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Scale Numbering System
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Adam St. James

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Scale Numbering System
by Adam St. James

If you've heard other players referring to mysterious creatures such as a "flat seventh," "two-five-one," or "sixth intervals," and don't know what they're talking about, you need to find out quick. This simple chunk of knowledge will help you with your entire understanding of not only the guitar, but of music itself. Here's the lowdown:

The notes or "steps" of any scale - major, minor, modal, whatever - are often referred to by number, or by "interval" name (which is based on the scale step number). This numbering system then carries over into the naming of chords, chord progressions, and more. For example, the chord designation C7 indicates the chord has the flat seventh note of the C scale on top of a regular C chord. A simple blues or rock song based on the familiar I-IV-V (one-four-five) chord progression includes chords built on the first (I), fourth (IV), and fifth (V) scale steps of the chosen key. (Musicians commonly use Roman numerals when defining chord progressions, for more on this subject see tip #6.)

The numbers of the scale steps (and interval names, such as "major third") are the same regardless of the key, as long as it's a major key. Here is a C major scale, with the numbers and interval names of the scale steps:

fig 1

Numbering works the same with a minor scale or key, but the interval names change in some cases. Again, regardless of key, all minor keys have the same sequence of scale steps. Here is an A minor scale:

fig 2

To understand all the possibilities of number and interval name you might some day encounter, especially if you play modally, or use extended or altered chords (such as a minor 7th flat 5th chord), you'll want to analyze a chromatic scale. A chromatic scale includes all 12 notes in one octave. Here is a C chromatic scale:

fig 3

Copyright 2003 Hal Leonard Corporation

book pictureNote from the author: "Scale Numbering System" is the No. 2 lesson from my best-selling instructional book, "101 Guitar Tips: Stuff All The Pros Know And Use." This is the most important guitar-based knowledge I have to share, and I stress it with all my private students. You can purchase a copy of this book at music stores worldwide, or directly from my website, 101 Guitar Tips includes many tips from celebrities such as B.B. King, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and more, from interviews I've done throughout the years.

You'll also find thousands of other great instructional books, books with CDs, DVDs and videos, as well as concert films and music documentaries at,, and And don't forget to check out my new blues magazine, for great celebrity interviews, blues news, and more.

AdamAbout the Author: I've had the great pleasure to work in the music and guitar industry most of my life, supporting my habit, so to speak, of spending as many waking hours as possible with a guitar in my hands. As a player, I've managed to perform with some incredible musicians all over the country. As a journalist, I've been able to meet, hang out with, interview, and sometimes even get private lessons from some of the most incredible guitarists around, such as Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, and more.

As the editor of and, and as an author of music instructional books for the world's largest music publisher, Hal Leonard, I've been able to share some of the many things I've learned about guitar playing with millions.

I love to play guitar, learn new techniques, and to share them with others. Enjoy this lesson, and I'll come back with more on in the very near future!

Free Download - 17 Essential Strum Patterns PDF

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