• Scale-Degree And Passing Chords For Intermediate Piano Players

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    Our focus today is on scale-degree and passing chords.

    The basic role of a pianist (especially in a band situation) is to provide accompaniment to melodies; that’s why it’s important for every pianist to learn, master, and apply chords.

    This lesson is designed to take the intermediate piano player to the next level. As a result, most beginners may find it difficult either to play or apply the several chord voicings we’ll be exploring.

    Let’s get started by investing the next two segments into reviewing what scale-degree and passing chords are.

    Review On Scale Degree Chords

    Every key [whether major or minor] has its major or minor scale. The tones of this major [or minor] scale are known as scale degrees.

    Considering that the major scale has seven scale tones, there are also seven degrees of the major scale. The C major scale:

    …has the following scale degrees:

    1st tone – C

    2nd tone – D

    3rd tone – E

    4th tone – F

    5th tone – G

    6th tone – A

    7th tone – B

    Chords formed on any of these scale degrees [using only scale tones] are known as scale degree chords.

    Starting from any degree of the scale, you can form a scale degree chord by putting notes together in intervals of thirds (aka – “tertian harmony“). However, only the tones of the scale can be put together.

    Here’s how it works…

    In the key of C, we can form scale degree chords using the notes of the C major scale:

    It’s as simple as starting from a given note of the scale, let’s say C:

    …and add other notes in thirds that are in the scale.

    A third from C is E:

    …from E is G:

    …Put together, we have C, E, and G:

    …a scale degree triad that can be extended to a seventh chord:

    …a ninth chord:

    …an eleventh chord:

    …and a thirteenth chord:

    Further reading: Scale Degree Chords.

    Here are the respective chord qualities of scale degree triads:

    Scale Degree Triads

    Chord Quality

    Chord 1

    Major

    Chord 2

    Minor

    Chord 3

    Minor

    Chord 4

    Major

    Chord 5

    Major

    Chord 6

    Minor

    Chord 7

    Diminished

    …and seventh chords:

    Scale Degree Triads

    Chord Quality

    Chord 1

    Major seventh

    Chord 2

    Minor seventh

    Chord 3

    Minor seventh

    Chord 4

    Major seventh

    Chord 5

    Dominant seventh

    Chord 6

    Minor seventh

    Chord 7

    Half-diminished

    Review On Passing Chords

    Passing chords are chords that are used to resolve to scale degree chords.

    There are other classes of passing chords in music, but our use of passing chords in this lesson will refer to secondary dominant chords.

    “What are secondary dominant chords?”

    The term dominant is used in music to refer to the fifth degree of the major scale.

    While dominant chords refer to chords that are formed on the fifth degree of the major scale, secondary dominant chords refer to the dominant seventh chords that are a perfect “fifth” above that given scale degree.

    The same way the dominant seventh chord has the strongest resolution and pull towards the chord of the first scale degree, secondary dominants function as the dominant seventh chords that have the strongest pull towards other scale degree chords.

    In the C major scale:

    …D is the second degree. The scale degree seventh chord formed on D is the D minor seventh chord:

    The passing chord that would resolve to the D minor seventh chord is its secondary dominant, which is a fifth above its root.

    A fifth above D is A:

    Therefore, the A dominant seventh chord is the passing chord that takes us to chord 2 – the D minor seventh chord.

    Due to the fact that the A dominant seventh chord functions as a passing chord to chord 2, it is known to music scholars as the “five of [chord] 2”, which literally means the dominant of chord 2.

    Attention: The term dominant should always be associated with the number 5.

    Scale-Degree Chords In The Key Of C

    Let’s quickly explore some of the chords that can be used in the accompaniment of melodies in the key of C.

    Attention: We’ll not be exploring chords of the seventh degree (diminished chords) and this is because of their relationship with the chord of the fifth degree.

    Chord 1

    Here are some chord voicings founded on C:

    …which is the first tone in the key of C major.

