Stephanie Burnham
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Major Scale shapes versus Major Scale notes

Post by Stephanie Burnham » Thu Oct 05, 2017 7:49 pm

This week in Guitar class, a classmate asked the teacher,
"What are the names of the different major scales?"
Our teacher replied,
"Major."
The classmate thought the teacher didn't understand his question so he asked again,
"No, I mean what are the different names of the scales. You mentioned there are lots of major scales, so what are they?"
Our teacher replied again,
"Major. Don't be concerned with names, focus on the shapes."
Is this good advice for a beginning student?
The lecture for the day was how the G Major scale could be played starting at the 7th fret using TABS. Using the notes from the TABS, we could
find the notes to a song that was written for the G Major scale.
So it's shapes over notes? I'd like to hear your thoughts on this.

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Re: Major Scale shapes versus Major Scale notes

Post by DCGillrich » Thu Oct 05, 2017 9:13 pm

Hi Stephanie

If by shape, your teacher means relative intervals of the scale, then all major scales have the same ascending intervals: whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half. Each major scale starts at a root or tonic note, so the major scales are referred to as C-major, G-major, D-major, etc. (the major keys) in which "C", "G", "D", and so on are are the tonic notes. But the pattern of intervals remains fixed. Depending on the tonic note, the number of sharps or flats in the key is then automatically determined. The circle of fifths describes the harmonic relationships between the various keys. You will find more about this in any music theory book, or Wikipedia. Perhaps your teacher might have explained their point in a little more detail.

Cheers... Richard

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Re: Major Scale shapes versus Major Scale notes

Post by Stephen Kenyon » Thu Oct 05, 2017 9:27 pm

One assumes your classmate was not thinking about major modes - Ionian (aka major scale), Lydian, Mixolydian ...

otherwise it sounds like it was about identifying scales and parts of scales from various positions and starting points other than the tonic. Which for analysis, improvisation, composition, is perfectly fine.
Whether those positions are entirely authoritatively codified I'm not sure, but usually, the default starting shape, for G might be in 2nd position = position I, next up the neck might start at VII and be called position 2, etc.
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Re: Major Scale shapes versus Major Scale notes

Post by bear » Thu Oct 05, 2017 10:20 pm

When I think of "shapes", I think of chords and the "shapes" can be applied to the Major scale.
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Re: Major Scale shapes versus Major Scale notes

Post by guitarrista » Thu Oct 05, 2017 10:33 pm

Stephanie Burnham wrote:
Thu Oct 05, 2017 7:49 pm
This week in Guitar class, a classmate asked the teacher,
"What are the names of the different major scales?"
Our teacher replied,
[...]
"Major. Don't be concerned with names, focus on the shapes."
Is this good advice for a beginning student?
Yes it is, except I would not have called it "shapes"(*) but would have said focus on the sequence of intervals - as it defines what major means.

Major scale is exactly the same as saying "start at any note, then construct in ascending order the pitches formed by consecutive adding of the following intervals(**), as also pointed out by Richard: whole, whole, half, whole , whole, whole, half. (half = semitone; whole = 2 semitones).

If your starting pitch/note (also called a root note) is C , then you get C major. If it is D, you get D major, etc. As long as the sequence of intervals is exactly as described above, it is a major scale.

(*) Playing a major scale on the guitar makes for certain shape, but that is a narrower view of what a major scale is. I just think it is better to introduce the principle; it can always be applied to different situations to derive convenient context-specific concepts.

(**) Here we assume just a couple of things - that we have equal temperament, so 12 semitones to fill an octave, and that octaves are functionally equivalent, so multiples of the same frequency are denoted by the same name and are the same pitch (class).
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Re: Major Scale shapes versus Major Scale notes

Post by markworthi » Fri Oct 06, 2017 5:13 pm

Hi Stephanie,

It seems as though your teacher is suggesting a visualization of the shapes of the intervals that define the G major scale; and your question seems to be whether or not this visualization should replace the mental internalization of the theory that tells us, for example, the notes of G major. The former approach seems to be a shortcut that is helpful for improvising, without having to think much about the next note you're going to play. The latter would imply having learned which note comes next in the scale and being able to find it without hesitation on the fret-board. Which method is better for your long-term development as a guitarist?

