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Music Theory Part 1 - The diatonic chord scale

This is the first part of a musical journey in terms of knowledge and playability. It’s not particularly difficult to grasp, but it will require some understanding and practice in order to apply it to your playing.

Lets get started!

The diatonic scale is simply a term used for playing a scale in chords rather than in single notes.

Learning this will open up your playing, your ears and your understanding of chords, song progressions and chord knowledge in general.

Having an understanding of what key you are in

and the various chords of that related scale, will help you:

  • Transpose to different keys when a song is outside of your vocal range , rather than using a capo.

  • Solo and improvise freely over chord changes.

  • Lift your songwriting game with options and chordal variation

  • Jam with friends or over tracks and play more interesting lines and musical passages

  • Make you a more knowledgable and versatile musician

If we take the Cmajor scale for example, this is simply the “Doe Rae Mee” song from the Sound of Music movie. As an aside, the C Maj scale has no sharp # or flat b notes to worry about.

The diatonic chords of the C MAJOR scale are as follows:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

CMajor Dminor Eminor FMajor GMajor Aminor Bdim CMajor (Octave)

This layout of Mj mi mi Mj Mj mi mi Mj chords is the same with any Major scale in any key.


  • The numbers of the scale are called scale degrees ( 1 through to 7 )

  • The distance between C1 - C8 is called an Octave.

  • The distance between C - Ami is a sixth (Count it on your fingers) and Ami is called the Relative minor of CMj

So, moving on,

if you played a progression of 1 - 4 - 5 diatonically in the key of CMj your chord progression would be CMj FMj GMj

If you decided to incorporate the relative minors of all these chords in a song chorus, (remembering what I said before about the minor relative being 6 degrees apart from their major) it would be Ami - Dmi - Emi, which are a sixth away from their respective Major chords.

Try playing the Major 1 - 4 - 5 progression for a few bars and then change to the relative minor and you will hear how the Major chords relate to their relative minor cousins. ( CMj to Ami has a very George Harrison “My Sweet Lord” sound to it.)

Learn and compare the C Maj scale in single notes ( Doo Rae Mee). Start at the note C by applying the 2nd finger on the 8th fret of the 6 String (low E).

The numbers listed on the scale refer to fingers Ist 2nd 3rd and 4th.

The Blue dots refer to scale degees ( More on that later)

Compare the sound and application of the diatonic chords of the C major scale to develop your ear for music.


Song 2 - The jazz song Blue Moon is a 1 - 6 -2 -5 progression, which in the key of Cmaj is

CMj - Ami - Dmi - GMj

BTW - If you played the single notes of the Cmaj scale over the top of this progression, you would be 100% in key and on track, but more on that later.

Yes, music is a language and there are some exceptions to the rules, but if we work within the guidelines until we feel comfortable with the basics, then we can use our ears to suit our tastes, to alter and extend chords, adding interest and spice to the chordal progression.

So that wraps up- Music Theory - Part 1.

Practice the Cmajor scale in chords and the different chord progressions and think about other songs you already know that may apply.


  1. Chords - What they are and how we can expand our knowledge of chords to create a richer sound.

  2. Inversions - What they are and how to use them to create super interesting chord voicings from standard open chords.

  3. Intervals - What they are and how to apply them to our playing

  4. How to use Arpegios - Riffs, Runs and Hooks to colour our solos.

So, as you can see ,there is quite a bit of ground to cover. I hope you find the Cmajor diatonic scale info useful to your playing and I look forward to sharing more info with you in the following weeks.


David Felgar

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