The Easiest Way to understand music theory

Written Music

Written Music

Music theory is usually one of the most difficult topics for people to learn. Today you will understand the easiest way to break down music theory to understand it the best way. It is easier than you think! There are only 4 categories in music theory. The first step is to identify which of these categories the theory you are learning belongs to.


  • Terminology

This might be the most difficult thing new musicians get confused by in theory. There are so many new words, many of which are not even English. If you identify what you are learning is a new word, it applies to this category. Terminology is used in all the following categories as well.


  • Chord theory

This category includes anything with more than 1 note played at a time.


  • Note Theory

This means anything that uses 1 note at a time.


  • Rhythm

This does not involve notes at all, but this is the study of time. Music takes place over a period of time. Rhythm is the study of how time is manipulated with patterns.


Each category can be explored to very deep levels, but it does not need to be confusing. Understanding how things work is not rocket science. People often make this more complicated than it needs to be.

Rhythmic Variation makes solos interesting

One of the most fundamental ways you can improve your soloing once you figure out what notes you can play is to use a wide variety of rhythms in your solo.  Just because this is fundamental does not mean this is easy beginner stuff. Some of the most challenging things in music are the rhythms. So what makes up rhythmic variety?

There are many different rhythmic groups, using rhythmic variation simply means to switch between these to create an interesting sound.  When this is done well, your solo will sound more interesting and less like rambling. Lets discuss the different rhythmic units so we can know what the possibilities are to use in our solo.



Silence is music too. The musical term for silence is rest. Whenever you use silence in your solo lines you will cause rhythmic variation. Experiment with using silence, putting it in different places. Sometimes Silence says more than noise.


Swing, or not to swing:

What is the definition of Swing? This is a question that will give you 100 different answers if you ask 100 different people. The most universal definition of swing is a Dotted 8th note 16th note feel.  Have you ever heard great big band songs from back in the day? In The Mood is a good example of swing. It has a bouncing feel. Now, don’t be fooled, Swing can be used in any style. Its origin is in the 1930s swing era of jazz, but country, blues, rock, bluegrass and any other style you can think of uses it as well. It can create a cool rhythmic feel. Try it.


Note Length:

There are many different lengths of notes that you can use. Here is a list of note values in music:

Whole note

Half Note

Quarter Note

8th note

16th note

32nd note (mostly used in slow songs, otherwise it is too fast)


Triplet note values:

All the note values above also have triplets. If you are playing a long 8th note line in jazz, throw in triplets for interest. One note value by itself will get boring. Triplets can sound extremely awesome.


Don’t be boxed in by note values:

There are no rules against holding a note longer than a whole note. There are no names for these rhythmic values, but they exist.  Also there is no law against going out of time and coming back into time. (Be very careful with that option, but it can be done)


This wraps up the main ways to add variation. Experiment with mixing all of these together and see what you can come up with. A great way to practice this is to pick one note and try to make an interesting solo with it. Listen to a lot of musicians solo and see how they use variation in their rhythm. Listen a lot, you can even transcribe rhythms by themselves, or sing the rhythms as they play. Have fun going out there and making interesting music.

Learning the musical alphabet

Remember when we were kids back in school. We were very young and they started to teach us the English Alphabet by having us sing it to twinkle twinkle little star? That alphabet is not only for English. The first 7 letters are what makes up the musical alphabet as well. Sing with me! A B C D E F G. Stop there. You now know the main mechanics of the musical alphabet.

The musical Alphabet

The musical alphabet without lowering or raising any notes.

This is not the full story though. Each note can be raised or lowered. When you raise a note it is called sharp, and when you lower a note it is called flat.


Don’t be fooled. There are 2 exceptions which you will need to memorize. Between the E and the F there are note flats or sharps, also between the B and the C there are no flats and sharps.

Full Musical Alphabet

Full Musical Alphabet

A great place to find an example of the 2 exceptions in the musical alphabet is on a piano. You can use a piano to practice finding the musical alphabet. You will also see 2 sections on the piano which do not have a black note between them. In case you don’t know anything about piano, a black note is a sharp or flatted note.


