It is true that the job of a recording engineer is to ensure that all technical aspect of a project is well taken care of. From choosing the right gear for an artist to recording, editing and mixing the project. However, in order to have a smooth communication and translate the intention or message of the artiste into sounds, it is very essential that the recording engineer understand some basics of music theory. 

With the advancement of technology, one can get away with music production without essentially having any clue in music theory. All the same, having a basic understanding of music theory will stand you out of the sea of recording engineers there are in the field.

This blog post will be covering some of the common music theory terms that will enhance the workflow of a recording or audio engineer with the artist.


A scale is the arrangement of musical notes in ascending or descending order based on pitch.

For example, C D E F G A B C = doh- re- mi – fah- soh- lah – ti – doh is considered a major scale in the key of C.  In songwriting, a scale helps a musician know which notes works together to create a specific kind of mood. Chords are built from scales. 

There are several types of scale but the common types are the Major and Minor Scales. These scales are differentiated by the number of whole notes and half notes they have. The major and minor scales comprises of seven notes plus a repeat of the tonic/ or root note and is called an octave. However, the major and minor scales are differentiated by the number of whole and half notes in their octaves. 

For major scales, the distance between whole and half notes are in this pattern W-W-H-W-W-W-H while for minor scales is W-H-W-W-H-W-W. ( W= Whole, H= Half ). The combination of these whole and half notes in a scale determines the name given to the mode. 


Modes are derived from altered scales (Classicfm, 2018). Like I mentioned earlier, a different combination of whole and half notes in a scale changes the mode. For example, changing the root note from C to D in a C-Major scale changes the mode. There are seven types of modes that can be derived from a major scale. Below is a music mode chart that shows the various modes in all the major scales. 

(Radar, 2013).

Chord Progressions

I mentioned earlier that chords are built from scales, and we already know that scales are made up of notes. It is, therefore, safe to say chords are a combination of notes within a scale played simultaneously. 

In a chord progression, the aim is to play notes within a scale that sounds well when played together. For this to happen, one needs to understand the intervals between these notes. 

Interval is the distance between two pitches. Intervals can either be Melodic ( when two tones are played one after the other) or Harmonic (when two or more tones are played simultaneously) which forms a chord. Intervals can be classed into five group 

  • Perfect 
  • Major 
  • Minor 
  • Diminished
  • Augmented 

Let’s focus on Harmonics and specifically three tones/notes being played together. Using the table below by Farr (2014). We will see what chord progressions are available in the C-Major scale. 

Farr (2014)

From the table above we can see that in the C-Major scale, there are three major chords (I, IV, V = C, F, G ), three minor chords (ii, iii, viii = Dm, Em, Am) and one diminished chord ( viii° = B°). 

Examples of Major and Minor chord progressions can be seen in the images below. 

(McGuire, 2018).
(McGuire, 2018).


Classic FM. (2018, September 24). Modes: What are they and how do I use them? Retrieved from

Farr. T. (2014, May 5). Chord Progression Theory: A Guide for Guitar Players. Retrieved from

McGuire. P. (2018). Chord Progression chart [Chart]. Retrieved from

Rader. E. (2013). [Chart]. Retrieved from

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