    #1

    The C [add9] chord:

    …which can also be voiced in this manner:

    #2

    The C major seventh chord:

    …which can also be voiced in this manner:

    #3

    The C major ninth chord:

    …which can also be voiced in this manner:

    Chord 2

    Here are some chord voicings founded on D:

    …which is the second tone in the key of C major.

    #1

    The D minor seventh chord:

    …which can also be voiced in this manner:

    #2

    The D minor ninth chord:

    …which can also be voiced in this manner:

    #3

    The D minor eleventh chord:

    …which can also be voiced in this manner:

    Chord 3

    Here are some chord voicings founded on E:

    …which is the third tone in the key of C major.

    #1 The E minor seventh chord:

    …which can also be voiced in this manner:

    #2

    The E minor ninth chord:

    …which can also be voiced in this manner:

    #3

    The E minor eleventh chord:

    …which can also be voiced in this manner:

    Chord 4

    Here are some chord voicings founded on F:

    …which is the fourth tone in the key of C major.

    #1

    The F [add9] chord:

    …which can also be voiced in this manner:

    #2

    The F major seventh chord:

    …which can also be voiced in this manner:

    #3

    The F major ninth chord:

    …which can also be voiced in this manner:

    Chord 5

    Here are some chord voicings founded on G:

    …which is the fifth tone in the key of C major.

    #1

    The G dominant seventh chord:

    …which can also be voiced in this manner:

    #2

    The G dominant ninth [sus4] chord:

    …which can also be voiced in this manner:

    #3

    The G dominant ninth chord:

    …which can also be voiced in this manner:

    Chord 6

    Here are some chord voicings founded on A:

    …which is the sixth tone in the key of C major.

    Passing Chords In The Key Of C

    Let’s round up this lesson by learning some passing chords that can be used to connect two or more scale degree chords.

    Attention: The term chord 5 of  literally means “a passing chord to”. Consequently, chord 5 of 6 literally means “a passing chord to the sixth degree” in the key.

    Chord 5 of 4

    Here are some passing chords to the chord of the fourth degree.

    #1

    The C dominant ninth chord:

    It can also be played this way:

    #2

    The C dominant seventh [flat ninth] chord:

    It can also be played this way:

    #3

    The C dominant ninth [add thirteenth] chord:

    It can also be played this way:

    Chord 5 of 5

    Here are some passing chords to the chord of the fifth degree.

    #1

    The D dominant ninth chord:

    It can also be played this way:

    #2

    The D dominant seventh [flat ninth] chord:

    It can also be played this way:

    #3

    The D dominant ninth [add thirteenth] chord:

    It can also be played this way:

    Chord 5 of 6

    Here are some passing chords to the chord of the sixth degree.

    #1

    The E dominant seventh [flat ninth] chord:

    It can also be played this way:

    #2

    The E dominant seventh [#9,#5] chord:

    It can also be played this way:

    #3

    The E dominant seventh [b9,#5] chord:

    It can also be played this way:

    Chord 5 of 2

    Here are some passing chords to the chord of the second degree.

    #1

    The A dominant seventh [flat ninth] chord:

    It can also be played this way:

    #2

    The A dominant seventh [#9,#5] chord:

    It can also be played this way:

    #3

    The A dominant seventh [b9,#5] chord:

    It can also be played this way:

    Chord 5 of 3

    Here are some passing chords to the chord of the third degree.

    #1

    The B dominant seventh [flat ninth] chord:

    It can also be played this way:

    #2

    The B dominant seventh [#9,#5] chord:

    It can also be played this way:

    #3

    The B dominant seventh [b9,#5] chord:

    It can also be played this way:

    Final Words

    Congratulations! Getting to this segment let’s me know how serious you are about learning scale degree and passing chords and with all the chords we’ve learned, I’m doubly sure that your chordal vocabulary will go up by a notch.

    We’ll continue our discussion in another lesson where we’ll be applying these chords.

    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.

    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 zino

    good

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