Before we close this lesson I want to talk about the sharps and flats a little bit more. A sharp and flat note can be the same note. It is spelled differently. For example, John and Jack are the same name just a different way of saying it. For a musical example, C # and Db are the same note. F# and Gb are the same note.


There are only 12 notes in the musical alphabet. 7 of them are in the English alphabet, the rest are just lowered or raised. spending time with this will help you learn how music works as well as help you find notes on the guitar. If you know the musical alphabet you can work your way up the string using it to find a note.  Best of luck

Harmonizing scales to create arpeggios

When you learn a new scale it is a good idea to learn how to harmonize it creating arpeggios over it.  You may be asking what that means. This is simply building a triad or seventh chord off of each note in the scale. Using these arpeggios gives you a wide range of arpeggios to use over your playing. When you are generalizing over a song you can pick any of these arpeggios or play the harmonized scale ascending or descending. Any scale can be harmonized.

Before you start to harmonize a Scale let me quickly go over the nerd stuff. The word harmonize comes from the word harmony. Harmony is the underlying progression of notes. Notice, I did not say chords. Harmony can be chords, but it does not always use chunks of notes. Harmony can be split up into broken chords (notes from a chord played individually.) If you want to harmonize a scale you need to build intervals of thirds. You can review intervals here.  A triad is a 3 note chord (with all thirds) and a seventh chord is a 4 note chord (in all thirds.) So in brief, you need to add a couple notes to each scale tone using thirds.

A Harmonized major scale. It is a good idea to memorize the chord sequence. Major, Minor, Minor, Major, Dominant, Minor, Minor 7(b5)

A Harmonized major scale. It is a good idea to memorize the chord sequence. Major, Minor, Minor, Major, Dominant, Minor, Minor 7(b5)

Now if you are not generalizing over a chord progression you may want to approach this harmonization a little differently. Take the arpeggio and figure out which arpeggio belongs over the Third of the chord, 5th of the chord or 7th of the chord. This will allow you to focus more on important tones. You will be starting arpeggios on the root position arpeggio which is very connected to the chord. Below is an example of harmonized arpeggios.

Harmonized Arpeggios

Harmonized Arpeggios. Notice if you look at all the notes of the arpeggios in each category they complete the full major scale. However they are built in thirds rather than seconds.

Once you are comfortable with these 2 approaches you can intermix them in your playing for a unique sound and more option. The more options you have, but better you can play a wide range of music and have fresh and new ideas. Spend some time working on harmonizing scales and learning to play them. Once you are comfortable with that spend some time memorizing then harmonized arpeggios.

Using this same system you can start to imply altered tones in your playing by changing your arpeggio choices. You can learn to play extended arpeggios and just be freer with your music. These are not meant to restrict your playing; rather they give you building blocks to use to make music. It is hard to be innovative without knowledge of what came before; it is also hard to be good without the knowledge of the basic building blocks of what you want to do. Arpeggios and scales make up much of the music we hear. Learning to use them to our benefit is well worth the time.

What are altered chords?

In your Jazz career you will hear people talking about altered chords and on your jazz charts you may see G alt. What does this mean? Altered chords are not that hard to grasp, and are an important concept to know about. Any Chord can be altered, but the most common is the dominant chord. For this article we will use dominant 7 chords as the example. In this article you will learn what an altered chord is and how it is made.

The simplest definition of an altered chord is any chord that has chord tones altered. Another way to think of an altered chord is a note in the chord that has been raised or lowered in the scale that correlates to that chord. The notes in a dominant 13 chord are 1, 3, 5, b7, 9, 11, 13. This chord is not altered. When you change one of the chord tones you now have an altered chord. If you take the term “altered” and change it to “changed” or “edited” you will get the idea. This chord is changed or edited to be different from its original form.  The changed version of that chord is known as the altered chord.

The more theoretical definition of an altered dominant chord is a chord with a lowered or raised fifth or a lowered or raised 9th. These alterations can be written in different ways. You may see a #11, but this is a b5. You can see a b13, but this is a raised 5th. The 9th and the 5ths are responsible for creating the tensions. Typically tensions are creating on the upper structures of chords. Very rarely do you see anything written or played b2. The difference between a 9th and a 2nd is not the note, but how the note correlates to the root. If there is an octave between the 2 notes it is called a 9th. If it is a whole or half step away from the root it is a second. The octave between the root and the alterations will make the altered note sound better and clash less.

