7 Reasons to Learn Your Scale Harmonizations

A quick look at the reasons why this is vital to your musicianship and also how this concept works.

7 Reasons to Learn Your Scale Harmonizations
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One vital theory concept that a lot of self taught guitar players are not aware of, nor are they fluent in, is the concept of scale harmonization. There are some great reasons for learning this and understanding it is vital for developing your musicianship. Let's take a quick look at the reasons why this is vital to your musicianship and also how this concept works:

1. Learning how to harmonize scales allows you to understand how groups of chords derive from a single scale

For a given musical scale, we can derive a set of chords. Once you understand this for one scale, you can apply it to any scale. This will help you recognize sets of chords as coming from a particular scale, which then helps you when you want to improvise and helps you recognize how to create certain moods or emotions by using chords from different scales.

2. Learning how to harmonize scales allows you to understand the function of each chord, and how chords are related to each other

When you are looking at how chords interact with each other, an E minor chord is not simply a minor version of an A minor chord (unless you are referring to a piece of music composed entirely of a single chord). Each chord within a given key has a specific function, and chords from a certain key, when played in a certain order, create a predictable emotional / musical effect. By learning how chords fit into keys, you will know the emotional impact of a chord progression that you write before playing it. A great skill for composers!

3. Learning how to harmonize scales improves your composition ability

Have you ever found yourself writing a song or a piece of music and struggling to work out the next chord? You know what you want but you don't know how to make the music do that? When you know your scale harmonization, you know which chords "fit" together, i.e. you get a "master list" of chords that will work together.

So when you are stuck for the next chord, you can go through this list with trial and error until you find the right chord - there aren't that many chords for each key (diatonic keys only have seven chord per key), so you will find the right chord quite quickly. Of course, if you are writing some crazy prog music, you may need a wider chord vocabulary.

4. Learning how to harmonize scales allows you to work out what scales you can use to compose or improvise with

Let's say you have figured out a chord sequence you like, or you are in a band situation and someone has given you a chord sequence and they want you to play a solo over the top. When you know your scale harmonization, you can reverse engineer the progression to figure out what scale the chords have been derived from. This will then tell you the scales that you can use to solo with or improvise with over the top of the chord sequence. Understand this and you will never be stuck and unable to work out which key you are playing in.

5. Learning how to harmonize scales allows you to understand how triads and sevenths are related

By understanding how scales are harmonized, you can understand how to interchange triads and sevenths, for example, you could take a folk song, such as "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" by Bob Dylan, and rewrite it as a jazzy version.

6. Learning how to harmonize scales is a pre-requisite for understanding more complex theory concepts, such as modulation and cadences

Understanding scale hamronizations is a pre-requisite for being able to understand slightly more advanced subjects such as cadences and modulation, which are great tools for songwriting. These more advanced concepts save you a lot of time when writing music by giving you a "tool box" of chord patterns... But if you don't understand scale harmonization, these concepts won't make any sense!

7. Arpeggios!

Arpeggios are the notes of a chord played in rapid succession, either ascending or descending. By understanding scale harmonizations, you will also know what arpeggios you can use, whether you want to sweep pick them, tap them, or play them in other ways. Vital knowledge for any lead guitar player!

So how do we harmonize a scale?

Hopefully you already understand how chords are constructed. For the purposes of this article we will look at three tonalities of chord:

Major: 1 3 5

Minor: 1 b3 5

Diminished: 1 b3 b5

Let's use a scale of C major as an example to work with. C major:

C D E F G A B

Taking the first, third and fifth notes we get:

C E G

Which are the notes that make up the chord C major (C∆). To find the second chord in the scale, we are going to pretend that the second note, D, is now the first note:

D E F G A B C

And again we take the first, third and fifth notes:

D F A

Which makes up the chord D minor (D-). Now, to find the third chord in the scale, we are going to pretend that the third note in the scale, E, is the first note:

E F G A B C D

And by taking the first, third and fifth, we get the notes:

E G B

Which are the notes in the chord E minor (E-). Let's follow the same process for the fourth through to seventh chords:

Fourth chord:

F G A B C D E

1st, 3rd and 5th:

F A C

These notes make the chord F major (F∆).

Fifth chord:

G A B C D E F

1st, 3rd and 5th:

G B D

These notes makes the chord G major (G∆)

Sixth chord:

A B C D E F G

1st, 3rd and 5th:

A C E

These notes make the chord A minor (A-).

