Jim Bowley

Jim Bowley spent 20+ years as a performing and recording guitarist, vocalist and songwriter. He currently spreads the guitar gospel via his website, jimbowley.com, and his Bel Air, Maryland-based private studio. You can also find Jim on Facebook discussing all things six-string.

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  1. Gary Clements
    April 15th, 2012 @ 9:39 am

    This lesson is confusing, as I find most when studying music, in that rule number 1 states: All letters must be represented once and only once.
    However, reviewing each major scales’ components I find the root note repeated twice in all cases – which seems to be counter to rule number 1.
    Please explain.


  2. Jim Bowley
    April 16th, 2012 @ 10:31 am


    Sorry you found it confusing! Let me try and clarify.

    Remember that the musical alphabet is a LOOP of 7 letters, with no true beginning or end. Therefore once you pass through 7 notes, you “begin again” at note 8.

    In a major scale, the 8th letter is exactly the same as the first – an OCTAVE higher. When I set up the rule of “every letter once and only once”, I was referring to our inclusion of accidentals and how that sometimes presents a dilemma when writing a scale (the example being, do I use F# or Gb? Since we already have a G, we can’t also use another type of G, such as Gb.)

    Please be sure to check out PART 1 (linked at the start of the lesson) and specifically the section “The Musical Alphabet” – I think that will help greatly!


  3. John Gelbart
    April 17th, 2012 @ 1:10 am

    Hello Gary,
    I think JB’s explanation is spot-on and very very clear. If you check out his answers to the scales you’ll notice that all letters in the scale are represented only once, within the octave. I’m sure after a bit of practice you’ll grasp the idea and the principle will be clearer.

  4. Dave Combs
    May 1st, 2012 @ 7:10 pm

    Hey Jim:

    First time writer, and I’ve just found your site and I’m LOVING what I see on it. I’d love to see more of your bass lessons, because that’s where my aspirations lie.

    A quick question concerning determining what key a piece is in… I played clarinet in middle and high school (I’m forty-something now) so I can read music and hold my own on that instrument; you can’talk dirty” to me for your answer. Basically, in the example above you say that the key signature with one sharp (F#) translates to the key of G (G major). How can you deduce what key something is in based on the number of sharps or flats in the signature? Is it just rote memorization (one sharp on F = G major, two sharps on… = …), or is it because, as an example for the key of G, that there is only ONE possible major key that has only one sharp?

    That’s the part that I never really got about music theory, and I never took a theory class. (It wasn’t offered, but in all honesty I’m not sure I would have taken it anyway!) The kids who understood this part of it could, by memory I thought, just puke out the name of the key as soon as they saw it. I never thought it to be too useful, other than I had to remember to play the sharps and flats as written.

    Can you clear that up for me? I’d appreciate it very much. And again, I LOVE this site and I’ll be referring to it a lot as I’m beginning to tackle the bass.

    • David Hodge
      May 2nd, 2012 @ 1:22 pm

      Hi Dave

      If you’ll allow me to jump in for Jim, you can find a handy key signature chart in the following lesson:


      An easy way to remember these signatures without a chart, at least as far as major keys are concerned, is as follows:

      For sharps, the last sharp at the right end of the key signature is always a half-step lower than the root note of the key. When F# is the only sharp, the note a half-step above it is G. When you’ve got two sharps, they are F# and C#, with the C# being the farthest to the right. A half-step up from C# is D, which is the major key with two sharps.

      For flats, you have to remember that one flat is the key of F. After that, the note of the next-to-last flat in the key signature is the root note of the key. So when there are two flats, they are Bb and Eb and the key is Bb major. When there are three flats, they will be Bb, Eb and Ab and therefore the key will be Eb major.

      It’s important to know, though, that this only applies to major keys. Every major key has a relative minor, whose root note is the sixth note of the major scale of the original key. So when you see a key signature with no flats and no sharps, it is possible that it might be Am instead of C.

      Hope this helps. Welcome to Guitar Noise, by the way. Please feel free to post any other questions you may have either here or on our Forum page.


  5. Dave Combs
    May 2nd, 2012 @ 6:03 pm


    If I could email you a pizza, I would – your explanation flipped the switch on a brain cell I forgot long ago. I thought I heard somewhere that it involved, like you said, the last incidental on the staff.

    Thanks again. I’m going to print this out and keep it in my bass bag (well, once I get it out of layaway, that is).

    • David Hodge
      May 3rd, 2012 @ 6:48 am

      Hi Dave

      A thank you is just as good as a pizza. However if you should ever be out in Western Massachusetts, let me know and maybe we can work out lunch somehow!

      Serious, glad to be of help. Please feel free to post again or email me directly if you have other questions. Also be sure to make use of the Forum pages at Guitar Noise. There are a great many folks here who are more than happy to help out however they can when it comes to making guitar (and music) easier.


  6. Jim Bowley
    May 6th, 2012 @ 7:14 pm

    Hi Dave – glad you liked the lesson! And thanks to David for jumping in and providing a great and clear explanation to the key signature question.


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