• How To Spice Up Your Harmonization Of The Major Scale Using Diminished Seventh Chords

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    Can I take you by the hand and show you a spicier harmonization of the major scale with diminished seventh chord?

    If your answer is yes, then you’re on the right page.

    Using the techniques you’re about to learn, you can also harmonize songs. I’m sure you know that once you’re able to harmonize the major scale, you can also harmonize songs and this is because 99.9% of regular songs are played with the tones of the major scale.

    Before we jump into the harmonization of the major scale using diminished seventh chords, let’s quickly review the concept of stable and active tones in the major key.

    Stable Tones Vs Active Tones

    There are seven tones in every major (or minor) key and they are categorized into stable and active tones.

    In the key of C major:

    …the following tones — C, D, E, F, G, A, and B — can be categorized into stable and active tones.

    Let me show you how this works.

    An Overview Of Stable Tones And Active Tones In The Major Key

    Apart from the first, third, and fifth tones of the major scale that are categorized as stable tones, the other tones of the major scale are said to be active.

    “What Are Stable Tones…”

    Stable tones are the tones that resonate with the major key and they are the tones of the 1-chord in the major key.

    If you play the tones of the C major triad:

    …in the key of C major:

    …you’ll feel the completeness, stability, consonance associated with these tones.

    “What Are Active Tones…”

    The active tones in the major key are the tones that DO NOT resonate with the key. Talk about the second, fourth, sixth, and seventh tones of the major scale.

    In the key of C major, the following tones are active:

    D:

    F:

    A:

    …and B

    :

    When these active tones are played, they have a sense of incompleteness.

    For example, when D:

    …is played over the C major triad:

    …it tends to move towards E (which is a stable tone):

    The Harmonization Of The Major Scale Using Diminished Chords

    Before we completely harmonize the major scale, I’ll show you the harmonic reference used for stable tones and active tones.

    Attention: The harmonic reference is the chord that is used in the harmonization of a melody note.

    The Harmonization Of The Stable Tones

    There are three stable tones in the major key and each of them is harmonized by the 1-chord.

    In the key of C major:

    …the stable tones (which are C, E, and G):

    C:

    E:

    G:

    …are harmonized using the 1-chord (the C major triad):

    C:

    …is harmonized by the C major triad (in first inversion):

    E:

    …is harmonized by the C major triad (in second inversion):

    G:

    …is harmonized by the C major triad (in root position):

    So, keep in mind that once you can play the C major triad in the root position and other inversions (the first and second inversions), you can harmonize the stable tones in the key.

    The Harmonization Of The Active Tones

    There are four active tones in the major key. In the key of C major:

    …they are as follows:

    D:

    …which is harmonized by the F diminished seventh chord:

    F:

    …which is harmonized by the G# diminished seventh chord:

    A:

    …which is harmonized by the C diminished seventh chord:

    B:

    …which is harmonized by the D diminished seventh chord:

    Using these four diminished seventh chords, the major scale can be harmonized alongside with the major triad we covered earlier while harmonizing stable tones.

    The Harmonization Of The Major Scale

    Now, let’s put everything together.

    Here’s how the major scale can be harmonized using the chords we’ve covered:

    C:

    D:

    E:

    F:

    G:

    A:

    B:

    C:

    Final Words

    I know you’re probably wondering what you should be playing on the left hand.

    Well, if you go ahead and play the notes of the major scale on the left hand in such a way that the note you’re harmonizing is duplicated, you’ll have a reinforced sound.

    For example, harmonizing C:

    …with the C major triad (in first inversion):

    …and playing C an octave below the melody note (on the left hand):

    …produces a reinforced harmonization of with four notes:

    …and you can assign a voice part to each of the notes:

    Soprano (C):

    Alto (G):

    Tenor (E):

    Bass (C):

    We’ll talk more about this in subsequent lessons.

    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 the head of education, music consultant, and chief content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with hundreds of thousands of musicians across the world.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.




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    { 1 comment… read it below or add one }

    1 Paul Maessen

    Hi this is so great – I love the richness these chords provide. I am unsure how to use these in general, other than 1: I’m composing a song and looking for a certain feel to harmonize with a melody or 2: I’m putting chords to a melody I know and this gives me a ‘nicer’ feel, or a cool passing chord to a more stable note? I also would like to know the general ‘rule to diminished 7ths or why they would be used in preference to a dominant 7th for example, or how to identify them in music. They feel a little ‘show tune-ish’ to me, like something Charles Strouse would use?

    Reply

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