Actually, I think these two approaches are complementary and mutually reinforcing. The visualization of single octave "shapes" of the various scales and their inter-relationships can be really helpful for improvising; if you have learned to play the single octave ascending G major scale beginning with the root at the 2nd position, you can easily extend this scale by shifting to the fourth position and playing the same "shape" when getting to the next highest G (keeping in mind the variation of the shape-- the extra shift-- that always happens when crossing from the third to the second string and vice versa).

In other words, an ascending G major scale beginning on the root will have the same shape, whether it begins on the 6th string, the 4th string or the 10th string (again, keeping in mind the variations that happen when crossing from the 3rd to the second string).

Your teacher might also be suggesting that you learn the single octave shapes of the other modes of a parent scale. Learning and visualizing the shape of the single octave D Mixolydian scale, for example, can allow for a more convenient extension of the G major scale beyond one octave than the one described above (even though this isn't the only or even the primary reason to learn the Mixolydian scale).

I don't think visualization of shapes is a bad pedagogical device, nor is it detrimental to your long-term development. But this visualization should be supplemented with some discussion of theory. It's good to know that there's a convenient spatial relation on the fretboard between G major and D Mixolydian; but it's also necessary to know the nature of the theoretical relation between the two scales, including why they contain the same notes.
Last edited by markworthi on Fri Oct 06, 2017 6:01 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Major Scale shapes versus Major Scale notes

Post by markworthi » Fri Oct 06, 2017 5:32 pm

Sorry about this double-post. Please ignore.

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Re: Major Scale shapes versus Major Scale notes

Post by Stephanie Burnham » Fri Oct 06, 2017 8:07 pm

Thanks for responding, Mark
Some of what you've written I understand. Since I'm somewhat a beginner to music theory, I had to look up some of the terms you used here.
Maybe that was your intention. I think you have the gist of what I was asking. The websites that I have posted below talk about shapes
the way my guitar teacher talked about them.
In class, our guitar teacher gave us a new way to learn the G major scale. This time we started at the VII position. He said this was the 7th fret. Using TABS, we would play 124 on string 6 and 134 on string 5 and 134 on string 4 and 13 on string 3 and so forth.
Next came ear training. We would hum or voice the strings being played in order to get the notes of songs that are written in the
G Major scale. Once we realized the notes, we would write out the TABS for that song.
During the course of his lecture, he mentioned that there were many major scales. So that brought up the question, 'What are
the different major scales?' He advised my classmate to focus on the shapes rather than the names of the different major scales. My classmate
was in a quandary. Perhaps, he'll go home and study to find out what the teacher meant.

I like what you said that "these two approaches are complementary and mutually reinforcing." I felt that it will be beneficial for the teacher to tell us his reasoning. I think I'll ask him that next week. Otherwise, instead of teaching us the G Major scale, he wouldn't have mentioned it was the G Major scale, he would have just taught us TABs and notes.

I prefer to study and find out answers on my own first. So I first want to understand what was his reasoning. How will focus on the shapes of major scale help with ear training? Maybe that will explain why some people can hear a song and immediately be able to play notes from it. That's a talent we would all like to have. I'm not sure at this stage.

https://www.guitarlessons.com/guitar-le ... ale-shapes
http://www.guitarhabits.com/the-5-major ... positions/


markworthi wrote:
Fri Oct 06, 2017 5:13 pm
Hi Stephanie,

It seems as though your teacher is suggesting a visualization of the shapes of the intervals that define the G major scale; and your question seems to be whether or not this visualization should replace the mental internalization of the theory that tells us, for example, the notes of G major. The former approach seems to be a shortcut that is helpful for improvising, without having to think much about the next note you're going to play. The latter would imply having learned which note comes next in the scale and being able to find it without hesitation on the fret-board. Which method is better for your long-term development as a guitarist?