Altered chords which are used a lot in jazz, primarily over the dominant chord are really fun chords. Altered chords are chords that the tones have been changed. The notes that are typically changed in an altered chord are the 5ths and 9ths. You may see these written differently but they 5ths and 9ths are the notes responsible for alterations. Alterations typically appear in the upper structures of chords and are primarily put in dominant chords.  Most chords can be altered; however the most common is dominant chords. This makes the dominant chord one of the most interesting chords in music.

All you need to know about music theory intervals part 2

Previously on part 1 we discuss what music theory intervals are and some different types of intervals used in music. Review that post if you have not yet read it. Today we will define the distances that make up different intervals. We will also discuss how many intervals you have and how to count higher than an octave.

Intervals are counted by numbers. However, when we consider intervals we need to remember that each number has 3 notes in that group. For example: a half step is a second. A whole step is a second and a 3 half steps is a second. The difference between these is that a half step is a flat 2. The whole step is a 2 and the 3 half steps is a #2. What makes this confusing is that a #2 is the same note as a b3. They sound the exact same pitch. The #2 and b3 are called enharmonic minors. For example say we are in G and we play a #2 the note is A#, if we play a b3 the note is Bb. These are the exact same notes with a different name.

You can count numbers up to 2 octaves high. Once you get more than an octave you do not recount the numbers 1, 3, 5 or 7. However, the 2 becomes a 9, 4 becomes 11 and 6 becomes 13. Most of the time you see a flat or sharp 2 you call it a flat or sharp nine. Same thing goes with a sharp 4 is a sharp 11 and flat 6 is flat 13. This is called the rule of 7. If it is a 2, 4 and 6 you add seven to it to get an octave higher.

Intervals are all over in music. They make up chords and scales and lead us to our knowledge about music. Intervals are distances described by numbers. Each number has a sharp and flat possibility. You can count intervals up past an octave. If you take a number and add 7 to it you get the octave higher. Usually only 2, 4 and 6 are talked about an octave higher. This allows you to mention chord extensions and melody notes with more than an octave between the 2 notes. Memorize that 2 becomes 9, 4 becomes 11 and 6 becomes 13. This will be very beneficial to your music education and understanding of music and music theory.

All you need to know about music theory intervals.

In music theory, there is a concept called intervals. This term is used a lot and is very important to understand if you wish to learn music well. Intervals are the foundation for western music (music that we know of in America). All chords, melodies, scale, and everything else that is used in music is based on intervals. Without intervals there wouldn’t be music as we know it today. So in this article I am going to explain what intervals are and a little bit about the different types of intervals.

So what exactly is an interval? It is the distance between 2 notes. For example if you are on a basketball court and you run from one hoop to the other, that is an interval. An interval is a distance between 2 objects.  When you have 2 notes in music they create an interval. The notes are the object that creates the distance. There are many types of intervals. Let’s take a look at some of the different types and learn about them.

There will be some new vocabulary you should learn to understand the different types of intervals. The first thing you should consider about intervals is the distance between the 2 notes. Some intervals have very small distances, this is called small intervals. If the distance is long between the 2 intervals the word is wide intervals. There is definite definition of small or wide intervals, but typically seconds and thirds are considered small, Fourths and more are considered wide.

Another consideration when it comes to intervals is the sound of the 2 notes. Does it sound good or does it sound bad? When you hear 2 notes played together or one after the other you will hear that the note resonates well and seems relaxing. The good sounding intervals are called consonant. The bad sounding intervals which clash and sound harsh are called dissonant intervals. Examples of dissonant intervals are the raised fourth and the upper seventh.

Intervals are a very important concept to understand in music. All Scales, arpeggios, guitar licks and melodies are based on intervals. In this lesson you learned what intervals are and about different types of intervals. You have small and wide intervals depending how the distance between the notes and you have consonant and dissonant intervals depending on their sound. Next lesson we will learn how to tell what the interval distance is. Discuss below!

