The Crusade. Part 5: Harmonizing The Major Scale

Rockers! Welcome to Part V! Congratulations for hanging in there, and making the decision to educate yourself on matters theoretical.

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Rockers! Welcome to Part V! Congratulations for hanging in there, and making the decision to educate yourself on matters theoretical. In this article, we'll learn how to harmonize a major scale. Wow. I can hear the enthusiasm from here. Seriously, folks, as boring or church-like as this sounds, this is actually very useful, exciting, and above all, applicable theory. We'll be combining our newfound knowledge of intervals and the major scale. Woo Hoo. If you haven't already, go back and read the previous The Crusade installments to make sure you have the proper foundation for understanding the concepts presented in this piece. What will you be able to do once you learn the stuff written here? Build chords from scales, and most importantly, start to understand keys, and what chords go together - and why. If you're struggling with chord progressions, you need to read this article. The Scale We'll be using a C major scale for our examples today. If we picture the diagram below as a disproportionately wide guitar string, we end up with:
Again, our formula for a major scale is: W W H W W W H The W representing a Whole step, or two frets, and a H denoting a Half step, or one fret. Reviewing our recipe for chords, presented in Part III: M3 + m3 = Major Chord m3 + M3 = minor Chord M3 + M3 = Augmented Chord m3 + m3 = diminished Chord (The M3 stands for Major 3rd, and m3 means minor 3rd.) If this doesn't make sense, again, please review Part III. Deriving Chords From A Scale When we harmonize a scale, we're building chords from it. Today we'll learn about harmonizing the scale in thirds. It can be harmonized in different intervals, but let's learn about thirds before we tackle anything else. To build a chord (in thirds) from a major scale, we: Take a note - Skip a note - Take a note - Skip a note - Take a note. (Every other note, until we've selected three.) HUH? Mr. Urban, you said this would be easy! Check it out: Our scale: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 C D E F G A B We'll take 1 (C.) We'll skip 2, and take 3 (E.) We'll skip 4, and take 5 (G.) Combine them, and we arrive at a C Major chord. We select every other note of the scale, until we end up with three notes. Played together, this forms a triad - a three note chord. We say that a chord contains a 1, 3, and 5. This refers to the first note we select, and, counting from there, the third note above that, and the fifth note above that. In this example, C is the 1, or root note, E is the third, as it's three scale tones above C, and G is the fifth, because it's five scale tones above C. Note that a fifth is more than five frets. It's five scale tones. Let's take a look at our chart of a Major scale again: We see, by the same logic, if we build a chord starting on D instead of C, we would end up with the following notes: D F A. (Take D, skip E, take F, skip G, take A.) Counting D as 1, F is the 3rd above D, and A is the 5th above D. A Head Trip Try this on for size. C-E-G are the notes of a C major chord. D-F-A form a D minor chord. Huh? Why? Enter The Interval We'll need our chart again! The C Major chord consists of: C E G Looking at that handy-dandy chart, we see that from C to E is a Major 3rd. We know this because a Major 3rd consists of 2 whole steps, or 4 boxes in the chart. And E to G is a minor 3rd. The minor 3rd is another way of saying 1 steps or three boxes. And remember: M3 + m3 = Major Chord. What about that D minor chord? Check out D-F-A. From D to F is a minor 3rd. From F to A is a Major 3rd. The formula: m3 + M3 = minor Chord, yielding a D minor chord. what It Boils Down To: Since the Major scale has those pesky half steps in there, the notes aren't evenly spaced. If we start on certain notes, the note a 3rd above our root note will sometimes be a Major 3rd, and others will be a minor 3rd. Rules The chords built off the I, IV, and V degrees of the scale will be major. In this case, C, F, and G will all be Major Chords. The chords built off the ii, iii, and vi notes will all be minor chords. The chord built off the vii degree will be a diminished chord. Here's Why (WARNING - VERY DETAILED AND REDUNDANT, YET HIGHLY IMPORTANT.) The I Chord: Starting on C, and taking every other note until we collect three, we end up with: C E G C - E is a Major 3rd. E - G is a minor 3rd. M3 + m3 = Major Chord. The chord built off the first note of a Major scale is always a Major chord. The I chord of the C Major Scale is C Major. The ii Chord: Starting on D, we end up with: D F A D-F is a minor 3rd, and F to A is a Major 3rd. The formula: m3 + M3 = minor Chord. The chord built off the second note of the Major scale is always a minor chord. The ii chord of the C Major scale is D minor. The iii Chord: E is our first note. E G B E - G is a minor 3rd, and G-B is a Major 3rd. Remember, when