# Major scale chords - Why are there minor chords and flats in the key of C Major, other questions?

I'm studying Major scale chords from this image.

I printed it off on paper, and below each box, I'm writing down the notes of each string for my "homework". Now I'm left with questions:

1. Why are there a D minor, E minor, A minor, and B flat chords in the C Major scale? There shouldn't be. The half-steps (flats, sharps) are B, C, and E, F. I spent a lot of time trying to figure this out, but I'm stumped. The image is titled major scale chords, not minor chords.

2. As I expected, when I figured out the notes for each string as I wrote them down, every note is in the C Major scale, with one execption: the last chord in the key of C, is B flat. It has 2 B flats. Why would there be a B flat note in a chord in the C major scale?

I'm not a very advanced guitar player if you haven't figured that out yet :P

Thanks in advance
Learn about chord construction and intervals. Major chord = major third and perfect fifth (counted upwards from the root note). So for example C major chord = C E G because there is a major third (4 frets) between C and E and perfect fifth (7 frets) between C and G.

Now, lets look at the next chord in the key of C major. The root note is D, the other notes are F and A (because when you construct chords from a scale, you always pick every second note. C D E F G A B. Start from D and pick every second note. D F A). There is a perfect fifth, 7 frets, between D and A, but only 3 frets between D and F. This is not a major third, it's a minor third and that's why the chord is called D minor.

Why is there only a minor third between D and F? That's because there is a half step between E and F. If we count the whole and half steps, from D to E there is a whole step and from D to F there is a half step. This means the distance between D and F is one and a half steps - a minor third. Compare it to the the interval between C and E. From C to D there is a whole step and from D to E there is a whole step. So there are two whole steps - a major third - between C and E.

You do the same with other chords in the scale. E G B is the chord built on the 3rd note of the scale, and it's an E minor chord because it has a minor third (E G - 3 frets) and a perfect fifth (E B - 7 frets). F A C is the chord built on the 4th note of the scale and it's an F major chord because of the major third (F A - 4 frets) and perfect fifth (F C - 7 frets). Same thing with G B D - that's a G major chord.

A C E = A minor because of the minor third between A and C. Why? Because there is a half step between B and C. Again, A-B is a whole step but B-C is only a half step.

You are correct, the chord built on the 7th scale degree should have a B root note, not a Bb. The chord diagram is incorrect. Bb is not in C major scale, so the chord built on the 7th note of the scale shouldn't be Bb major. What should it be? Well, let's find out. B D is a minor third, but B F is not a perfect fifth - there is only 6 frets between them. It is a diminished fifth, and this is why the chord is called a B diminished.

But Bb is a common accidental, and usually, at least in modern pop music, the B diminished chord that would be built on the natural 7th scale degree is replaced by a Bb major chord (built on the flat 7th degree) that is just a more usable chord in popular music. You rarely see diminished chords in pop music and the chord built on the flat 7th scale degree is just more commonly used.

Major chords in a major key: I IV V
Minor chords in a major key: II III VI
Diminished chords in a major key: VII

This applies to all major keys and I would suggest memorizing it. It just makes playing in all keys much easier.

Remember that these are just the diatonic chords, meaning that they use notes that are in the key scale. But it is common to use some accidentals - "outside notes". Bb is an accidental, but it is still a very common note/chord in C major songs. It doesn't belong to the C major scale, but that doesn't matter - you are allowed to use notes outside the C major scale. If it sounds good, it is good. But I would suggest first getting a good grasp of diatonic chords, and once you understand them and can recognize them by ear, learn about non-diatonic chords.

What if all of the chords in C major were major chords? Well, I, IV and V are already major. But if the II chord was major, we would need to add an F#. If the III chord was major, we would need to add a G#. If the VI chord was major, we would need to add a C#. If the VII chord was major, we would need to add a D# and an F#. You can of course achieve some cool sounds by using major chords for all scale degrees so I would suggest trying it, but as you can see, these chords use notes outside the C major scale, so they are not diatonic to the key.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
Last edited by MaggaraMarine at Nov 5, 2016,
1) The chart is wrong - C major has no flat 7th, so instead of Bb major the chord is supposed to be Bdim. If you were to play the notes of the C major scale on a piano you are only playing the white notes, so no flats or sharps.

2) the chart is confusing - open chord voicimgs is a terrible way to explain C major harmonization. The C major scale has 7 notes - C,D,E,F,G,A,B - that's it - start by learning the scale well on one string ( the A string) - then play the following chords using bar chords with the root note played on the A string - Cmajor, Dminor,Eminor, Fmaj, Gmaj, Aminor, Bdim.

2) minor chords in the key of C major - you are confusing the notes with the relative intervals. See this : http://guitar.ricmedia.com/harmonize-major-scale-triads-theory-lesson/
From their site:

"The above Major Scale Chord chart shows a major chord for ‘VII’ rather than the diminished chord indicated by the previous harmony chart. While technically out of key, in practice this is a common substitution for the diminished chord in a major key: go down a half-step from the diminished chord and play a major chord in its place. This is a ‘borrowed’ chord from the minor scale or Mixolydian mode starting on the same key note and is a very common substitution in rock and pop styles."

