Music Theory for the Banjo – The C Scale
I hope I don’t scare you away by mentioning music theory, but knowing a little theory will help you a lot. If you remember the next group of words, you already know a little bit of theory – do – re – me – fa – sol – la – ti – do. This a major scale; in the key of C - these notes are C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C.
The following scale is the C chromatic scale : C – C#/Db – D – D#/Eb – E – F -F#/Gb – G – G#/Ab – A -A#/Bb – B. The interval between the notes is known as a half-step or semitone and a whole step is equal to two half-steps. Notice that there is an extra note between each note of the major scale except between E and F, and B and C, these notes are known as flats (b) or sharps (#). All that a sharp means, is that the note was raised a half-step; a flat is lowered by a half step. Depending on where you start, you can describe the same note as flat or a sharp, for example C# and Db are the same note.
How do you know which notes are in a major scale? The first note of the C major scale is a C (do) – move up a whole step to D (re) – another whole step to E (me) – half-step to F (fa) -whole step to G (sol) – whole step to A (la) – whole step to B (ti) and a half-step to C (do). The chromatic scale is made up of twelve notes, the major scale has seven distinct notes and ends on the octave (C – one octave higher). The pattern of a major scale is: Whole step : Whole Step : Half-step : Whole Step : Whole Step : Whole Step : Half Step
Now that you know about the major scale and chromatic scale, let’s put this information onto the banjo fretboard. The first note is C (2nd string – 1st fret), move up two frets on the same string to D ( 2nd string -3rd fret), up two more frets to E (2nd string – 5th fret). This time we go up one fret to F (2nd string -6th fret), move up two frets to G (2nd string -8th fret) , two more frets to A ( 2nd string – 10th fret, up two more frets to B (2nd string – 12th fret), and finally up one fret to C (2nd string -13th fret). You have just played a C major scale on the second string. If you move one fret higher, you move up a half-step, up two frets and you’ve jumped up a whole step.
Here is the C scale written out for you:
Listen to the C scale played on the five string banjo.
The C major scale is easy to work with because it has no sharps or flats, our next scale will have one sharp. A lot of bluegrass songs are in the key of G, so the G scale is next.