• How To Determine The Scale-Degree Triads In Any Major Key In 30 Seconds Or Less

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    In this lesson, I’ll be showing you how you can determine scale degree triads in any major key in thirty seconds or less.

    One of the challenges most beginners face is not only the ability to memorize scale degree triads in all twelve keys but the ability to play them. At the end of this lesson, you’ll be able to play scale degree triads in all twelve keys. But before we do that, let’s start this study by doing a quick review on the major key.

    A Note On The Major Key

    There are twelve musical notes:

    Out of these twelve musical notes, seven are natural:

    …and five are accidental:

    Now the establishment of any of these notes as a principal tone creates a key or a key environment. But for this key environment to be created, it requires eight different components.

    For example all the white on the piano from C to C:

    …creates a key environment known as the key of C:

    So let’s talk about the term major.

    A Short Note On The Major Key

    The term major is basically an attribute or character of a key. There basically two attributes that a key environment can have – which can either be major or minor.

    The term major is used to describe a key that has the following attributes; light, happiness, brightness, and so on versus the term minor that is used to describe a key that has attributes like darkness, sadness, the nocturnal, the fearful, and the ghostly.

    There are twelve major keys in the piano.

    “Check them out…”

    C major:

    Db major:

    D major:

    Eb major:

    E major:

    F major:

    F# major:

    G major:

    Ab major:

    A major:

    Bb major:

    B major:

    So that’s it with the major key.

    Let’s go ahead and review scale triads before we get into how they are determined in any major key.

    A  Review On Scale Degree Triads Of The Major Key

    Every key has eight components. And these eight components can be seen in its traditional scale. The eight components of the major key can be seen in the traditional scale of the major key which is the natural major scale.

    For example, if you want to see the eight components of the key of C major, then take a look at the C natural major scale:

    These eight components in the key can also be referred to as scale degrees. For example in the key of C major:

    C is the first degree

    D is the second degree

    E is the third degree

    F is the fourth degree

    G is the fifth degree

    A is the sixth degree

    B is the seventh degree

    C is the eight degree

    Triads can be formed on every degree in the major key, and these triads are simply known as scale degree triads.

    “Let’s Check Them Out…”

    On the first degree of the C major scale:

    …which is C:

    …is the C major triad:

    On the second degree in the key of C major (which is D):

    …is the D minor triad:

    On the third degree in the key of C major (which is E):

    …is the E minor triad:

    On the fourth degree in the key of C major (which is F):

    …is the F major triad:

    On the fifth degree in the key of C major (which is G):

    …is the G major triad:

    On the sixth degree in the key of C major (which is A):

    …is the A minor triad:

    On the seventh degree in the key of C major (which is B):

    …is the B diminished triad:

    On the eight degree in the key of C major (which is C):

    …is the C major triad:

    So taking a closer look at the scale degree triads in the major key, we can see that triads of the first, fourth, and fifth degrees are major triads, while triads of the second, third, and sixth degrees are minor triads. Finally, the triad of the seventh degree is a diminished triad.

    At the moment, we would focus only on stable triads which are major and minor triads, and that excludes the triad of the seventh degree which is a diminished triad.

    So, before we proceed to this next segment, it is important that you learn the all the major and minor triads in root position.

    “Here’s The Major Triad In All Twelve Keys…”

    C major triad:

    Db major triad:

    D major triad:

    Eb major triad:

    E major triad:

    F major triad:

    Gb major triad:

    G major triad:

    Ab major triad:

    A major triad:

    Bb major triad:

    B major triad:

    “Here’s The Minor Triad In All Twelve Keys…”

    C minor triad:

    C# minor triad:

    D minor triad:

    D# minor triad:

    E minor triad:

    F minor triad:

    F# minor triad:

    G minor triad:

    G# minor triad:

    A minor triad:

    Bb minor triad:

    B minor triad:

    Using these major and minor triads, you can determine scale degree triads in any major key, and I’ll show you how in the next segment.

    How To Determine Scale Degree Triads In Any Major Key

    From what we covered in the last segment, triads of the first, fourth, and fifth degrees are major triads, while triads of the second, third, and sixth degrees are minor triads, and this can be applied to any key if you know the major scale of that key.

    For example in the key of D major:

    …D:

    …is the first,

    E:

    …is the second,

    F#:

    …is the third,

    G:

    …is the fourth,

    A:

    …is the fifth,

    B:

    …is the sixth,

    C#:

    …is the seventh,

    …and D:

    …is the eight.

    So triads of the first, fourth, and fifth, which are D:

    …G:

    …and A:

    …are major triads. Consequently, the major scale degree triads in the key of D major are…

    D major:

    …G major:

    …and A major:

    …triads, while minor triads which are formed on the second, third, and sixth degrees are E minor:

    …F# minor:

    …and B minor:

    …triads – which are triads of the second (E):

    …third (F#):

    …and sixth (B):

    …degrees.

    Altogether, the scale degree triads in the key of D major are…

    D major triad:

    E minor triad:

    F# minor triad:

    G major triad:

    A major triad:

    B minor triad:

    “Alternatively…”

    It’s possible to memorize the numbers of the scale degrees that are associated with the major triad, and the scale degrees that are associated with the minor triad.

    Due to the fact that the first, fourth, and fifth tones are associated with the major triad, every other scale degree apart from the seventh degree, is associated with the minor triad.

    Let’s apply this in the key of Bb major:

    For the first scale degree in the key of Bb (which is Bb):

    …the first is associated with the major triad, therefore, we’ll have the Bb major triad:

    …as chord 1.

    The second scale degree (which is C):

    …is associated with the minor triad. Consequently, we’re going to have the C minor triad:

    …as chord 2.

    The third scale degree (which is D):

    …is associated with the minor triad. Therefore, we’ll have the D minor triad:

    The fourth scale degree (which is Eb):

    …is associated with the major triad.

    Keypoint: Always remember that the first, fourth, and fifth degrees are associated with the major triad.

    Therefore, we’ll have the Eb major triad:

    …as chord 4.

    The fifth scale degree (which is F):

    …is associated with the major triad. Consequently, we have the F major triad:

    …as chord 5.

    The sixth scale degree (which is G):

    …is associated with the minor minor triad.

    Consequently, we have the G minor triad:

    …as chord 6.

    Final Words

    It’s possible to play the scale degree triads in every major key, provided you know the major scale of that key, and most importantly, all the major and minor triads.

    “Here Are Random Examples…”

    Chord six in the key of B can be determined if you know the sixth tone in the key of B major:

    …which is G#:

    …and then the triad quality that is associated with the sixth scale degree.

    The triad quality that is associated with the sixth degree of the major scale is minor. Consequently, we have the G# minor triad:

    …as chord six in the key of B:

    Here’s where we’ll draw the curtains in today’s lesson, and I’ll see you in another lesson.

    All the best!

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as a music consultant and content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with thousands of musicians across the world.

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