Actually, I think these two approaches are complementary and mutually reinforcing. The visualization of single octave "shapes" of the various scales and their inter-relationships can be really helpful for improvising; if you have learned to play the single octave ascending G major scale beginning with the root at the 2nd position, you can easily extend this scale by shifting to the fourth position and playing the same "shape" when getting to the next highest G (keeping in mind the variation of the shape-- the extra shift-- that always happens when crossing from the third to the second string and vice versa).

In other words, an ascending G major scale beginning on the root will have the same shape, whether it begins on the 6th string, the 4th string or the 10th string (again, keeping in mind the variations that happen when crossing from the 3rd to the second string).

Your teacher might also be suggesting that you learn the single octave shapes of the other modes of a parent scale. Learning and visualizing the shape of the single octave D Mixolydian scale, for example, can allow for a more convenient extension of the G major scale beyond one octave than the one described above (even though this isn't the only or even the primary reason to learn the Mixolydian scale).

I don't think visualization of shapes is a bad pedagogical device, nor is it detrimental to your long-term development. But this visualization should be supplemented with some discussion of theory. It's good to know that there's a convenient spatial relation on the fretboard between G major and D Mixolydian; but it's also necessary to know the nature of the theoretical relation between the two scales, including why they contain the same notes.

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Re: Major Scale shapes versus Major Scale notes

Post by markworthi » Fri Oct 06, 2017 9:24 pm

I see what you mean: your teacher has asked you to play the G major scale, beginning with B (rather than G, its root). This is actually what is called the B Phrygian scale (B C D E F# G A). I won't try to elaborate on this, as I think too much theory all at once can be a bit overwhelming. I often give myself headaches this way :? And I don't want to get in your teacher's way. Anyway, this gets much clearer as you go!

I would guess his objective in getting you to write out the tabs and sing the notes is so that you will become both visually and aurally acquainted with the major scale and the intervals between each of its scale degrees. Theory aside, you may or may not be able to hear a difference in "quality" between playing B C D E F# G A B and playing G A B C D E F# G. These two scales (even though they contain the same notes) can sometimes sound different, depending upon the accompanying chord progressions. It's possible that this is what your teacher is going for also. But, for now, I bet he just expects you to hear to do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do and be able to visualize (and soon) to sort of sense where they will fall on the fretboard.

Best of luck,

Mark

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Re: Major Scale shapes versus Major Scale notes

Post by Paul Janssen » Fri Oct 06, 2017 10:31 pm

Hi Stephanie,

I won't comment on the approach of your teacher as everyone has their own way of teaching and I'm sure your teacher has planned out what he is wishing to get across to you during these lessons. There are lots of paths to the same destination (so to speak).

I do have a couple of points that might help you understand scale theory a little better:

1. When we talk about positions (e.g. the VII position) we are usually indicating which fret your first finger will land on. So if we are playing in the VII position, your first finger will play the 7th fret, 2nd finger on the 8th fret, 3rd finger on the 9th and 4th on the 10th. It is important to understand this, as when you progress further, you will start to play in different positions, but not necessarily starting with your first finger. For example, we can play a C Major scale in the VII position, but actually begin the scale using our 2nd finger on the 8th Fret on the 6th string. When we move up to the 5th string, we then use our 1st finger on the 7th fret. So we are still following the "rule" of which finger lands on which fret even if we don't start with our first finger. (I hope that makes sense?)

2. One thing that is often overlooked when first learning scale theory is that in a major scale, the note names (A, B, C, D, E, F, G) are listed in order and are never repeated next to each other. Instead we use sharps (#) and flats (b) in musical notation in order to maintain the interval pattern that others have already mentioned (namely, W, W, H, W, W, W, H). So if we look at the notes in the G Major scale we have G-A-B-C-D-E-F#-G. The reason we have F# is that the interval between E & F is only a half step, so to make it a whole step, we raise F but half step to make it F#. This also then makes the interval between F# and G a Half Step which is again what we want.