Discover the differences between Pedal Tones and Music Drones

If you are in a music situation where you hear the words pedal tones or the word drone you may wonder what these are. They are tones that lie over the music over a period of time. Knowing these terms will help make you a more educated musician. In this lesson you will learn the differences between these 2 words and learn how they are used.

A pedal tone is the most common technique used. It was used in classical music by the great composers, and it is still used today in nearly every genre of music. A pedal tone is a repeated note, typically with other notes around it. When a pedal tone is being performed the player will keep returning to the note even though he is playing other notes. The pedal note is typically in the bass (lowest) note, however there are instances where the pedal note is in the highest note. Most musical instruments we know of today do this because the ability of the instrument is not capable of playing a drone.

A drone is a note that is played and held continuously throughout a piece of the song or the entire song. A drone does not stop at all and it does not change notes. Typically the instruments that use this are bagpipes or an organ. This is not nearly as popular of a technique as the pedal tone is. Once again most common instruments in this era cannot play a drone. The note can be played in any octave; it does not have to be in any certain range.

How do you apply this to your playing? Well, there are licks that utilize pedal tones. On guitar you can use a pedal tone in your solo to enhance your creativity. They sound very neat and are fun to play. There is not really any way to utilize a drone unless you play the kind of instrument that can play them. Knowing this knowledge will make you more educated about music and you will understand what people are talking about if they mention these terms.

A note that underlies melody is either known as a pedal tone or a drone. A pedal tone is a repeated note that typically has other notes played between the pedal note. A drone is a note that is held throughout the chords without stopping. Most instruments this day in age can only play pedal tones. Pedal tones are cool things you can use in your soloing to make you a better player. Share your thoughts below.

Start learning triads on guitar part 1

Triads are the simplest form of a full chord. A full chord consist of tones 1, 3 and 5. Triads are 3 note chords that use these 3 tones. These are valuable for comping with a band, creating chord melodies or helping you see arpeggios. So this is something you should get under your fingers and be familiar with.  In this lesson I will teach you major and minor triads on the top 3 strings. Once you memorize and feel comfortable with triads on the 3 highest strings you can then go on to learn triads on different strings. Let’s explain the different between minor and major triads real quick then we will jump in and learn the shapes for these chords.

Triads are based off of the major scale. The major triad is made of tones 1, 3 and 5. This means that the root of the major scale, third note and fifth note of the major scale combined make up the major triad. When you lower the third 1 half step it becomes a minor third. A minor triad is made of 1, minor third and the fifth. So keep in mind that when you change from a minor triad to a major triad there is only 1 note different. The third note of the major scale is the only difference between minor and major. Let’s jump in and learn these triad shapes.

guitar triads

The root of this guitar triad is on the high E string. Place your middle finger on the G string and bar your first (index) finger across the 2 highest strings.

guitar triads

The root of this guitar triad is on the B string. Play this like your open D chord.

guitar triads

The root of this guitar triad is on the G string. place your middle finger on the G string, ring finger on the B string and first (index) finger on the E string.

When you memorize these scales, make sure you know which note is the root. If a chord symbol pops up, you need to know where to play these chords at. The root is located in the exact same spot on the minor triads as they are on the major triads. Compare how these look on diagram and on your fingers. You will see that minor and major triads are only 1 note different from each other. As mentioned earlier, the third is the determining factor for making it minor or major.

guitar triads

The root of this minor guitar triad is on the high E string. Lay your first (index) finger flat to barre them all.

guitar triads

The root of this minor guitar triad is on the B string. Place you middle finger on the G string. Place your ring finger on the B string and your first (index) finger on the high E string.

guitar triads

The root of this minor guitar triad is on the G string. Place your ring finger on the G string, middle finger on the B string and first (index) finger on the high E string.

Triads are valuable basic chords which only contain the tones 1, 3 and 5. They are very similar, besides 1 note changes from minor to major. Once you have these chord shapes memorized and you feel comfortable with them you can move on to the next lesson on triads. In the next lesson you will learn shapes on different strings and more about the triad. If you are ready for the next lesson please continue here.