Tetrachords: The Foundation Of Major Scales

How to practice tetrachords for learning all 12 major scales.

Let’s establish what a tetrachord is first. It is a set of four notes played in order. Though there are different kinds of tetrachords, I want you to focus on the common “Do, Re, Mi, Fa” pattern.

Which would be easier to learn, a four note scale or an eight note scale? I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess you are thinking A FOUR NOTE SCALE! Yah, me too!

First, sing “Do, RE, Mi, Fa, (and back down) Mi, Re, Do” a few times. Remember, “If you can sing it, you can play it.” This is very important to playing it correctly in all 12 keys. Listen to what you play, if it sounds right, and you recognize it, it’s probably right. If it sounds and feels wrong, it probably is wrong. This is a wonderful learning process along with developing the actual executive skills on your horn.

Now try playing a tetrachord up and down. To keep it simple, I will be referring to one instrument, the saxophone. Start with “G, A, B, C, B, A, G”. Pretty easy, right? I hope so. I also hope you used the “side C”. Try it both ways over and over. No matter how fast you can play second finger “C”, side “C” IS faster, cleaner, more in tune, and clearer. (Learning correct fingerings is one of the benefits of practicing just four notes) Think about each note you play until you don’t have to. Then you’ll depend on your ear as you go along. (Benefit #2).

The top note you played was “Fa”. In this case “C”. Make “C” your new “Do” and build your next tetrachord: “C, D, E, F, E, D, C,” (using 2nd finger “C”). If that was easy find your next “Do”………. “F”

If you follow this sequence you will end up where you started…….on “G”! With a little practice you will feel each tetrachord lead to the next: V-I. (Benifit #3). This is the bread and butter of beginner guitar players…V-I.

Many years ago, I had 3 middle school students that made this exercise a friendly competition to see who could play all 12 keys fastest. Joey won by playing it in 10 seconds. At first you’ll take about 20 minutes to get through all 12. Using correct fingerings enabled him to achieve his goal.

You must realize that it takes time to learn all 12, but it is still easier and faster than focusing on learning 8 note scales.

Now comes the cool part. Each tetrachord is the bottom half of it’s own scale (Do, Re, Mi, Fa) and the top half of the adjacent exercise (Sol, La, Ti, Do) Ex. The C major scale is: C, D, E, F followed by G, A, B, C. See the two tetrachords? We stacked two half scales and made a complete scale. All you have to do is learn the 12 tetrachords in order at your own pace and you will have learned all 12 major scales with proper techniques.

I can’t stress enough the confidence you will derive from practicing TETRACHORDS!!!!