Home : Theory and Patterns : Music Theory - Hardcore Crash Course
Copyright (C) 2004-2007 Nick Antonaccio, All Rights Reserved.
All common mainstream music is created from CHORDS.  Every melody you've ever heard can be thought of
as a series of notes that come from a given set of chords.  In fact, every complete piece of music
you've ever heard can be thought of as a collection of notes that basically make up a chord
progression.  Any attempt to write, improvise, play by ear, arrange, or otherwise create music,
therefore, is an effort to manipulate the notes of chords.
Chords are made up of "INTERVAL" patterns.  On the guitar, intervals can be thought of in terms of
relative note positions, or shapes, on the fret board.  Certain shapes are common in mainstream music.
In fact, a small handful of common shapes make up the overwhelming majority of every kind of music.
Learning the sounds created by combinations of those shapes, and the ways they are normally put
together, is the goal of studying music theory.
"Arpeggios" are the notes of chords played individually.  To play all the notes of any chord/arpeggio,
anywhere on the guitar neck, you must first find the “ROOT NOTE”, or letter name of the chord.  In an
"A major" chord, the root note is "A".  In an "F#major9(#11)" chord, the root note is "F#".  The note
diagram on the following page displays all the note names on the 6th (thickest) string of the guitar -
memorize them.
The "octave" shape on the following page is a MOVEABLE fingering pattern, which means the diagram can
be slid to any fret on the guitar.  Using it, you can find all the notes with the same name (all the
number "1"s), everywhere possible on the guitar fret board.  This pattern repeats every 12 frets.  For
example, if you find an "A" on the 6th string, 5th fret, you'll find all the other possible "A"s at the
following string/fret positions:  6/5, 4/7, 2/10, 5/12, 3/14, 1/17, 6/17, 3/2, 1/5, 4/19, etc.
To find interval numbers that make up chords, use the interval diagrams below.  For example, using the
first small interval diagram below (the one that contains the numbers 7135), if you put a number "1" on
an "A" root note at the 6th string, 5th fret (6/5), you'll find the 3rd interval at 5/4, the 5th
interval at 5/7, and the 7th interval at 6/4.  Using that same small diagram, if you find an "A" root
note at 4/7, the 3rd interval is at 3/6, the 5th interval is at 3/9, and the 7th interval is at 4/6.
You can follow that same fingering pattern (shape) to find the intervals at every octave position, for
any root note.  NOTE:  When finding notes between the 3rd and 2nd strings, the numbers need to be
shifted one fret apart, so that either the notes on the 2nd string are moved up one fret, or the notes
on the 3rd string are moved down 1 fret.  For example, if you find an "A" root note at 3/14, the 3rd
interval is at 2/14 (instead of 2/13), the 5th interval is at 2/17 (not 2/16), and the 7th interval is
at 3/13.
To make any chord, just find the specified intervals, listed in the chord formula section below, around
the required root note of a given chord.  Flat symbols ("b") move a note DOWN one fret (closer to the
headstock).  Sharp symbols ("b") move a note UP one fret (closer to the bridge).  For example, the
notes of an "A major" chord are found at the following frets:  6/5, 5/4, 5/7, 4/7, 3/6, 3/9, 2/10, 1/9,
1/12, 5/12, 4/11, 4/14, 3/14, 2/14, 2/17, 1/17, 6/17, 5/16, 5/18, etc.  The notes of an "A7" chord
(also called an "A dominant 7th") are found at the following frets:  6/5, 5/4, 5/7, 6/3, 4/7, 3/6, 3/9,
4/5, 2/10, 1/9, 1/12, 2/8, 5/12, 4/11, 4/14, 5/10, 3/14, 2/14, 2/17, 3/13, 1/17, 1/15, 6/17, 5/16,
5/18, 6/15 etc.                                                                                      
                0   1  2      3  4      5  6      7  8  9      10  11     12          
 string:    E   F  F#/Gb  G  G#/Ab  A  A#/Bb  B  C  C#/Db  D   D#/Eb  E           
  OCTAVES:          INTERVALS:       CHORD FORMULAS:                                  
                                                                    "dominant 7th
  1 | | | | 1       7 3    7 3       major: 1 3 5   minor: 1 b3 5    7: 1 3 5 b7      
  | | | | | |       1 |    1 4                                                        
  | | 1 | | |       | |    | |       sus4:  1 4 5   sus2:  1  2 5   add9: 1 3 5 9     
  | | | | | |       | 5    2 5                                                        
