• The Major Scale Revival Program [Week #4] — “Formation And Determination Of Chords And Harmonic Structures”

    in Chords & Progressions,Experienced players,General Music,Piano,Scales,Theory

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    The major scale can be used in the formation and determination of chords and that’s our focus in this lesson.

    Welcome to the final week of the major scale revival program. If you’ve been following this program, I want to congratulate yo because you’ve learned a whole lot:

    From the overview, to the first week when we learned the major scale as a warm-up mechanism for technical development, to the second week when we used the major scale to learn and master the number system, to the third week when we learned about the composition and improvisation of tons of melodies and melodic lines.

    We’ll be wrapping it up in this lesson with the final part that has to do with the formation and determination of chords and harmonic structures. But before we start, let’s refresh our minds on chords.

    A Quick Review On Chords

    There are so many ways to define a chord and we’ve covered a lot of them in the past courses and lessons. But for the purpose of this lesson, we’ll be defining a chord as the following:

    A product of the relationship between three or more notes that are related (whether pleasant or not) and are played together.

    Let’s go ahead and examine some of the keywords in this definition using the C major chord:

    …as our reference.

    Keyword #1 — “Three Or More Notes”

    It takes at least three notes to make chord and that’s why the definition says three or more. Three-toned chords like the C major triad:

    …are known as triads, while seventh chords and extended chords can have as much as 4 to 8 tones.

    “How About Two Notes?”

    Well, when two notes are played together, they’re known as intervals or dyads. Although intervals sound harmonic when played, they’re not considered to be chords.

    Keyword #2 — “Related”

    The notes of a chord must be related and that’s why it’s not every note combination that can be considered to be a chord.

    In the case of the C major triad:

    …the notes (C, E, and G) are related by a major scale (specifically the C major scale):

    …as you can see that the chord tones of the C major triad are the first, third, and fifth tones of the C major scale.

    Also, the tones of the C major triad are related by third intervals; from C to E:

    …is a third interval, just like E to G:

    Keyword #3 — “Whether Pleasant Or Not”

    A chord can either sound agreeable or not and this depends on the notes and intervals it’s made up of.

    In the case of the C major triad:

    …the chord sounds agreeable; unlike the C diminished triad:

    …that sounds very tensed and has the tendency to resolve.

    Keyword #4 — “Together”

    The final keyword is together and the origin of the word chord is from an old English word accord that means together. So, the notes of a chord must be played or heard together (not separately.)

    Although there are situations when the notes of a chord are NOT played simultaneously and you can have an implied harmony or chord, the ideal thing to do is to play chord tones together: in accord. (I’m talking about situations where one is playing the Alberti bass, or arpeggios.)

    The Use Of The Major Scale In The Formation Of Chords

    One of the most important keywords in the definition of a chord is keyword #3 that says “related.”

    When it comes to the relationship between the notes of a chord, scale relationship is very important. For example, we learned earlier that the chord tones of the C major triad:

    …are related by the C major scale:

    So, the scale relationship of chord tones is very important. In other words, the notes of a chord MUST be related by a given scale. Well, the major scale is an underlying scale that can be used in the formation of chords — diatonic chords.

    Attention: The term diatonic is used to describe chords that are formed by the major scale or using the major scale.

    We’ll be exploring the chords that can be formed by the major scale (aka – “diatonic chords”) in this lesson and there are three chord categories:

    Diatonic triads

    Diatonic seventh chords

    Extended diatonic chords

    …so, let’s check them out.

    Diatonic Triads

    Diatonic triads are those three-finger chords we play off every tone of the scale; just like the C major triad:

    …that is formed off the first tone of the C major scale:

    …which is C:

    The C major triad is formed when we depress every other note of the scale. So, if we depress C:

    …skip D and depress E:

    …then skip F and depress G:

    …that’s the C major triad:

    “Here Are The Seven Unique Diatonic Triads In The Key Of C Major…”

    C major triad:

    D minor triad:

    E minor triad:

    F major triad:

    G major triad:

    A minor triad:

    B diminished triad:

    Using the major scale, we’ve formed major, minor, and diminished chords as diatonic chords. The major chords off the first, fourth, and fifth tones; the minor chords off the second, third, and sixth tone; and then the diminished triad off the seventh tone.

    There are four main chord types: major, minor, diminished, and augmented. Using the major scale, we’ve been able to form three out of these four chord types. So, we can say that the major scale is associated with the formation of 75% of the basic triad types.

    Diatonic Seventh Chords

    Now that we’ve covered triads, it wouldn’t be difficult for you to comprehend seventh chords, I promise.

    Diatonic seventh chords are four-finger chords. So, in addition to the three chord tones we have in the C major triad:

    …we can add an extra chord tone (which is B):

    …to form the C major seventh chord:

    What we did was that after G:

    …which is the highest-sounding chord tone of the C major chord (in root position):

    …we skipped A and added B:

    “Every Other Diatonic Seventh Chord Can Be Formed The Same Way…”

    The D minor chord:

    …which is the 2-chord in the key of C major can become a seventh chord if only we can skip B:

    …and add C:

    Attention: The note to skip and the note to add all depend on the major scale.

    “Here Are All The Diatonic Seventh Chords In The Key Of C Major…”

    C major seventh:

    D minor seventh:

    E minor seventh:

    F major seventh:

    G dominant seventh:

    A minor seventh:

    B half-diminished seventh:

    Amazing! We’ve formed the major seventh, minor seventh, dominant seventh, and half-diminished seventh chord using the major scale and these are four out of the five main seventh chord types:

    The major seventh chord

    The minor seventh chord

    The dominant seventh chord

    The diminished seventh chord

    The half-diminished seventh chord

    So, we can say that the major scale is associated with the formation of 80% of the main seventh chord types.

    Extended Diatonic Chords

    Extended diatonic chords are bigger and more sophisticated than the triads and seventh chords that we covered earlier. I’m  talking about ninth, eleventh, and thirteenth chords.

    Extended diatonic chords like the following:

    C major ninth:

    D minor eleventh:

    G dominant thirteenth [suspended fourth]:

    …are all formed in the key of C major using the C major scale:

    Indeed, the major scale is an underlying scale that can be used in the formation of a variety of chords.

    “Here’s The Benefit Of The Major Scale…”

    The major scale can be used in the formation of these diatonic triads, seventh chords, and extended chords in all the keys.

    Truth be told, the more you internalize the major scale, the easier it is for you to form diatonic chords and this is because diatonic chords we just learned are basically formed by the major scale and in the major key.

    So, go ahead and practice your major scale a lot more and I guarantee you that the formation of chords will just be a walk in the park for you.

    Final Words

    Using the major scale as our underlying scale, we can create tons of chords and harmonic structures in the major key and otherwise.

    If you go ahead and apply your knowledge of the major scale in all twelve keys and the formulas covered in this lesson and tons of other formulas that I believe you can come up with, you can form triads, seventh, and extended chords.

    This is the end of the major scale revival program and I’m doubly sure that you’ve unlocked all the benefits associated with this program.

    Special thanks to my role-model and mentor, Jermaine Griggs, for the opportunity to share these information with you and I have no doubt that you’re going to make the most out of it.

    All the best!

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    Onyemachi "Onye" Chuku is a Nigerian musicologist, pianist, and author. Inspired by his role model (Jermaine Griggs) who has become his mentor, what he started off as teaching musicians in his Aba-Nigeria neighborhood in April 2005 eventually morphed into an international career that has helped hundreds of thousands of musicians all around the world. Onye lives in Dubai and is currently the Head of Education at HearandPlay Music Group and the music consultant of the Gospel Music Training Center, all in California, USA.

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