3. To answer your classmates original question, there are 12 different notes in the chromatic scale. If we think in terms of sharps, these notes are C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A# & B. If we think instead in terms of flats, the notes are C, Db, D, Eb, E, F, Gb, G, Ab, A, Bb & B. What we find is that there are several notes that actually sound the same and are therefore equivalent (the terms we use is that the notes are enharmonic equivalents). Looking at the chromatic scales above, the following pairs of notes are enharmonic equivalents C# & Db, D# & Eb, F# & Gb, G# & Ab, A# & Bb.

Now as I stated above, for major scales, note names (A, B, C etc) are listed in order and are never repeated. So let's look at the notes in Bb major scale. In order to keep our patter on W, W, H, W, W, W, H and still list note names in order, the notes in the Bb major are Bb, C, D, Eb, F, G and A. What if we wanted instead to refer to this scale as A# given that Bb & A# are enharmonic equivalents? The notes would be A#, C, D, D#….pretty soon we run into a problem as we've broken the rule about listing the note names in order and not repeating note names (in this case we dropped the 'B' and we used 'D' twice!!!).

Bringing this all together, by convention we end up with the following 12 major Scales:

C major
G major
D major
A major
E major
B major
F# major
Db major
Ab major
Eb major
Bb major
F major

As you can see there is lots in this answer and I'm sure I've probably left some of the theory out. So I think I can understand why your teacher may have chosen not to answer this question to a class of beginners!!

I hope I have helped rather than confused you.

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Re: Major Scale shapes versus Major Scale notes

Post by Stephanie Burnham » Sat Oct 07, 2017 6:24 am

Paul,

Thanks for responding. I like it that you kept most of the information in my knowledge range.
With A# as a major scale, you would run into double sharps in order to keep the pattern and use all the notes. Thus you would have
A#, B#, C##, D#, E#, F##, G##. Yes, you're right certain tonics such as A# would make things confusing for beginners.

Thank you for explaining the positions. I think that's what my teacher means when he refers to shapes.
He's using TABS and we're learning horizontal shapes I believe. I'm still learning this. I may be wrong when I
say horizontal versus vertical. From what I've seen of the Google images, it appears we're learning horizontal shapes.

I haven't quite grasped the concept of movable shapes yet. It will come.

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Re: Major Scale shapes versus Major Scale notes

Post by Stephanie Burnham » Sat Oct 07, 2017 8:54 am

guitarrista, after googling Scale Shapes, I'm finding that the term is used quite a bit.

See how they use it here:
https://www.justinguitar.com/en/SC-204 ... tterns.php

https://www.guitarlessons.com/guitar-le ... ale-shapes
guitarrista wrote:
Thu Oct 05, 2017 10:33 pm
Stephanie Burnham wrote:
Thu Oct 05, 2017 7:49 pm
This week in Guitar class, a classmate asked the teacher,
"What are the names of the different major scales?"
Our teacher replied,
[...]
"Major. Don't be concerned with names, focus on the shapes."
Is this good advice for a beginning student?
Yes it is, except I would not have called it "shapes"(*) but would have said focus on the sequence of intervals - as it defines what major means.

Major scale is exactly the same as saying "start at any note, then construct in ascending order the pitches formed by consecutive adding of the following intervals(**), as also pointed out by Richard: whole, whole, half, whole , whole, whole, half. (half = semitone; whole = 2 semitones).

If your starting pitch/note (also called a root note) is C , then you get C major. If it is D, you get D major, etc. As long as the sequence of intervals is exactly as described above, it is a major scale.

(*) Playing a major scale on the guitar makes for certain shape, but that is a narrower view of what a major scale is. I just think it is better to introduce the principle; it can always be applied to different situations to derive convenient context-specific concepts.

(**) Here we assume just a couple of things - that we have equal temperament, so 12 semitones to fill an octave, and that octaves are functionally equivalent, so multiples of the same frequency are denoted by the same name and are the same pitch (class).