  | | | | | |              | |       major7:  1 3 5 7   minor7:  1 b3 5 7             
  | | | | 1 |       3 |    3 6                                                        
  | | | | | |       | |    4 |       major6:  1 3 5 6   minor6:  1 b3 5 6             
  | 1 | | | |       | |    | 7                                                        
  | | | | | |       5 1    5 1       9: 1 3 5 b7 9   13: 1 3 5 b7 (9 11) 13           
  | | | 1 | |       | |    | |                                                        
  | | | | | |       | |    6 2       7(#9): 1 3 5 b7 #9   major9(#11): 1 3 5 7 9 #11  
  | | | | | |       | |    | |                                                        
  1 | | | | 1       7 3    7 3       9=2  11=4  13=6                                  
To make music with the above patterns, you need a chord progression to play.  Remember, all music comes
from chord progressions.  If you want to jam (improvise) with other musicians, you'll all choose a
chord progression, and then take turns playing lead solos over that progression while the others play
background accompaniment.  When you play a song with a band, each musician plays bits of the chords
that make up that song, in a way that is appropriate for their instrument (i.e., the bassist may walk
or slap notes of the chords to create a bass line, the guitarist may strum chord shapes, or play licks
and melodies from notes that outline those chords, the singer will sing a melody that outlines notes of
those same chords, etc.).  The next section of this text describes how to create chord progressions.
This section describes, in a very general way, how to create interesting musical lines from chords.
When you play "rhythm" guitar, or accompaniment, you basically play collections of chord tones,
typically in an unobtrusive (generally repetitive and rhythmically even) pattern, to provide harmonic
background for other melodies.  When you play "lead" guitar, you typically try to create more
interesting melodies with some sort of singable character and/or technical instrumental interest.  
The use of rhythm is perhaps the most important element required to create interesting musical lines.
Combinations of long and short notes, with accents at interesting points in the rhythmic meter are what
create moving sounds with physical impetus and musical life.  When you attempt to create any music,
whether improvised on the spot, or more finely crafted, a fundamental requirement is the creation of
interesting rhythm patterns.  Rhythm patterns are created by subdividing (doubling and redoubling) the
basic beat of a given meter (i.e., a basic beat pattern of 4 beats to a measure can be doubled into 8th
and 16th note subdivisions), and then any variety of those beats can be OMITTED, so that an
interesting, moving, and varied rhythm pattern is created.  Triplet, quintuplet, and other subdivisions
can also be used to create interesting rhythms.  Many rhythm patterns are learned and practiced.  As
with every other aspect of music, rhythmic understanding and creativity comes only from lots of
experience playing music.  By playing thousands of pieces of music over the course of years, you'll
become very familiar with common rhythm patterns that are used in all kinds of music.  Intuitive creative rhythmic ability, however, is possible for most students.  Most people can devise an
improvised rhythmic pattern when presented with a given accompaniment.  This skill can be developed by
simple exploration and trial & error, and it only improves with practice and experience.  It is
fundamental to have a "rhythmic sound" in your head when attempting any creative music making over a
given chord accompaniment.  Fitting notes into such a created rhythmic pattern is the basis for all
creative music making.  An understanding of music theory only helps you to find notes on the instrument
that fit within the given chord progression – using appropriate shapes.  To bring life to those notes,
a rhythmic impulse is required.  A complete study of rhythm is typically the domain of beginner-
intermediate music lessons, and a mastery of rhythm, both in physical, technical ability and conceptual
understanding, is only achieved by playing lots of music.  For now, understand that any creative
musical attempt should start with creating a rhythm pattern, and that notes should be fit into that
rhythm pattern, using the guidelines in this text.
