music theory cover

Music Theory Basics

Music Theory Basics


In the first post of the music theory series, we are going to explain some simple rules. There is a quick reference of basic music symbolization in the beginning of the infographic.

Every music scale (in Western music) consists of seven notes which are separated by  whole and half step intervals of tones (T) e.g.C-D,D-E,F-G etc, and semitones (S) e.g 2 Natural E-F & B-C, others: C-D♭,G♯-A . Therefore, every melody played in a song is stepping (usually) onto these notes. Every note in a scale has a term regardless of the scale. These terms are tonic for the 1st note, supertonic for the 2nd, mediant for the 3rd, subdominant for the 4th, dominant for the 5th, submediant for the 6th and subtonic for the 7th.


There are two scales that we mainly use in songwriting and production along with their variations. Major and minor. Each one is defined by a specific pattern. Major by T–T–S–T–T–T–S and Minor (natural) T-S-T-T-S-T-T. So in order to find which notes belong to a scale, simply you have to find their key signature, ie the notes that are to be played higher or lower than the corresponding natural notes (notes with sharps or flats). It is very simple, don’t panic. All you have to do is either follow the rules below or check the charts.

Major scales :

Except for C major, key signatures appear in two varieties, sharp key signatures and flat key signatures, so called because they contain only one or other

Sharp Key

  1. Choose a scale and then find the subtonic. It’s very easy. If you chose C then the subtonic is B. If you chose A then the subtonic is G
  2. Follow this order until you find your subtonic so that you can find all the sharp notes : F C G D A E B. A mnemonic device commonly used is “Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle”.The key signature contains every note up to the subtonic. If you chose E major scale, then the subtonic is D so the key signature is F C G D.

Flat Key

Choose a scale with a flat key signature and follow this order so that you can find the flats: B E A D G C F. A mnemonic device commonly used is “Battle Ends And Down Goes Charles’ Father”. You can notice that it is same as the order of sharps, but reversed. The key signature contains every flat until your tonic plus the next one. For example if you want to find the signature of A♭ you follow the order of flats and you stop on the one after A♭, in this case D♭. So your key signature for A♭ Major is B♭, E♭, A♭, D♭.

Minor Scales

Minor scales share the shame key signatures with their major relatives. Relative keys are the major and minor scales that have the same key signatures. The minor key starts three semitones below its relative major, so if you want to find the key signature of a minor scale, you have to find the relative major by going up three semitones. Then you follow the rules of major key signatures and you’re done. For example if you want the key signature of E minor then go up three semitones and you’ ll find G. The key signature of G is F♯. So the key signature of E minor is F♯.