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Re: Major Scale shapes versus Major Scale notes

Post by guitarrista » Sat Oct 07, 2017 7:52 pm

Stephanie Burnham wrote:
Sat Oct 07, 2017 8:54 am
guitarrista, after googling Scale Shapes, I'm finding that the term is used quite a bit.
Yes it is used a lot in a guitar context. I thought your question was about understanding the concept of a major scale better, in any context. It is not a shape on a piano which has a linear "one-string" "fretboard". It happens to be mapped into 2-D shapes on a guitar fretboard because of the peculiarities of how we tune the 6 strings to "fold" a linear pitch sequence into 6 partially-overlapping sections.
Last edited by guitarrista on Sun Oct 08, 2017 4:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Major Scale shapes versus Major Scale notes

Post by Rasputin » Sun Oct 08, 2017 6:52 am

I can't help thining that that is going to baffle the OP.

Stephanie, I think the point to take from many of the posts above is that the sound of a major scale is not in the individual notes so much as the gaps between them. This is ofen true in music - you can sing a tune starting on any note you like and we will still recognize it as the same tune, just a bit higher or a bit lower.

In the same way, you can make a major scale starting on any note you like, as long as you put in the right gaps. The major scale shapes that we learn already have the right gaps built in, so they are an easy way to make sure we are playing a major scale.
Stephanie Burnham wrote:
Sat Oct 07, 2017 6:24 am
I haven't quite grasped the concept of movable shapes yet. It will come.
A moveable shape is just one that is not tied to any particular starting point. Not all shapes are like this, but there are lots that are. Let's say you learn a moveable shape starting on the 5th fret of the low E string - you can move it up and start on the 6th fret instead, and you will get the same sound, just a bit higher. This is because the gaps are built into the shape so they will come out the same.

In other words, a moveable shape is like a template that you can move up and down the fretboard. If it is a major shape, you will always get a major scale. If you start on a certain fret it may be C major, and if you start on another it may be D major, but it will always be a major scale.

I think Guitarrista's point was that it is really the gaps (aka intervals) between the notes that make something a major scale, and you wouldn't want to let the shapes get in the way of understanding that.

The way I look at it, thinking in shapes is an easy way to make sure you get the gaps right, but it's not the only way, and you wouldn't want to get tied down to it. In order to understand the scale, you have go past the shapes themselves and look at the gaps built into them.

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Re: Major Scale shapes versus Major Scale notes

Post by Stephanie Burnham » Wed Oct 11, 2017 4:40 am

It seems subjective now, Rasputin. I think it has more to do with what the beginner can process at this stage. Perhaps later, we can wrap our heads around something besides shapes.
Rasputin wrote:
Sun Oct 08, 2017 6:52 am
I can't help thining that that is going to baffle the OP.

Stephanie, I think the point to take from many of the posts above is that the sound of a major scale is not in the individual notes so much as the gaps between them. This is ofen true in music - you can sing a tune starting on any note you like and we will still recognize it as the same tune, just a bit higher or a bit lower.

In the same way, you can make a major scale starting on any note you like, as long as you put in the right gaps. The major scale shapes that we learn already have the right gaps built in, so they are an easy way to make sure we are playing a major scale.
Stephanie Burnham wrote:
Sat Oct 07, 2017 6:24 am
I haven't quite grasped the concept of movable shapes yet. It will come.
A moveable shape is just one that is not tied to any particular starting point. Not all shapes are like this, but there are lots that are. Let's say you learn a moveable shape starting on the 5th fret of the low E string - you can move it up and start on the 6th fret instead, and you will get the same sound, just a bit higher. This is because the gaps are built into the shape so they will come out the same.

In other words, a moveable shape is like a template that you can move up and down the fretboard. If it is a major shape, you will always get a major scale. If you start on a certain fret it may be C major, and if you start on another it may be D major, but it will always be a major scale.

I think Guitarrista's point was that it is really the gaps (aka intervals) between the notes that make something a major scale, and you wouldn't want to let the shapes get in the way of understanding that.

The way I look at it, thinking in shapes is an easy way to make sure you get the gaps right, but it's not the only way, and you wouldn't want to get tied down to it. In order to understand the scale, you have go past the shapes themselves and look at the gaps built into them.

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