It should be bVII, not simply VII, but yeah, Led Zeppelin uses bVII-IV-I a lot, which is what the guy wanted to point out instead of the less common (in modern pop) diminished chord
Quote by NeoMvsEu
From their site:

It should be bVII, not simply VII, but yeah, Led Zeppelin uses bVII-IV-I a lot, which is what the guy wanted to point out instead of the less common (in modern pop) diminished chord

While bVII shows up a lot more than viiº in popular music, I do take issue with that source saying it's a "substitution" for viiº. That's completely wrong. You'd never use one where the other is appropriate.
Awesome, thanks guys! It makes a lot more sense now!
Glad to help

To clarify:

cdgraves

The leading tone chord (viio) has dominant function.

bVI-bVII-i/I is definitely an idiom found in pop/rock music

I don't agree with the wording from the site, but there are times when bVII has a dominant function. bVI-bVII-I/i is cadential and akin to IV-V-vi/VI, which is a dominant function (albeit deceptively)
Functionally similar-ish, but you wouldn't sub in viiº in those progressions, either. It's not like a tritone sub. Off the top of my head I can't think of a viiº in pop music. In Jazz I see it usually as a iiº7/vi. I just disagree with the wording, and it ends up being a little misleading.
Last edited by cdgraves at Nov 5, 2016,
So the seventh chord in C Major is B F B D? Debates are cool and stuff, but I'm trying to learn the proper chords in the C Major scale right now. Thanks.
Yes, that's the correct chord for the key, though your triad is misspelled. B diminished is the triad, BDF, and B half diminished 7 is the 7th chord, BDFA. Half Diminished is also sometimes called minor 7 flat 5.
Last edited by cdgraves at Nov 5, 2016,
Quote by metal9lover9man
So the seventh chord in C Major is B F B D? Debates are cool and stuff, but I'm trying to learn the proper chords in the C Major scale right now. Thanks.

The notes can be in any order. If it has B, D and F in it (and those are the only notes in the chord), it is a B diminished.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
Quote by metal9lover9man
So the seventh chord in C Major is B F B D?
BFD, yes, but - as with any guitar chord - you can play those notes in any order, and double up any you like.
Quote by metal9lover9man

Debates are cool and stuff, but I'm trying to learn the proper chords in the C Major scale right now. Thanks.
Good . And yes, the "diatonic" vii chord in C major is Bdim.

However - as that site states - Bdim is an extremely rare chord in rock music (in fact in any music). If you were to assume that's the "correct" chord, it might lead you to believe that a song in C containing a Bb chord was "wrong". Whereas, of course, Bb sounds good. Which means it's "correct". The main rule in music is "It must sound good". All other rules (all music theory concepts) derive from that.

So, Bdim can certainly sound good in C major, especially resolving to C. But - as a guitarist - have you tried playing it? There are no really easy shapes for Bdim. (Bm7b5 is not too bad, but I'll come to that.) However, G7 is a really easy shape, yes? And G7 is the notes GBDF. So G7 contains a Bdim triad. So why would any sensible guitarist struggle with Bdim, when they can play G7? It's easier and does the same job. Some might say it sounds better too. And if you want a chord in C major with a B bass (which is common), you can use G/B, G7/B, or Em/B. All easier than a Bdim triad, and sound as good if not better.

Bm7b5 is the 7th version of Bdim (BDFA). But even though that's easier to play than the Bdim triad, it's still very rare in rock music. Even in jazz, it's rare to see it used to resolve to C. But it is extremely common to see it going to E7 and then Am. IOW, jazz sees Bm7b5 as the ii chord in A minor, not the vii in C major.

Of course, this is all about "common practice"! Basic diatonic theory is important, but it's equally important to realise that practice often deviates from "theory 101". As mentioned, sometimes this is about practicality on one's instrument. Dim triads are tough on guitar, so few people use them. The fact few people use them means we don't hear them often. That in turn means (as new players) we see little point in learning them. The more rock music we hear (and play) the more we realise Bb is way more important in C major than Bdim.
jongtrOk, I see what you're saying. When you say easier, you mean easier on your fret hand? My computer and my guitar are on different floors in my house, so I just spend time learning the theory upstairs, and then bring a paper with notes on it down to my guitar. Pain in the ass, but oh well.
Honestly, ignore all this talk about the flat 7 it is just going to confuse you and it has nothing to do with the C major scale, which is what you are trying to learn. The major scale has a natural 7, not a flat 7 - so keep it at that. With all due respect to the author of that site, he's just going to create confusion with that diagram ( this thread is a case in point!).

Focus on learning the scale the right way first - the major scale is the foundation for all the functional theory you will be learning so learn it right. If you're playing a flat 7 your not playing the major scale - it's really as simple as that.
Quote by metal9lover9man
jongtrOk, I see what you're saying. When you say easier, you mean easier on your fret hand?
Yes. To play a Bdim doesn't require any awkward stretches or barres, but it does need more than one string muted. Once a few guitarists start avoiding it (and using G7 instead), then it becomes self-perpetuating - if one generation of players doesn't use the chord much (if at all) the next generation won't hear it, so may not even realise it exists. If none of the songs they learn contain a dim triad, and the music works fine without it, they won't know anything is missing.

Its only when you study theory that you discover this strange mutant chord, the runt of the litter!
Quote by metal9lover9man

My computer and my guitar are on different floors in my house, so I just spend time learning the theory upstairs, and then bring a paper with notes on it down to my guitar. Pain in the ass, but oh well.
What, is your guitar too heavy to carry upstairs? Or you don't want to heave that 4x2 Marshall stack upstairs too? No room for it alongside that enormous mainframe computer on the top floor?

I agree with reverb66, btw. Learn the major scale correctly - it's the foundation of western music theory. Just be aware that different styles of music adapt it in various ways, and it's common in rock (for various reasons) to use a bVII major chord, and not a viidim chord. I.e., it's not "breaking rules" when rock songs use a bVII. It's just a different set of rules.
Last edited by jongtr at Nov 7, 2016,