Seventh chord:

B C D E F G A

1st, 3rd and 5th:

B D F

These notes makes the chord B diminished (Bo).

So to recap, we started with the scale C major:

C D E F G A B

And by working out the chords from each note, we created the following set of chords:

C∆ D- E- F∆ G∆ A- Bo

And now you know how to harmonize a scale! You can apply this principle to any scale.

You can get all the scale patterns, harmonization (triads and sevenths) and modes for this scale and also the harmonic minor and melodic minor scales in your free eBook, "The Ultimate Guide to the Modes of the Major, Harmonic Minor and Melodic Minor Scales," which will help you take these concepts and apply them to your guitar, which will give you the freedom to compose, improvise and shred in a whole range of awesome sounding scales! There is also has a whole range of appendix tables and diagrams to help you see how powerful this concept is and the different ways that it can be applied.

By Sam Russell

18 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    sugeci
    Is this harmonisation or just figuring out the diatonic chords for the major scale, or both?
    aelkeris
    Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. Its hard to improve when you know that something is missing, and you are not sure of how that something is called, and for me it is Scale Harmonization, Thank you oh so many times.
    thedyslexialove
    "an E minor chord is not simply a minor version of an A minor chord", who would ever make that leap in logic?
    Clydelee
    Mhm, good article, this stuff gets especially cool when you add 7ths to your chords, then even better when you start to consider alterations/extensions or poly-chords!
    bm13
    VERY SIMPLIFIED, ITS ONE THING TO PLAY AN INSTRUMENT, BUT ITS ANOTHER TO EXPLAIN IT IN A VERY SIMPLIFIED MANNER. #UNDERSTANDABLE #SIMPLIFIED #USETHISONEPEOPLE
    djw521
    It is both. Harmony implies that you are playing 2 or more notes at the same time creating a harmony. Diatonic means that all the notes fit into the scale with out any chromaticism(playing notes from outside the key, for example playing a C# in a C major scale). Since all the notes from above fit in the same key it is Diatonic Harmonization.
    jorn67
    Very instructive. Hope to learn it so well I can use i fast in all keys.
    valmesh
    Hello, there's a major error in this lesson, C^ (triangle) is not a 3 notes chord but a 4 notes chord with a major 7th. In the key of C major, G is absolutely not a G^ with a major 7 but a G7 with is a major triad with a minor 7th.
    Sam-Russell
    The way I learnt that notation was: C∆ = CEG C∆7 = CEGB
    valmesh
    Maybe you learned that way but it is not the notation used in every serious score, harmony book, jazz standard, and I think it is very confusing. C is already a major triad, no need to add anything to it to make it major. To clear things up, how do you write a major triad with a minor 7th and a minor triad with a major 7th with your notation ?
    Dr.Cheese
    I've definitely seen ∆ used as both 'maj' and 'maj7' so I wouldn't say one way is more 'correct' than the other. A triangle implies a triad to me, so I prefer to use it like that.
    valmesh
    You did see this in a "professional" made music score ? I'd like to see it please, because I never saw that in 15 years.
    Dr.Cheese
    Implying 'non-professional' notation is not valid is just being elitist, the person notating can use whatever symbols they want. In this case the article makes it very clear they are using 'C-' for C minor and 'C∆' for C major. I don't see how there is any room for confusion.
    valmesh
    You can say that an apple is an orange and an orange is an apple. It may be right as long as the persons you interact with agree, and it may be fun. But i'm pretty sure you'll have trouble get what you think is an apple out of someone that thinks it is an orange. And if you're a teacher you maybe get ahead of more trouble if you teach that an orange is an apple. The writer of this article place himself in the state of the teacher. Teaching things that other people understand and that you find in music scores etc may be better than teaching things almost nobody understand. No elitism in that. The international notation is now stabilized so we should be glad to be able to read music from all around the globe and be understood by everybody around the world rather than spread a different notation. Just my opinion as a teacher.
    abort
    You forgot to mention you are basing this on the major scale (not just 'a' scale)....
    valmesh
    Maybe you learned that way but it is not the notation used in every serious score, harmony book, jazz standard, and I think it is very confusing. C is already a major triad, no need to add anything to it to make it major. To clear things up, how do you write a major triad with a minor 7th and a minor triad with a major 7th with your notation ?