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Music Theory - Turning Your Scales into Chords

by Guitarslinger124

23 Jun 2011
Views: 28384

Music Theory: Part IV - Turning Your Scales into Chords

An Overview

Hey everyone! This is the fourth installment of my "Music Theory" lessons. Just as the title suggests, we are going to build off the knowledge gained in my two prior lessons, Music Theory: These Ain't For No Weight and Music Theory: Stack 'em and Smack 'em, and learn how to apply the chords learned to the scales learned.

A Quick Re-hash


Scales are generally note groups of seven notes. In some instances that number may vary, such as pentatonic scales, which are groups of five notes or the chromatic scale, which contains all twelve tones in western music. Scales are defined by intervals and not so much by the notes they contain. An interval is the distance between tones, i.e. wholes step or half step or whole tone and semitone. --(Modes are defined as scales inside of one key)-- There are seven modes in any major key. All the modes in a major key will contain the same notes, however, the notes will be placed at different intervals, or in different orders as it were, thus giving them all unique tonal qualities.


Chords are built off harmonies and chord progressions are just groups of chords.

Harmony is when two or more tones are played simultaneously or occur over the same time frame.
Harmony is also determined by an interval. In this case, an interval refers to the distance between the two or more tones play together.
Harmony is closely related to chords, because chords are, essentially, harmonies; multiple tones played simultaneously.

Chords are built from scale intervals and generally are defined by the first/root, third and fifth degrees in a scale. Major chords are defined by a root, major third and fifth, while minor chords are defined by a root, minor third and fifth.

There are several other chord types (but not limited to):

Chord Basics

The most basic form of a chord is called a triad. Triads are so called because they consist of three distinct notes; Root, fifth and third. A major triad will have a major third and a minor triad will have a minor third.

Chords are usually distinguished by their root note. For example, the chord C Major may be described as a three-note chord of major quality built upon the note C. Chords can also be classified as inversions. There are these cool things called "power chords", which are also referred to as fifth chords. Fifth chords are not really chords at all, rather just meager intervals noted as a dyad. A dyad is a set of two notes or intervals.

Identifying Chords

In the key of C major the first degree of the scale, called the tonic, is the note C itself, so a C major chord, a triad built on the note C, may be called the one chord of that key and notated in Roman numerals as I. The same C major chord can be found in other scales: it forms chord III in the key of A minor (A-B-C) and chord IV in the key of G major (G-A-B-C).

Okay, that's enough of that. Let's move on to the lesson. If you need further explanation on anything just mentioned, check out the previous Music Theory Lessons.

Building Triads Based on the Major Scale

Though I mentioned other chords type above, we are just going to stick with basic triads. Once you have those down, you will be able to build the other chords without issues.

Essentially what we are doing is making chords that harmonize with certain intervals in a scale. So, that being said, let's build ourselves a major scale.

For sake of simplicity, I chose to use the C Major Scale as an example.

We all remember how to build those right?

Major/Ionian Scale Steps:


You might also see it like this:

I ii iii IV V vi vii VIII
\ / \ / \ / \ / \ / \ / \ /


So, starting with a root C, we build a scale that looks like this:


Remember those degrees I talked about a couple lessons ago? Here they are again:

C-1st Degree
D-2nd Degree
E-3rd Degree
F-4th Degree
G-5th Degree
A-6th Degree
B-7th Degree

Another reminder:

1-3-5 = Major

1-b3-5 = Minor

1-b3-b5 = Diminised

Now it all just kind of falls together really simply. Even if it seems confusing, this next picture should clear everything up for you.

The I Chord: C E G Cmaj
1 3 5

The ii Chord: D F A Dmin
1 b3 5

The iii Chord: E G B Emin
1 b3 5

The IV Chord: F A C Fmaj
1 3 5

The V Chord: G B D Gmaj
1 3 5

The vi Chord: A C E Amin
1 b3 5

The vii Chord: B D F Bdim (remeber the vii or 7th chord, is almost always dimished)
1 b3 b5

Lastly I am going to show you another diagram without any note values in it, so you can see just the pattern and hopefully make it easier to memorize. If you had any problems understanding anything in the lesson, please be sure to check out my other Music Theory lessons.

Remember, just like with scales alone and chords alone, this technique can be applyed in any major key!

I | | ii | | iii | | IV | | V | | vi | | vii | | VIII
| W | | W | | H | | W | | W | | W | | H |
maj | | min | | min | | maj | | maj | | min | | dim | | maj

Well that about sums this lesson. I hope you learned a thing or two. If you know your basics, this stuff shouldn't be too difficult to grasp. That being said, it is important that you not get too far ahead of yourself. Also, if you haven't doen so already, I would strongly recommend skimming through my three previous lessons on music theory.

Rock on!



Great chord scale lesson.



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