The Crusade. Part 5: Harmonizing The Major Scale

date: 12/13/2007 category: features
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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.
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