the minor third comes first, and is followed by a major third, we end up with a minor chord. The chord built off the third note of the Major scale is always a minor chord. The iii chord of the C Major scale is E minor. The IV chord: F is the 4th note of the C major scale. We get: F A C. F-A is a Major 3rd, A-C is a minor 3rd. M3 + m3 = Major Chord. The chord built off the fourth note of the C Major scale is always a Major chord. The IV chord of the C Major scale is F Major. The V chord: Note: Once we build seventh chords (four note chords), the V chord takes on a special quality, called a dominant quality. More on this later. G is the 5th note of the C Major scale. Taking and skipping, we arrive at: G B D G-B is a Major 3rd, and B-D is a minor 3rd, the recipe for a Major chord. The chord built off the fifth note of the C Major scale is always a Major chord. Note: When played as a seventh chord, G major becomes G7, a G dominant seven chord. The V chord of the C Major scale is G Major. The vi chord: A is the note of the hour, here. We get: A C E. A - C is a minor 3rd, and C - E is a Major 3rd. Bingo - A minor is the name of the chord. The chord built off the sixth note of the Major scale is always a minor chord. The vi chord of C Major is an A minor chord. The Vii Chord Wake up for this one, folks! Starting on B, the 7th note of the C Major scale, and taking every other note until we end up with three, we arrive at: B D F From B - D is a minor 3rd. From D - F is ALSO a minor 3rd. Until now, we've been dealing with M3 + m3 or m3 + M3. Now, we're faced with: m3 + m3 - two minor thirds! But fear not, brave warriors in funny viking hats! We remember that a m3 + m3 = diminished chord! We're staring at a B diminished chord here, ladies and gents. The chord built from the seventh note in a Major scale is always a diminished chord. The vii chord of the C Major scale is B diminished. And the roman numeral for a diminished chord usually has a little circle next to it, like this: viio. The List The chords that are built from the C Major scale in this manner are: C Major D minor E minor F Major G Major A minor B diminished. One can build many other chords from the Major scale, so keep in mind that this is just scratching the surface. This order of Major, minor, minor, Major, Major, minor, diminished is the same for any major scale. You'd just plug in different letters for the scale. So What That's a great Miles Davis song! Ah, no, so what? you ask! Why is this stuff helpful, or even important? Always, always ask that question. What we have here is a collection of chords that share something in common: A scale that they're built from. This is very exciting. Why? 01. Since these chords are built from the same scale, they all sound good together. 02. As they all come from C Major, you can turn around and play the C Major scale and it's related modes over these chords. They're really the same thing, just in different forms. 03. These chords can be built into the same chord progression without clashing. This can provide great insight into how chord progressions can be built. However, keep in mind that there's many other levels to chord functions and progressions, and we'll learn about those in the future. And while theory should never dictate creativity, understanding the concepts presented today will aid in learning more advanced theory. Saved By The Bell Good job, class! I hope that this lesson has permeated your skull, and that you had fun. What more could I ask for? I know what! Check out my! Blog And my website! Thankya, and I'll see you next week. Rock on! Don't forget to check out my blog. Copyright 2008 Josh Urban - All Rights Reserved Josh Urban (photo) is a musician with a unique perspective on music. Always a thinker, he gains insight wherever he can find it, be it in the clubs as a working musician, busking on the city streets, or teaching in the classroom. A naturally enthusiastic fellow, Josh is always fired up about bringing the lessons he's learned to his readers. Maintaining a website, a blog, and a monthly newsletter, he aims to make musicians stop, think, and play with a little more intensity, integrity, and inspiration. You never know who's listening.

36 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    Starforsaken
    Brilliantly conceived; amazingly executed! This is one of the best articles/series on theory I have ever seen. I was always befuddled by the concept of building the I ii iii etc. chords from a given scale. Finally, thanks to you, sir, a light has been shown and I go eagerly forward to further learn and experiment! I also look forward to future lessons from you. Applause and high marks for you, my good man!
    the_bi99man
    Awesome. Deekpyro is right about the little typo up there regarding the minor chords, but awesome, nonetheless. Finally, a lessen that explained why these chords fit in this key, rather than just telling me that they do, so memorize them. I hate memorizing.
    rich420
    deadlydunc wrote: here, hear? english much?
