SMG Guitar Lesson #5: The Musical Compass

In the last lesson, I introduced the note wheel and showed you how it can be used to label all the notes on the guitar. Now I want to show you how something called “intervals” relates to the note wheel in order to create what I call the “Musical Compass.” Intervals are kind of like the inch markers on a ruler. They allow you to measure the distance between notes.

Now, take a minute to imagine what life would be like without any rulers or measuring tapes. All of the things that you may take for granted, everything from a sturdy roof over your head that doesn’t leak, or the chair and table you’re sitting at that aren’t wobbly and lop-sided, to being able to hop in a car and have it take you somewhere reliably. All these things work because somebody took the time to measure things accurately. Without measurements, all the things that seem so simple and obvious, would become cumbersome and difficult to achieve.  And that’s exactly what happens to the average person when it comes to understanding music.

Most people find the music theory stuff cumbersome and difficult simply because they don’t know how to measure. They just don’t have the right tools yet. And once you have the right tools, the concepts behind music will seem breathtakingly simple. Simply being able to measure is useful for a TON of things, like, for example, understanding how all types of scales and chords are structured and fit together.

Now, wouldn’t it be something if you could understand how all the types of scales and chords fit together (a task you’d previously thought of as daunting and nearly impossible) simply by being able to measure? Heck yeah it would! So, the Musical Compass is simply a rotatable note wheel, that you are able to turn like a dial, with the intervals added, and it looks like this:

Right now, the dial is turned so that C is in the 1 or “root” position. Notice how all the notes of the C Major scale (C, D, E, F, G, A, B) fall on intervals 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, & 7. This is because the intervals get their names from the seven degrees of the major scale.

On the musical compass, the degrees of the major scale are labeled simply as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, & 7 Note that, just like the formula for a major scale that we’ll learn about, between the 3rd and 4th intervals and the 7th and 1st intervals, there is only a half step. It’s easy to find the notes that are in any major scale by simply turning the dial to the desired root note (1) and noting where the numbers/intervals 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, & 7 fall.  This is just one application of this useful tool. Obviously there are more types of scales than just major scales, and that’s where all the sharp and flat intervals come in.

I use the musical compass on a daily basis and not just for teaching either. I even use it when I’m composing and arranging music. I can tell you from my own experience that it’ll be helpful for you to have your own musical compass at home. Once you learn how to use it and begin to realize just how many useful applications there are for it, you’ll be using it on a regular basis – I guarantee it! That’s why in this lesson, I’ve included a kit for making your own musical compass at home. Check it out:

Make your own musical compass:

  1. For best results, have this printed out on a thicker sheet of paper such as card-stock or photo paper. Or if you’re feeling particularly crafty, you can also use a glue stick to mount it on poster paper.
  2. Cut out note wheel and square base.
  3. Use a paper fastener to punch a whole through the exact center of both the note wheel and it’s base.
  4. Place the note wheel on top of the base and put the paper fastener through both center holes.
  5. Fold fastener neatly on the back side of the base and make sure that the compass can easily rotate clockwise and counter-clockwise.

(Right Click The Image Below To Print)

This has been an excerpt from the Hello Guitar Guide to Getting Started. To purchase the full program, go here:

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