Theory Basics

Here are some essential ideas lying behind the Metafrets system:

Naming of Notes

  • Musical notes are given the names A through G, and these repeat after G, or before A.
  • The pitch of the notes goes up as you go through the notes in alphabetical order.
  • The pitch of the notes goes down as you go through the notes in reverse alphabetical order.
  • A note that is eight notes away from another, either ascending or descending, will be called the octave, and perceived as being very similar.

Musical Intervals

  • The difference in pitch between any two notes is called an interval, and these may be ascending from a lower to a higher note, or descending from a higher to a lower note
  • On a guitar, the musical distance between two fretted notes on the same string is a half-step or semi-tone.
  • The interval is given a name according to the number of letter names in the interval, so for instance, A to D is a 4th, since it contains the four notes: A, B, C, and D.
  • The interval is given an additional qualifier depending on the number of tones and half-tones found in it, so for instance, A to D is called a perfect 4th because it contains five semi-tones. The naming scheme is somewhat complex, and will be discussed elsewhere.

The Chromatic Scale

  • Not all adjacent notes are the same musical interval apart. Both B to C and E to F are only one semi-tone apart, whereas A to B, C to D, D to E, F to G and G to A are all a whole tone (two frets) apart.
  • Notes intermediate between the whole tone pairs are qualified with an additional part in the name, either a sharp (#) or a flat (b). So for instance, between A and B lies the note A#. Also, curiously enough, between A and B lies the note Bb.
  • These two notes, A# and Bb are actually the same pitch in modern instruments. The name used depends on the musical context. This is discussed elsewhere.
  • When all notes that are a half-step apart are listed, it is called the chromatic scale.

The Diatonic Scales

  • We can other scales by starting on any note of the chromatic scale, and choosing a subset of the notes.
  • If we start on the C note, and choose C, D, E, F, G, A, B (and C again), we have produced a seven note scale called C major.
  • The pattern of tones and semi-tones between the notes of a major scale is: Tone, Tone, Semi-tone, Tone, Tone, Tone, Semi-tone.
  • This pattern can be started on any note of the harmonic scale to produce many different major scales.
  • This pattern repeats after seven notes, at the octave.
  • We can start on any note of a major scale, and get a different kind of scale, so for instance, if we take the C major scale as our starting scale, and then start on the A note, we produce an A natural minor scale.
  • The pattern of tones and semi-tones between the notes of a minor scale is: Tone, Semi-tone, Tone, Tone, Semi-tone, Tone, Tone.
  • There are seven basic seven-note scale patterns in use, and these historically were called modes. There are also variations for each of these.
  • Many other scales are possible, and not all have seven notes.


  • Chords are combinations of notes played together.
  • There are a large number of types of chords
  • Chord types include the triads such as the major chords, the minor chords, and the diminished chord
  • Chord types include the seventh chords such as the major seventh chords, the seventh chords, the minor seventh chords, and the half-diminished chord.
  • Any chord is still considered to be the same chord if some of the notes are repeated in a different octave.
  • Any chord is still considered to be the same chord if the some of the notes are replaced by the same note in a different octave. This is called inverting the chord.
  • Any given chord may be found in many, many different places on the guitar, with numerous variations.
  • The musical distance between notes in any given chord is called the chord formula.
  • The note that names the chord is called 1, or the root.
  • A major chord has the formula of 1, 3, 5, which means a root note, followed by a note a major 3rd (4 semi-tones) above the root, followed by a note a perfect 5th (7 semi-tones) above the root.
  • A minor chord has the formual 1, b3, 5, which means a root note, followed by a note a minor 3rd (3 semi-tones) above the root, followed by a note a perfect 5th (7 semi-tones) above the root.
  • The order of the terms in the chord formula can change, and it will still be the same chord name, and have a similar quality and musical function.
  • Any chord formula can be applied with different root notes, to make different chords of the same type.
  • Some chord formulas have more than one associated chord type, and the name is dependent on the larger context.


  • If the notes comprising a given diatonic scale are used to make melodies (tunes) or chords, the music is said to be in a key based on that scale.
  • Each note of the scale is given a number, usually in Roman numerals, called the degree.
  • On each degree of the scale, we can build a chord, using only the other notes of the scale.
  • These may be three note chords, four note chords, and so on.
  • Each chord has a function in music in terms of creating an interesting piece.
  • Building the chords on each degree of the scale is called harmonizing the scale. For instance, in the key of C major, the triads in order are: C major, D minor, E minor, F major, G major, A minor, and B diminished.

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