    Dickhead much? give him a break these lessons are amazingly well written, best theory tutor i've had.
    nickwentinsane
    Excellent article! In fact the whole series is awesome. I took a theory class at UNLV here in vegas, and this is helping me apply a lot of the stuff I had already learned to my guitar. One thing though, I cant get enough gain/distortion/drive, and love metal, I would really like to know how to start building progressions in minor so that I can start making minor progressions into arpeggios and turn them into nasty shreddage, how do I go about building progressions in minor?
    tony4481
    Excellent stuff. Makes it seem quite simple really (That's good for me ha-ha) Thanks
    nudge
    Your a better teacher than the one i have face to face lessons with Your so good at explaining these things Good job
    ak10
    but scales are never really played on one string, so with what he is saying the chord you make is only on one string?
    bass-man9712
    why is this called "harmonizing" the major scale, isn't it "utilizing" it? or maybe i'm just thinking of another meaning to harmonizing... :S
    souldude
    "We see, by the same logic, if we build a chord starting on D instead of C, we would end up with the following notes: D F A.
    Isn't that supposed to be D F# A? Or did he mean that he built the D chord from the scale of C? That's what it looks like to me. But I'm pretty sure the right notes are D F# A if you build the Major chord the same way he did with C in the beginning.
    Zappabootlicker
    hm, alot of his lessons are stuff i already institively know or have worked out for myself, but yeh for people how don't know how to harmonize a scale, this is a good solid lesson, with a nice east broken down, step by step, expalanation, nice one
    gizmodious
    ak10 wrote: but scales are never really played on one string, so with what he is saying the chord you make is only on one string?
    You can't play a chord on a single string... You can, however construct all of the listed chords using the same string to derive your root notes from. Good exercise: Play the Cmaj scale on the A string, then construct the chords listed from the scale. You'll have to go down a string per note (1st on A string,3rd on D, and 5th on G). Kudos Josh, another good 1.
    Whiskky
    This series of articles is turning out rather helpful for a self-taught student like me! Thank you very much, Mr. Urban You're a great teacher and anyone can see you really like teaching.
    chillern
    Extremely well written and helpful article! You've really helped me to fully understand basic theory! Love your column! *10*
    chaseNbadguys
    Thanks for the time you put into this artical, another great tool to put into our musical tool boxs.
    kshelt76
    Genius!!!! Never before have I fully understood why chords are major, minor or diminished depending on the key. This gives me the method behind all the madness. Thanks Josh!
    tasty licks
    i like the part where the description on the homepage is even spelled wrong. I can "here" the enthusiasm too. hahahaha good one.
    Pedalboard
    I like how you keeps building on all of this. Absolutely perfect beginners guides. I can't wait until you get more in depth. I have a feeling your going to help me out a ton with my theory. Thank you sir
    deekpyro
    "The chords built off the ii, iii, and iv notes will all be minor chords." I think you mean: The chords built off the ii, iii, and *vi* notes will all be minor chords.
    JoshUrban
    tasty licks wrote: i like the part where the description on the homepage is even spelled wrong. I can "here" the enthusiasm too. hahahaha good one.
    Arrgh! I'm dyin'! (And I even proofread these things....)
    soulflyV
    Back when I was learning this I remembered it by: 1 + 4 = 5 Major Chords 2 X 3 = 6 Minor Chords 7.....(lol) Half-diminished Maybe this will help the beginners. OR not lol.
    GreekRockr9
    Good job putting theory out there, Josh. I'm one of those guitarists who feel that not enough musicians are actually basing theory into their practice, rather than play random powerchords with a generic pentatonic solo. I love theory and I love that you're putting it in simpler terms for "Long-Time shredders" and "First-time thinkers"
    a4lrocker
    nice lesson but no homework? oh well its still very useful. didnt take too long for this one to come out either. keep up the good work.
    qotsa1998
    very nice stuff. I really shoudve started on the first one, as this will help tons when i take theory class either this year or next. These are some awesome lessons, and are quite simple i think.
    mucaslooney
    you are a great teacher. thanks for making some sense of the crazy world of theory... again.