• Week 5: Major Sixth Chord + Chord Cheat Sheet

    in Chords & Progressions,Piano

    major sixth

    Our focus today is on the major sixth chord.

    The addition of the sixth tone of the major scale to a major triad will produce the major sixth chord.

    In the major scale of C:

    …adding the sixth tone of the scale (A):

    …to the classic C major triad:

    …will produce the C major sixth chord:

    The major sixth chord consists of the 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 6th degrees of the major scale, (which are four notes altogether) versus the three notes that triads are made up of (covered in previous weeks).

    Welcome to Week 5 of our 16 week chord revival program!

    If you’re just joining, feel free to view the content of previous weeks by clicking on any of the links below:

    Get ready!

    In this post, we are going to cover a ton of information on the major sixth chord – ranging from intervallic components, to three practical approaches to its formation and more.

    Intervallic Components of the Major Sixth Chord

    The major sixth chord consists of the first, third, fifth, and sixth tones of the major scale. The major sixth chord, if formed in the key of C:

    …would consist of C, E, G, and A:

    …which are the first, third, fifth, and sixth tones of the C major scale, respectively.

    The major sixth chord can be broken down into smaller components known as intervals.

    “How many intervals can you spot in the major sixth chord?”

    An interval is the relationship between two notes in terms of the distance between them.

    Intervals are formed between the first and any other chord tone. In the major sixth chord, here are the three intervals you should be able to spot:

    C-E:

    …the major third.

    C-G:

    …the perfect fifth.

    C-A:


    …the major sixth.

    A breakdown of the major sixth chord in this manner has shown us the intervals it’s made up of (aka – “intervallic components”).

    In previous weeks when we were covering three-note chords (aka – “triads), we encountered only two intervallic components. However, in today’s post, we have the major sixth, a four-note chord, which now has three intervallic components.

    Major third
    Perfect fifth
    Major sixth

    One of the approaches to chord formation that we’ll cover in this post will feature the use of these intervals.

    The Major Third

    The major third is formed between the first and third tones of the major scale.

    In the major scale of C:

    …the third scale tone is E:

    …therefore, C-E:

    …is a major third.

    The interval of the major third in the major 6th chord is what makes the major sixth chord a major chord (aka – “tonality“).

    Remember this…

    What makes a chord major or minor (aka – “tonality“) depends on the quality of third it has. The major sixth chord:

    …is a major chord because it has a major third:

    The Perfect Fifth

    The second intervallic component of a major sixth chord is the perfect fifth.

    It is formed between the first and the fifth tones of the major scale. In the major scale of C:

    …the fifth scale tone is G:

    …therefore, C-G:

    …is a perfect fifth.

    The perfect fifth interval is a universally consonant interval formed between the first and fifth degrees of the major scale. Owing to the universal consonance and stability of the perfect fifth interval, the major sixth chord tends to be stable.

    Note this…

    If you stack the major third:

    …and perfect fifth:

    …together in one octave, this would produce:

    …the classic C major triad.

    However, the major sixth chord has an extra intervallic component – the major sixth interval.

    The Major Sixth

    The major sixth is formed between the first and sixth tones of the major scale. In the major scale of C:

    …the sixth scale tone is A:

    …therefore, C-A:

    …is a major sixth.

    If we stack an interval of a major sixth on top of the intervallic components we discussed earlier (major third and perfect fifth), this will produce an added tone chord.

    Added-tone chords feature non-tertian tones like 2nd, 4th and 6th tones of the major scale, which are skipped in tertian harmony.

    Pay attention to this…

    If you are familiar with my pick-and-skip technique, you will remember that in the key of C major:

    …we can pick C:

    …skip D and pick E:

    …skip F and pick G:

    …skip A and pick B:

    If we put all the notes that were skipped together, we’ll have D, F, and A:

    Adding these tones to triads produces “added-tone” chords.

    In this case where we’re adding the sixth (A) to the regular C major triad, this would produce a C major sixth chord.

    So remember: Major 6th chords are “added-tone” chords.