Pitch Choices:
Devising melodic movements with an interesting mix of short and long jumps from low to high pitches is
also an important part of creating “good” music.  Mixing short and long jumps from high to low, and
weaving up and down through pitches generally creates more interesting musical variety than staying in
one predictable set of notes.  "Passing tones" are also very important in creating harmonic and melodic
"color" interest.  This may seem surprising, but in just about any chord progression, at any moment,
any note on the guitar can be played, as long as it moves from and/or towards a chord tone in a musical
way.  If you focus on playing notes that come from the intervals of a given chord in a progression, you
won't play any wrong notes, and as long as you "resolve" any extraneous passing tones by landing on
chord tones.  Especially if you pass though non-chord tones quickly and on unaccented beats, you'll
create interesting, good sounding music. (If you land on, and rhythmically accent, non-chord tones,
you'll create sounds that are dissonant with a given accompaniment chord progression).  That's a
fundamental concept that has been used to create music of every style, for hundreds of years.  Here are
some passing tone interval patterns to try for dominant 7th chords (1 3 5 b7).  These are intervalic
fragments that can be strung together throughout octaves to create interesting sounds.  Practice them,
and remember to land on and rhythmically accent the chord tones 1, 3, 5, and b7:
  b3 3 1   4 3 1   1 7 b7   6 b7 1   5 b5 4 3   2 b2 1   2 b3 3   1 2 b3 3  
  5 6 b7   5 b6 6 b7  1 1 3 1 4 3 1 5 3 1 4 3 1                             
In our musical culture, it's generally accepted that "good", aesthetically pleasing, interesting
sounding music is created by taking a chord progression, creating a basic rhythmic background of
unobtrusive chord tones, and making a melody that has all the characteristics of rhythmic, pitch (large
leaps and small jumps), and harmonic (interesting passing tone movements) creativity.  This is the
thing that takes years of experience, some innate talent, and an inherent musical drive, to accomplish
effectively.  Years of experience are perhaps most important.  By playing thousands of pieces of music,
you learn to intuitively understand what musical elements combine to create music that sounds "good"
and satisfying to you.  You can however, begin to experiment with your own creations, just by playing a
chord progression and finding the notes of each chord on the fret board.  By using your own existing
rhythmic impulses, and by exercising your own creativity to jump from note to note on the fret board in
varied patterns, you can begin to explore real, genuinely effective improvisation and composition,
using only the information in this document.
To build your musical skills in an organized way, analyze music you like in a theoretical context.
Examine the chord progression on which the music is based.  Look at how the chords are used to create a
rhythmic background.  Look at how intervals of the chords are employed, along with passing tones, to
create melodies (both vocal and instrumental).  Your goal as a creative musician is to build a
vocabulary of rhythmic patterns, melodic intervalic moves, and chord progression patterns that you can
mix freely to create infinitely varied and interesting musical sounds.CHORD PROGRESSIONS – ROMAN NUMERALS:
Just as notes are put together to form chords, using interval number patterns, chords are also put
together into progressions that are labeled by interval number patterns.  Because music in our culture
is basically derived from chord progressions, this is a very important part of understanding music as a
whole.  When writing out chord progressions, the root notes of chords are typically labeled by numbers
written as roman numerals.  Large roman numerals represent major chords.  Small roman numerals
represent minor chords.  Here are all the roman numerals used to label musical chord progressions:
          1       2        3        4        5        6        7       (8=1)  
  Large:  I       II       III      IV       V        VI       VII      I     
  Small:  i       ii       iii      iv       v        vi       vii      i     
           \     /  \     /   \    /  \     / \      /  \     /   \    /      
           2 frets  2 frets   1 fret  2 frets  2 frets  2 frets   1 fret      
            apart    apart     apart   apart    apart    apart     apart      
Below are some examples of chord progressions written out as roman numerals.  The "key" note of the
progression is determined by wherever you put the number "1".  All the other notes in the key land on
numbers that are outlined by the interval fingerings presented earlier.
