• Let me introduce you to the power chord’s cousin…

    in Chords & Progressions

    fuel-big.jpgNow that you’re familiar with power chords (from yesterday’s post), I want to introduce you to the power chord’s cousin.

    (If power chords are your batteries, per yesterday’s photo, then his cousin is your fuel… just a little play on words).

    Let’s review the power chord really quickly.

    A power chord is basically made up of a fifth interval. In any given key, just play the 1 and the 5 together and you’ve got yourself a power chord.

    C major scale
    C D E F G A B C
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7

    But most people don’t stop at playing just “C + G.” They double up on the C, playing it on top as well:

    “C + G + C.”

    So there’s a crash course on power chords.

    Now, at the end of yesterday’s lesson, I gave you some more variations of this “1+5+1” power chord.

    Here they are:

    • If playing a major seventh, ninth, eleventh, or thirteenth chord, you can actually play “1 + 5 + 7” as a power chord on your left hand. Since the major 7 degree is found in these chords, it makes sense and sounds awesome!
    • In C major, that’s “C + G + B”
    • If playing a minor or dominant seventh, ninth, eleventh, or thirteenth chord, you can play “1 + 5 + b7” as a power chord on your left hand. Unlike the first variation, the seventh is lowered a half step to be more conducive to dominant and minor seventh chords, which both have lowered seventh notes in them.
    • In C major, that’s “C + G + Bb.”

    So here’s where I want to introduce you to the power chord’s cousin…

    Her name is tritone.”

    She’ll help you to play this “1 + 5 + b7” chord a lot more flavorful!

    Unlike the power chord which uses the 1 and the 5 to form a chord (some call it a “dyad” because it’s only 2 notes as opposed to 3), the tritone uses the 1 and b5. So it’s like a power chord with the fifth lowered.

    Power chord (example):
    C + G

    Tritone (example):
    C + Gb

    This is also called a diminished fifth interval.

    There’s another way to look at tritones. You can also look at them as the 3rd and b7 of any key.

    (I can just imagine you connecting the dots now… hmmm, the “b7”)

    In C major:
    C D E F G A B C
    1 2 3 4 G 6 7

    Turn the 7 into a b7 (that’s B into Bb) and there’s your tritone:

    E + Bb

    So where do you use it?

    Anytime you’re playing a dominant chord or some kind of altered chord that is based on the dominant chord.

    Here’s why…

    Check out the C dominant 7 chord:

    C + E + G + Bb

    Do you see what I see?

    It has a tritone inside of it! The distance from “E” to “Bb” in the chord is the “3 + b7” interval we’ve been talking about.

    Therefore, instead of playing the power chord alteration from yesterday (1 + 5 + b7), you can play the “3 + b7” instead.

    Actually, you can switch off. Playing by ear is all about having OPTIONS. You can play the power chord first… then when the chord comes back around, you can play the tritone on your left hand the next time.

    Here’s some other things you can do:

    • 3 + b7
    • 1 + 3 + b7 (the only difference in this one is that you’re playing the “3” and not the “5” like you did in the power chord variation).
    • 3 + b7 + 3 (double up on the “3,” similar to the voicings taught in this lesson).

    So now you’ve got the power chord, some power chord variations, and the tritone under your finger tips!

    Exercise: Let’s figure out all three tritone variations for the other 11 keys. I’ll start the ones for C major below. Remember, it’s all about the 3 and b7 of any key… it’s that simple!
    hear and play

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    Hi, I'm Jermaine Griggs, founder of this site. We teach people how to express themselves through the language of music. Just as you talk and listen freely, music can be enjoyed and played in the same way... if you know the rules of the "language!" I started this site at 17 years old in August 2000 and more than a decade later, we've helped literally millions of musicians along the way. Enjoy!

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