Building Chords from the Major Scale | Hub Guitar

Building Chords from the Major Scale

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Let's talk about building chords using the major scale.

Every note in the major scale can be turned into a chord. And the process is the same for every note, although the results are a little different.

First let's talk about the process. For now, when we turn a note into a chord, we will add 2 notes on top of it. The result is a chord, of which the original note is the root.

The notes we add will be from the scale that we're working in, and they will be odd numbers starting on the root of the chord. So we take the first note, skip the next, and add the third. Then we skip the next note, and add the fifth. Now we've got a chord. Later on we'll talk about extended harmony where we add even more notes, but for now that's the basic idea.

If we do this for every note in the C major scale, we will encounter a total of three different chord types: major chord, minor chords, and diminished chords. The result will be a major chord when we have a big jump followed by a little jump. That big jump is called a "major third" as it is a third (C...D...E...) and it's the bigger of two possible kinds. The result will be a minor chord when we have a little jump followed by a big jump. That little jump is called a minor third. It's still a third (D...E...F...) but this time it's one half-step smaller so it sounds a bit sad. Finally, there is an unusual result that happens in one case: it's a little jump followed by another little jump. This is called a diminished chord. It's not used very frequently, but it's useful to know about it.

So those are the three types of chord that you can get as a result if you stack the notes of the C major scale into thirds in order to build basic triads. So if you want to get deeper into this, take the C major scale on the guitar, and for each note, figure out how to stack it into thirds and then figure out how to play those groups of notes as chords.


Building Chords from a Scale

Play the C major scale. Let’s take a look at the harmonic possibilities in this group of notes. Harmony is simply the combination of multiple pitches. But how do we combine pitches? Do we randomly mix them together and hope they’ll sound good? That’s one way to do it. However, there is a more organized method that offers greater understanding.

Examine the notes of the C major scale, and look at their relationship on the graph that plots the notes in order of lowest pitch to highest pitch.

the musical alphabet.

Basic Chord-Building Method

Most chords in popular music can be created by using a simple method of stacking notes in groups of thirds.

The most common method of creating chords from this scale is to add two more notes to each, using thirdThis can mean any kind of third, including major or minor. It often refers to whichever third would be normal when constrained by limits of the current key.s. Consider the first note, C. To create a chord out of this note, we will start on C, skip the next tone (D) and add E. Then we’ll skip the next tone (F), and add G. This creates C-E-G. When these three notes are played together, they produce the chord C major. Comparing this to the C major scale reveals a chord made from the first, third and fifth note of the C major scale. Our next note is D. When we repeat this process, we have the configuration D-F-A.

This will also be a major chord, right? Not so fast. For the moment, let’s pretend to be in the key of D. D has two sharps: F♯ and C♯. In the key of D, a major chord would have the notes D-F♯-A. Because our D chord is constructed from notes out of C major and not the D major scale, we have to shrink the F♯ down to F to fit it into our scale. That means that instead of producing a major chord, we’ve produced a minor chord.

Chords in the Key of C

Listening

C Major Scale

C Major Chords

All of the remaining chords are either major chords or minor chords, with the exception of the seventh chord, B. The key of B has five sharps: F♯, C♯, G♯, D♯ and A♯. Like the D chord, the distance between the first note of this chord—B—and the third—D—has been shrunk. However, in the key of B, the fifth note is F♯. The fifth note of our B chord has also been shrunk, or diminished.

Compare the three types of chords to be sure that we understand why a chord is called major, minor or diminished. It’s all about the distance of the harmonized notes—how far away they are from their root. Take the C major chord for example:

The C Major Chord

(Major third + minor third)

C major has a major thirdAn interval of four semitones, and the key interval defining a major chord. between the root (C) and the third (E), and a perfect fifthAn interval of seven semitones, and the most stable interval in music. Musical tuning systems are based on this interval. This interval plays a very important role in music theory. between the root (C) and the fifth (G). That’s why it’s a major chord.

The D Minor Chord

(Minor third + major third)

Compare the C major to D minor:

D minor has a minor thirdAn interval of three semitones, and the key interval defining a minor chord. between the root (D) and the third (F), but still a perfect fifthAn interval of seven semitones, and the most stable interval in music. Musical tuning systems are based on this interval. This interval plays a very important role in music theory. between the root (D) and the fifth (A).

The B Diminished Chord

(Minor third + minor third)

Finally, let’s look at a diminished chord:

B diminished has a minor thirdAn interval of three semitones, and the key interval defining a minor chord. between its root (B) and its third (D); but also a diminished fifthAn interval of six semitones, enharmonically equivalent to an augmented fourth. between its root (B) and its fifth (F). That’s why it’s a diminished chord.

These chords also sound very different from each other. The major chord sounds happy. The minor chord, with its flatted third, sounds sad. The diminished chord, with a flat third and diminished fifth, sounds restless.

Key Tasks

  1. Memorize the chord qualities and Roman numerals:
    …Which chord(s) are major? _______________
    …Which chord(s) are minor? ______________
    …Which chord(s) are diminished? _____________
  2. Write out the chords that occur in the following keys: G, A, F, B♭.
    …G __ __ __ __ __ __
    …A __ __ __ __ __ __
    …F __ __ __ __ __ __
    …B♭ __ __ __ __ __ __

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