This page provides a review of basic major scale construction, a review of the 5 accidentals, and an introduction to tetrachord construction and identification.


This page reviews major scale construction and tetrachord identification. The worksheet has 40 tetrachord sets, for example  'CDEF' or 'DEF#G#'. The answer choices include the four main tetrachord shapes - 3^4 2^3 1^2 and 4^1. The primary goal of this work is to give students an opportunity to demonstrate mastery of tetrachord identification. To be successful, students must have command of all the previous work.


This is a one page exercise that is done 15 times - one for each key signature. On a small staff, the student writes a clef and the key signature for the work to be done on that page. The next step is to identify the "Do" for the major and minor scales that share that signature. On the page are two identical graphic fingerboards with a circle for each chromatic tone going up one octave on each string. On the left diagram, students fill in the name for every note in the key for that key signature all the way up the chart on each string. (The circles for the notes that are not in the key are left empty.) Once that is done the tetrachord sequences across the strings for positions 1, 2, and 3 are labeled. They are obvious once the notes are filled in. For the chart on the right side of the page only the notes for the arpeggio built up from the first note of the scale are filled in.   The work gets progressively much easier with each new page because the process stays the same, only the details change. 

Upon completion, students have a crystal clear understanding of the tetrachord cycle and how it works across the 4 strings for every key signature and in any position. With a bit of prompting, students can also 'discover' all of the practical arpeggio fingerings. This visualization process vastly improves sight reading and technique development.

TETRACHORD WARM UP EXERCISES    Click here for warm up exercise details.

Primary goals - 1. Strengthen the ear-hand connection.

2. Learn the sound and feel of all 6 tetrachords and all 7 tetrachord pairs in the diatonic tetrachord cycle.  

Tetrachord exercises do not include the playing of any open string. The tetrachord shape labels identify where the 1/2 step is within the group. For example, a '3^4 tetrachord' has a whole step from 1 to 2 and 2 to 3 but a 1/2 step from the 3rd note to the 4th. Etc. A '4^1' tetrachord has a whole step between each of the notes within the group but 1/2 step to the next note above and below the group.

NOTE - hand out the "Beginning Tetrachord Fingerings" page to the cello and bass players. Encourage them to use those fingerings until the shapes and sounds are comfortable, then individually get creative with fingerings.   Violinists and violists are not likely to need the charts since the tetrachord names tell them which finger tips should be touching.



TETRACHORDS - A "tetrachord" is a group of any 4 notes in a row in any scale. Since every major (and natural minor) scale has one half-step in the lower half of the scale and another half-step in the upper, there will only be one half-step in any tetrachord***. The location of that half step provides a handy way to identify which tetrachord shape it is. When the half-step is between notes 3 & 4, we can call it a 3^4 shape. When the half-step is between notes 2 & 3, we can call it a 2^3 shape. When the half-step is between notes 1 & 2, we can call it a 1^2 shape. When there are no half steps within the four note group there will be a half-step just above and below that group. A good name for that group is 4^1.

*** This is true for the 4 most common tetrachord shapes which make up all major and natural minor scales. The only 2 other tetrachord shapes are used for chromatic scales (all half-steps) and the upper half of the melodic form of a minor scale (.5 step -> 1.5 steps -> .5 step AKA the "Spock" shape).

Understanding tetrachord shapes and the tetrachord cycle provides an efficient way to master scale/arpeggio patterns. 

Understanding the tetrachord dramatically improves sight reading.

These activities include everything there is to know about this topic. 

Mastery of this topic provides a critical foundation for further musical growth.


THE TETRACHORD CYCLE -    The locations of 1/2 steps on the fingerboard create specific hand shapes and 'hand shape' sequences. These patterns morph quite predictably from string to string, key to key, and between positions. Students who develop a comprehensive understanding of these patterns are at a significant competitive advantage over other players. The 'Tetrachord Cycle' is master sequence upon which all key and scale patterns are built. The quickest way to discover the cycle is to identify the sequence of tetrachords going through a 3 octave scale. Keep in mind that we are exploring the sequence of tetrachords. We will relate this to finger patterns soon.

Every major scale has a half-step 3->4 and 7->8.

Starting on "Do" the tetrachord is 3^4 (Do - Re - Mi - Fa). Now we continue to the next note in the scale.

Starting on "So" the tetrachord is 3^4. (So - La - Ti - Do...)

Starting on "Re" the tetrachord is 2^3.

Starting on "La" the tetrachord is 2^3.

Starting on "Mi" the tetrachord is 1^2.

Starting on "Ti" the tetrachord is 1^2.

Starting on "Fa" the tetrachord is 4^1.  The next note in the scale is "Do" so the pattern starts over.

3^4   3^4   2^3   2^3   1^2   1^2   4^1. 

That's it. This pattern provides the sequence for all major and minor scales and lays out the key shapes for all tonal music!