  Example 1:      I7  IV7   V7    I7                                    
  Example 2:      vi  IV    I     V                                     
  Example 3:      I   bVI   bVII  I                                     
  Example 4:       I   I7    IV    iv                                    
  Example 5:   I   iii   IV    V     I   ii    IV    I           
  Example 6:      vi  ii    V     I     IV  bVII  III7  III7            
  Example 7:       I   bIII  IV    III7  vi  II7   V7    I               
  Example 8:       i   biii  #iv   #v    <-- NOT a common set of chords  
Example 1 in the key of A: A7 D7   E7   A7  (starting at the 5th fret)
Example 1 in the key of G: G7  C7 D7 D7  (starting at the 3rd fret)
Example 1 in the key of C: C7 F7 G7 C7  (starting at the 8th fret)
Example 2 in the key of A: F#m D A E
Example 2 in the key of G: Em C G D
Example 2 in the key of C: Am F C G
Example 3 in the key of A: A F G A
Example 3 in the key of G: G Eb  F   G
Example 3 in the key of C: C Ab Bb  C
Example 4 in the key of A: A A7   D Dm
Example 4 in the key of G: G   G7   C    Cm
Example 4 in the key of C: C C7   F    Fm
Example 5 in the key of A: A C#m D E A Bm D A
Example 5 in the key of G: G Bm   C D    G Am C G
Example 5 in the key of C: C Em   F    G C Dm F C
Example 6 in the key of A: F#m Bm E    A D G C#7 C#7
Example 6 in the key of G: Em Am D G C F B7 B7
Example 6 in the key of C: Am Dm G C F Bb E7 E7Example 7 in the key of A: A C    D C#7 F#m B7 E7 A
Example 7 in the key of G: G Bb   C B7   Em A7 D7 G
Example 7 in the key of C: C Eb   F    E7 Am D7 G7 C
Example 8 in the key of A: Am Cm  Fm  
Example 8 in the key of G: G Bbm  D#
Example 8 in the key of C: C Ebm  G#m
Every piece of music you've ever heard comes from a very small set of roman numerals.  The most common
chord progressions in popular music are made up of I, IV, V, vi, and bVII chords.  More than half the
music you here on the radio is created from those 5 chords alone!  All the most commonly used chords
are categorized as follows (you see them in the progressions above):
    DIATONICS:            I     ii    iii    IV     V(7)  vi
    BORROWED CHORDS:      bVII  bIII  bVI   (bV     bII)
    BLUES CHORDS:         I7    IV7   V7
Diatonic chords are used in virtually every type of music.  They are most common in traditional, folk,
classical, and pop music.  The I IV and V(7) chords are used in virtually every piece of music you
hear, regardless of style (V can be either major or dominant).  Learning those three chords in every
key is fundamental to understanding and recognizing chord patterns of every type.  Borrowed chords are
used heavily in rock music.  You'll see them used regularly with distorted guitar sounds in heavy
mainstream pop music.  You'll also see them used in bluegrass and other model styles.  Blues
progressions are defined by basic dominant 7th chords (also dominant 7ths with added 9th, 11th, and
13th intervals) on the numbers I, IV, and V.  You'll see them most in "bluesy" music.  Secondary
dominant chords are 7th (9th, 11th, and 13th) chords that come from other keys ("secondary keys").
They create an interesting, unexpected harmonic "twist" - a bit of temporary harmonic tension when
added to a chord progression.  You'll see secondary dominants most in jazz and classical music, but
also in pop ballads that have a "playful" sound reminiscent of ragtime music and the like.  Secondary
dominant chords have a strong tendency to resolve (move) in the following ways when found in real
I7   ->  IV
II7  ->  V or V7
II7  ->  V, V7, and sometimes IV
III7 ->  vi or VI7, and sometimes IV
VI7  ->  ii or II7
VII7 ->  iii or III7
Knowing those guidelines is useful when playing by ear, composing, and/or improvising, because they
provide a way of knowing the most likely next chord in any sequence (without guesswork), and thus
provide a further structured approach to learning and deciphering chord progressions in which they're
Minor Chord Progessions:
Minor chord progressions tend to sound sad, dark, and more serious than other types of chord
progressions.  To create a minor chord progression, just START and end on a vi chord, and use any of
the chords from other categories to form a progression.  Minor chord progressions typically contain the
secondary dominant "III7" chord.  That chord helps to create a harmonic focus on the vi chord (because
III7 has a tendency to resolve to vi - see the notes in the previous section).  It's also possible to
label minor chord progressions by starting on a "i" minor, and using an entirely different set of roman
numerals to label all other possible chords around that tonic - that is not the method used in this
text, because it introduces much additional and unnecessary memorization, and tends to further confuse
an already complex topic.Modulation:
Modulation is defined as the changing of key.  It basically involves playing roman numerals around one
given root note, and then shifting to roman numerals around a different key ote. Key changes are often
used to create harmonic variety within songs and compositions of all types.  Starting a song with the
chords I, IV, V7  in the key of G  (G, C, and D7), then playing the same chords in the key of A  (A, D,
and E7) is called a modulation from G to A.
Below are a number of typical modulation patterns found in common use:
Direct:  Moving directly from one key to another, without any specific transitional chords.  The shift
is abrupt, from one key to another.  This type of modulation is common in popular music.  Most often
keys are modulated up by half or whole step to create a sense of heightened energy.  A song may start
in the key of C, and then modulate to D and then E at the end to create a dramatic finish.
