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Scales, Chords & Chord Progressions
The thing I love about music is its simplicity.
A composer writing a symphony is going to use the same basic set of concepts as a guy plunking out a banjo tune on his front porch. The application might be different, but the rules of the language remain the same.
The goal of this chapter is to provide you with some basic tools for figuring out chord progressions, but since everything in music theory is connected we will have to begin by looking at scales and some other concepts.
The good news is that this stuff is not just easy. It's also universal. You will be able to apply the information in this chapter to almost any fretted instrument.
Like the old saying goes, "if you learn one thing, you learn ten thousand things."
The Chromatic Scale
In Western music there are twelve musical notes named after the letters A through G with a note (or half step) between each pair of letters except between B and C and E and F.
Your half step is either a sharp (#) or a flat (b.) The half step between A and B can be called either A# or Bb.
A# means that the A note is raised one half step higher. Bb is the B note lowered one half step. A# and Bb are the same note and the other half steps follow the same pattern. A A#/Bb B C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G#/ab
Once you understand the idea of half steps you can just write out your chromatic scale like this to save space and make it a tad clearer. The " | " symbol will be used to represent a half step. A | B C | D | E F | G |
We are starting the chromatic scale in the examples above on A, but you can start a chromatic scale with
any note.
D | E F | G | A | B C |
The other thing to be aware of is that these notes repeat each other in a sort of loop. Twelve steps in either
direction will take you back to the note you started on.
D | E F | G | A | B C | D | E F | G | A | B C | D
The frets on your banjo are laid out in half steps that follow the chromatic scale.
Your first string is tuned to D. If you play the first string open and then play each fret all the way down to

E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III