zentao.com main site entrance
zentao.com

Got Gear?  Best Prices on the Net!

Harmonizing the Major Scale

 

The Basics:

Most chord progressions that you will come across are based on a formula. That formula is the harmonized major scale, or what I call the CHORD SCALE. There are exceptions to this statement, but usually, those exceptions can be traced back to the harmonized major scale as well.

 

If we take the major scale:

 

C - D - E - F - G - A - B - C

 

And we build a triad off of each note of the scale using only notes found within the scale, we get this:

 

I

C-E-G
1-3-5

Cmaj
ii

D-F-A
1-b3-5

Dmin
iii

E-G-B
1-b3-5

Emin
IV

F-A-C
1-3-5

Fmaj
V

G-B-D
1-3-5

Gmaj
vi

A-C-E
1-b3-5

Amin
vii

B-D-F
1-b3-b5

Bdim
VIII

C-E-G
1-3-5

Cmaj

 

Study the chart closely. It's important that you understand how each of these triads are taken right out of the C major scale. (Go to the Triads lesson if you are not absolutely clear an how triads are built.)

 

Now, it's important that you understand that we could have used any major scale for our demonstration. I use the C major scale for examples so I don't have to type sharps and flats. But, remember, what works for the major scale in one key works for the major scale in ALL keys. (Go to the Major Scale lesson if you are not absolutely clear on how major scales are constructed.)

This is where the Roman numerals come into play. By referring to the Roman numerals, we can talk about chord progressions without having to dictate the key. For example, a very common chord progression is I-IV-V-I. This progression is used in a lot of songs.

Let's look at the chart again:

 

I

C-E-G
1-3-5

Cmaj
ii

D-F-A
1-b3-5

Dmin
iii

E-G-B
1-b3-5

Emin
IV

F-A-C
1-3-5

Fmaj
V

G-B-D
1-3-5

Gmaj
vi

A-C-E
1-b3-5

Amin
vii

B-D-F
1-b3-b5

Bdim
VIII

C-E-G
1-3-5

Cmaj

 

I-IV-V-I means to play the chord built off of the first degree (note) of the scale followed by the chord built from the 4th degree, the chord built off of the 5th degree and back to the chord built off of the 1st degree. In the key of C, that would be C-F-G-C.

To play the progression in another key, you need to know the chord scale for the key you want to play in. That sounds like you have to know a different chord scale for every key, but it is much easier than that.

Let's look at the key of G:

 

I

G-B-D
1-3-5

Gmaj
ii

A-C-E
1-b3-5

Amin
iii

B-D-F#
1-b3-5

Bmin
IV

C-E-G
1-3-5

Cmaj
V

D-F#-A
1-3-5

Dmaj
vi

E-G-B
1-b3-5

Emin
vii

F#-A-C
1-b3-b5

F#dim
VIII

G-B-D
1-3-5

Gmaj

 

Notice that we get the same TYPES of chords in the EXACT SAME ORDER as before. The only thing that changes is the root notes of each chord and the notes in each chord follow the G scale instead of the C scale. No matter what key we choose, the chord types will occur in the exact same order so long as we follow the major scale in that key. (if we use a different scale, then the chords will be different.)

What this means to you, is that all you have to learn is which number = which chord type and how far apart the chords are from one another. It's really easy!

The major scale follows this whole-step/half-step pattern:

 

w - w - h - w - w - w - h

 

The chord scale follows the same pattern:

 

I   ii   iii   IV   V   vi   vii   VIII
  w   w   h   w   w   w   h  

 

Now, all you have to do is remember which type of chord each number represents.

 

I   ii   iii   IV   V   vi   vii   VIII
  w   w   h   w   w   w   h  
maj   min   min   maj   maj   min   dim   maj

 

Notice that upper case numerals are used for major chords and lower case for minor and diminished. This is to help you keep the chord types straight.

 

There is an old system for naming each chord within the chord scale, and some people insist on using it. I figure that I better show it to you, so you won't feel left out:

I Tonic
ii Supertonic
iii Mediant
IV Subdominant
V Dominant
vi Submediant
vii Leading Tone

 

You will here the word "dominant" thrown around quite often. The others you may never run into, but you never know.

 

The Fingerboard:

Key of F, using barre chords:

 

I - Major

 

ii - minor

 

iii - minor

 

IV - Major

 

V - Major

 

vi - minor

 

vii - diminished

 

VIII - Major

 

 

Key of C, using "cowboy" chords:

 

I - Major

 

ii - minor

 

iii - minor

 

IV - Major

 

V - Major

 

vi - minor

 

vii - diminished

 

VIII - Major

 

 

The Practice:

The first thing you need to do is play up and down the chord scale in EVERY key. There is no substitute for this practice. You gotta be able to see the chord types and the w/h-steps no matter where the chords land on the fingerboard. The more chord shapes and inversions that you know, the more you need to play through the chord scale using those shapes.

Next, take every chord progression that you know (and every one that you learn from now on) and see if the chords fit the chord scale.

A few of points to keep in mind:

1 - A lot of progressions are based around chord I, but any chord in the scale can be the main chord of a song. For example, V-IV-I-V and vi-IV-V-vi are two very popular rock progressions. ii-V is a popular jazz progression. These three progressions don't even use the I chord!

2 - very few songs use the entire chord scale. They usually just use part of the chord scale.

3 - A song doesn't have to stay in one key. If you run into a progression that doesn't seem to fit the scale, you might be looking at chords for more than one key mixed together.

4 - There are a lot of variations on this chord scale that are common practice. Some progressions will substitute major chords for minor chords or vice-versa. Some progressions will borrow chords from other scales or keys and throw those into the mix.

 

Always look for what I call handles (something you can grab ahold of) in chord progressions. For example, if you see two major chords a whole step apart, there is a damn good chance that those chords are IV and V. That is the only place within the chord scale that two major chords appear that way. Study the chart some more and look for those handles :-)

Now, it's a good idea to work this stuff out on paper. Write the chords down and arrange them from low to high (it doesn't matter what order they occur in the song). This will help you to see the w/h-steps between the chords. It's also good practice to fill in the missing chords. Sometimes one or more of those chords will pop up later in the song.

Next, you should try to come up with a few of your own progressions using the chord scale. That will teach you a lot!

 


Comments or questions about this lesson?
Visit Jam Session.

online guitar community, discussion forum
    If you think this site is way cool,
click here to tell your friends.
Search zentao.com

Home | Contact | Theory Menu | Guitar Lessons | Practice Room | Jam Session

Guitar Anatomy | Diagram Explanation

zentao.com main site entrance
zentao.com

Copyright 1999, 2000, 2001 F.W. Lineberry and D.L. Keur, all rights reserved