Relative:  Remember, a minor key can be defined as a progression starting on the vi chord - A minor is
the vi chord in the key of C major.  The scales C major and A natural minor contain the exact same
notes.  It is common to start and end a progression on vi for one section of a tune, and then start and
end a progression on I for another section of the tune.  Although this is not a true modulation, it
creates a sense of harmonic shift between the two modes.  Another common move is between major keys
with the relative minor-major (vi-I) root note relationship.  If C major and A minor are relative major
and minor keys, for example, C major and A major are relative major keys (they have the same roote
notes, defined by the I-VI relationship).  This type of shift is a true modulation between two totally
different sets of chords.
Parallel:  Progressions often move between major and minor keys with the same root note.  A song may
start in the key of C major, for example, and shift to the key of C minor.  C minor is the same key as
Eb major (where cm = vi, Eb = I), so there is a totally different set of chords used in this type of
modulation (one in which C=I, and one in which Eb=I).
Pivot Chord:  V7 chords are often used to move to new keys.  Before playing the I of the new key, the
V7 of the new key is played at the end of a progression in the starting key.  For example, to switch
from the key of C to the key of Ab, an Eb7 chord can be placed at the end of the C progression to make
the change sound more natural.  Remember, the V7 chord has the strongest tendency of any chord to move
towards I (Eb7 = V7 in the key of Ab).  Secondary dominant chords are often used to make this type of
progression away from the starting key.  III7, for example, often moves to vi (see the tendency
guidelines given earlier).  If you resolve the III7 to VI instead (not a chord in the starting key), it
facilitates a shift in which VI can be treated as a new I (a "parallel major" modulation).
In the key of C, such a progression would look like:  
  Starting key of C:           I ->  III7 ->  VI
                               C ->  E7   ->  A  ->  C#7 -> F#m ...
  In the new key of A:                        I  ->  III7 -> vi ...
ii -> V7 Progressions:  Virually every tune in the jazz idiom contains "ii-V" progressions.  These two
chords are often played through quick successions of keys:
  | Bb:                |  Db:            |  F:        |
  | ii  | V7 | I  | I  |  ii  | V7  | I  |  ii V7 | I |
  | Cm7 | F7 | Bb | Bb | Ebm7 | Ab7 | Db | Gm7 C7 | F |
iimin7(b5) -> V7(alt) Progressions:  This is the minor version of the ii-V progression.  It typically
resolves to a minor chord (thought of here as i ("minor 1"), but can also be thought of as vi in the
relative major).  This progression contains a half diminshed chord (m7(b5)), followed by an altered
dominant (often an extended chord, with a b9/#9 and/or a b5/#5) :  | Em:                             | Dm:                      |
  |  i  | iim7(-5) |  V7(alt) |  i  | iim7(-5) | V7(alt) | i   |
  | Em7 | F#m7(-5) | B7(b9)   | Em7 | Em7(-5)  | A7(b9)  | Dm7 |
Here is the full set of intervals found on the guitar fret board:
  1st string:    1 - 2 - 3 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 1 - 2 - 3 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 1  
  2nd string:    5 - 6 - 7 1 - 2 - 3 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 1 - 2 - 3 4 - 5  
  3rd string:    - 3 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 1 - 2 - 3 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 1 - 2 -  
  4th string:    - 7 1 - 2 - 3 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 1 - 2 - 3 4 - 5 - 6 -  
  5th string:    4 - 5 - 6 - 7 1 - 2 - 3 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 1 - 2 - 3 4  
  6th string:    1 - 2 - 3 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 1 - 2 - 3 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 1
Here is the full set of note names found on the guitar fret board - the 1st (thinnest) string is on
top, the 6th (thickest) string is on the bottom.  Notes repeat every 12 frets:
   Open   1      2      3      4      5  6      7      8      9     10  11     12
1:  E     F      F#/Gb  G      G#/Ab  A  A#/Bb  B      C      C#/Db  D   D#/Eb  E
2:  B     C      C#/Db  D      D#/Eb  E  F      F#/Gb  G      G#/Ab  A   A#/Bb  B
3:  G     G#/Ab  A      A#/Bb  B      C  C#/Db  D      D#/Eb  E      F   F#/Gb  G
4:  D     D#/Eb  E      F      F#/Gb  G  G#/Ab  A      A#/Bb  B      C   C#/Db  D
5:  A     A#/Bb  B      C      C#/Db  D  D#/Eb  E      F      F#/Gb  G   G#/Ab  A
6:  E     F      F#/Gb  G      G#/Ab  A  A#/Bb  B      C      C#/Db  D   D#/Eb  E
Copyright (C) 2004-2007 Nick Antonaccio, All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2004-2013 Nick Antonaccio, all rights reserved.