    Having covered the intervals that make up the major sixth chord (aka – “intervallic components”), let’s go into chord formation.

    Chord Formation of the Major Sixth Chord

    No doubt, there are so many ways to form the major sixth chord. However, I’ll show you three approaches…

    The scale approach
    The interval approach
    The chord approach

    Scale Approach to the Chord Formation of the Major Sixth Chord

    In this approach, we’ll be using a known scale to form the major sixth chord. The scale for this chord formation is the major pentatonic scale. Below is the C major pentatonic scale:

    The C major pentatonic scale can produce the major sixth chord if the second tone of this scale is removed.

    If we play the C major pentatonic scale:

    … without the second tone, this would produce a major sixth chord:

    Now that you know the major sixth chord can be formed from the pentatonic scale, knowledge of the pentatonic scale in all the keys will help you do this.

    Further reading: Casting out the devil in music

    Below are all the major sixth chords derived from major pentatonic scales:

    C major pentatonic scale vs C major sixth chord:

    Db major pentatonic scale vs Db major sixth chord:

    D major pentatonic scale vs D major sixth chord:

    Eb major pentatonic scale vs Eb major sixth chord:

    E major pentatonic scale vs E major sixth chord:

    F major pentatonic scale vs F major sixth chord:

    Gb major pentatonic scale vs Gb major sixth chord:

    G major pentatonic scale vs G major sixth chord:

    Ab major pentatonic scale vs Ab major sixth chord:

    A major pentatonic scale vs A major sixth chord:

    Bb major pentatonic scale vs Bb major sixth chord:

    B major pentatonic scale vs B major sixth chord:

    Interval Approach to the Chord Formation of the Major Sixth Chord

    In the earlier segment, we broke the major sixth chord down to its intervallic components, which are the major third, perfect fifth, and the major sixth intervals.

    Chord formation of the major sixth can be done using these intervals. In the key of C:

    …the major third is C-E:

    …the perfect fifth is C-G:

    …the major sixth C-A:

    Putting these intervals together within the compass of an octave would produce the C major sixth chord:

    Chord Approach to the Chord Formation of the Major Sixth Chord

    We can approach chord formation of the major sixth chord with the major triad.

    Remember what I said in an earlier segment: “major sixth chords are added-tone chords.”

    Therefore, addition of the sixth tone of the major scale to the major triad will produce the major sixth chord.

    Check out the major sixth chords derived from the major triads in all keys below:

    C major triad vs C major sixth chord:

    Db major triad vs Db major sixth chord:

    D major triad vs D major sixth chord:

    Eb major triad vs Eb major sixth chord:

    E major triad vs E major sixth chord:

    F major triad vs F major sixth chord:

    Gb major triad vs Gb major sixth chord:

    G major triad vs G major sixth chord:

    Ab major triad vs Ab major sixth chord:

    A major triad vs A major sixth chord:

    Bb major triad vs Bb major sixth chord:

    B major triad vs B major sixth chord:

    Final Words

    To be honest, the major sixth chord wasn’t always an active chord in my chordal vocabulary several years ago because the added sixth tone sounded pretty much like the minor seventh chord of the sixth degree of the major key (A minor).

    There are many people out there who won’t appreciate the major sixth chord as chord 1, and this is because it has a relationship with the seventh chord of the sixth degree of the major scale.

    For example, in the key of C:

    …the sixth scale tone is A:

    If you form a seventh chord using the pick and skip technique we covered earlier, you’ll pick A:

    …skip B and pick C:

    …skip D and pick E:

    …skip F and pick G:

    …and that creates an A minor seventh chord.

    First inversion of the A minor seventh chord:

    …looks pretty much like the C major sixth chord.

    In a future post, I’ll show you the difference between the major sixth chord and the minor seventh chord.

    See you then!

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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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    { 4 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 John

    this is too great!

    Reply

    2 Charles Fenech

    HI. Thanks for your piano lessons . I like the way you teach – from an honest heart. Thanks again.

    Reply

    3 LadyD

    Thanks for this great resource!

    Reply

    4 Go Johnson

    Thanks a lot.God bless

    Reply

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