Beginner Music Theory tutorials
17. Chords and scales
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I feel like I am making so much progress here...could this actually be the tutorial in which one learns the first idea behind composition?

  1. Topics of discussion
  2. The chords that belong in a scale

1. Topics of discussion

In this tutorial, we will be taking a look at the relationship between chords and scales, in that we will learn what chords can be formed on each note of a scale, be it major or minor. So, let's have some fun.

2. The chords that belong in a scale

We all know by now what major and minor scales are, how they are related and of the different versions of a minor scale. And we also know about the four important types of triads. But are these two concepts somewhat related to one another? The answer is yes.

Major and minor scales have 7 different notes in them. For simplicity sake, let's consider the C major and A minor scales. Now, let's start analyzing what triads can be formed on each note with the notes we have available in a scale. First up, the C major scale:

  • on the C note, we have the C-E-G major triad
  • on the D note, we have the D-F-A minor triad
  • on the E note, we have the E-G-B minor triad
  • on the F note, we have the F-A-C major triad
  • on the G note, we have the G-B-E major triad
  • on the A note, we have the A-C-E minor triad
  • on the B note, we have the B-D-F diminished triad

Here they are in all their splendor:

C Major Scale Triads

And here they are played back:

Did you see what we did there? We basically just figured out what chords belong to the C major scale. This formula can be applied to all major scales, in the following manner:

  • the chord on the 1st note is a major chord
  • the chord on the 2nd note is a minor chord
  • the chord on the 3rd note is a minor chord
  • the chord on the 4th note is a major chord
  • the chord on the 5th note is a major chord
  • the chord on the 6th note is a minor chord
  • the chord on the 7th note is a diminished chord

Let's do the same for the A minor scale:

  • on the A note, we have the A-C-E minor triad
  • on the B note, we have the B-D-F diminished triad
  • on the C note, we have the C-E-G major triad
  • on the D note, we have the D-F-A minor triad
  • on the E note, we have the E-G-B minor triad
  • on the F note, we have the F-A-C major triad
  • on the G note, we have the G-B-E major triad

Here they are in all their splendor:

A Minor Scale Triads

And here they are played back:

As you can see, the chords are basically the same, just in a different order. The formula can be applied to all minor scales, in this manner:

  • the chord on the 1st note is a minor chord
  • the chord on the 2nd note is a diminished chord
  • the chord on the 3rd note is a major chord
  • the chord on the 4th note is a minor chord
  • the chord on the 5th note is a minor chord
  • the chord on the 6th note is a major chord
  • the chord on the 7th note is a major chord

The general idea is that the quality of the triad formed on each note gives you the quality of the chord formed on that note. This rule is available for any type of major or minor scale (natural, harmonic or melodic).

So why is this important you may ask? The answer lies in the variety of music. Not all music is created classical. Sometimes, maybe you just want to pick up your guitar and be able to just jam with your friends. And you can't really do that without being able to have a rhythm to which you jam. And you can't have a rhythm on a guitar without playing chords. And you can't play chords right if they don't belong in the same key/scale.

That about covers it for this tutorial...and for this series actually. This is all I could think of that falls under beginner level. In the next (and final) tutorial of this series we'll do a full round-up of what we discussed in this series and discuss possible directions in which you can go. See you then.

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