The Diatonic Scale

If we limit ourselves to only seven notes per octave, instead of twelve, we are playing a "heptatonic scale".

There are several different types of heptatonic scales because there are a number of different ways to arrange 7 notes derived from the chromatic scale. The diatonic scale is the most common of the heptatonic scales.

The Diatonic Scale

The diatonic scale forms the basis of most music created in American and European culture in the last few centuries. It is made up of 2 semitones (S) and 5 tones (T) arranged in this order:

In scale numbers it looks like this: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-1.

After the 7th note, the pattern repeats in the next octave.

The C diatonic scale is spelled C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. (The white keys on the piano are the C Major scale notes.)
C to D = T
D to E = T
E to F = S
F to G = T
G to A = T
A to B = T
B to C = S

Diatonic Diagram

This scale pattern (T-T-S-T-T-T-S) is also called the "Major" scale.

You may wonder why there is no E# or B# notes between the E and F or B and C. The reason is mostly due to historic nomenclature, but also because of the general structure of the diatonic scale. Because the scale is built T-T-S-T-T-T-S, at least two notes are not going to have accidentals between them. These turn out to be the E and F as well as the B and C notes in our system of naming notes.

Playing the Diatonic

Just like with the chromatic scale, there are 4 ways to play the diatonic on the steel guitar:
1. Horizontally on a single string
2. Vertically without Pedals
3. Vertically with Pedals
4. Moving in Phrases (discussed in Tetrachords section)

Horizontal Movement

Here is one way to play the C diatonic scale horizontally across the neck:

Diatonic Horizontal Diagram

Here is the notation for playing the diatonic scale horizontally:

Diatonic Horizontal Notation

CLICK HERE for the SPECIAL MARKINGS I use to write sheet music for the steel guitar. And CLICK HERE to see the COPEDENT.

Vertical Movement Without Pedals

There are two vertical positions where the notes require the least amount of bar movement. They are found near the 3rd and 8th frets.

Vertical Diatonic Diagram No Pedals

Here is the notation for the diatonic scale near Positions 3 and 8:

Vertical Diatonic Notation 3rd,No Pedals

Vertical Movement With Pedals

Just as with the chromatic, playing the diatonic vertically across the next without pedals is a bit cumbersome. But playing it this way first will help you mentalize what the pedals do to each string, once you do use the pedals.

Here is the diagram of the notes at Position 3 along with the bar copedent to find the pedals:

Vertical Diatonic Diagram 3rd

Here is the notation for the Position 3:

Vertical Diatonic Notation 3rd

Here is the diagram of the notes at Position 8 along with the bar copedent to find the pedals:

Vertical Diatonic Diagram 8th

Here is the notation for the Position 8:

Vertical Diatonic Diagram 8th


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