Scale Construction …The basis of all melody and harmony
Scales, in any key, are constructed from a single scale formula. The “melody” of the major scale is always the same; commonly recognized as “Do-Re-Me-Fa-So-La-Ti-Do”. The only variable involved is the tone on which the scale begins.
The “Do-Re-Mi” melody is accomplished by a consistent musical “distance” between each note. Musical distance is measured in half-steps and whole-steps (two half steps); C to C# = a Half Step & C to D = a Whole Step
A clear understanding of chromatic movement is necessary for rapid and proper scale construction.
Chromatic movement is the movement of a note or a chord up or down in pitch; one half-step at a time.
Example: Chromatic movement upward from C to C (an octave). Each movement represents a single one-half step movement…
Ch C#hDhD# h E* F h F#hG h G# h A hA# h B*ChC# etc….
Db Eb Gb Ab Bb Db
* Note that there is no # (sharp) or (flat) between notes E&F and B&C
The “C” scale contains no sharps (#) or flats (b) and is the starting point for creating all of the other major scales. One series, The Cycle of 5ths, contains all of the scales that have sharps (#) in their scales and key signatures, and another, The Cycle of 4ths, contains the scales with flats (b) in their scales and key signatures.
Beginning with the C scale, and each subsequent scale thereafter, use the 5th note of that scale to create the next scale in the series of The Cycle of 5ths. You will notice an increase of one sharp each time the next scale is completed. The Cycle of 5th's and 4ths is simply a way to categorize the scale groups.
(**B# is actually a C note but the use of letters twice, i.e. C then C#, is not permitted in scale construction)
Beginning with the C scale, and each subsequent scale thereafter, use the 4th note of that scale to create the next scale in the series of The Cycle of 4ths. You will notice an increase of one flat each time the next scale is completed.
The Cycle of 4ths Key Signature
C w D w E h F w G w A w B h C 0
F w G w A h Bb w C w D w E h F 1
Bb w C w D h Eb w F w G w A h Bb 2
Eb w F w G h Ab w Bb w C w D h Eb 3
Ab w Bb w C h Db w Eb w F w G h Ab 4
Db w Eb w F h Gb w Ab w Bb w C h Db 5
Gb w Ab w Bb h Cb** w Db w Eb w F h Gb 6
(**Cb is actually a B note but the use of letters twice, i.e. Bb then B, is not permitted in scale construction) Cb w Db w Eb h Fb** w Gb w Ab w Bb h Cb 7
(**Fb is actually a E note but the use of letters twice, i.e. Eb then E, is not permitted in scale construction)
In order to determine the chords found in any given key, the major scale can be “added” to the Chord Scale Formula to determine what chords are commonly found in that key.
Converting the basic major scale to a chord scale opens a huge window of understanding of the musical use of a simple major scale through harmony.
Let’s take the simple major scale of the key of C and add the Chord Scale Formula to determine the chords commonly found in that key.
C scale: C D E F G A B C
Add the Chord Scale Formula I ii iii IV V vi viiº VIII/I
Upper Case ( I ) = Major Chord
Lower Case ( ii ) = Minor Chord
Symbol ( º ) = Diminished Chord
Common Chords in “C” C Dm Em F G Am Bº C
Apply the Chord Scale Formula to each of the scales found in the Cycle of 5ths and The Cycle of 4ths. There are attached worksheets.
If your instrument is chordal, then play each Chord Scale. If your instrument in a single noting instrument, then just ahead you will find a tremendous opportunity to play the chords as arpeggios (1st, 3rd, and 5th notes of the scale). This is your introduction to chordal theory progressions leading to the exciting world of improvisation and rich chordal progressions.
The above Chordal Scale Formula results are not set in stone. If you are trying to figure the chords out for a particular song, some variances may occur. Here are some very common examples
The minor chords found on the ii, iii, and vi could possibly be made as major chords with a flatted 7th…i.e. as a D7, E7, or A7 (as in the key of “C”)
The V might be a minor chord used to move from the I then to the IV
The IV might be also be played as a minor chord moving back to the I
There are four basic chord types that are constructed from the notes of the scale. Played simultaneously it is a chord, and played individually it is considered an arpeggio.
Major Chords- Constructed by playing the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes of the scale. Commonly known as a "Basic Triad"..
Example in “C”….. C E G Written as: C
Minor Chords ( m ) ( - ) - Constructed by playing the 1st, **lowered 3rd , and 5th of the scale.
Example in “C” ….. C Eb G Written as: Cm or C-
Diminished Chords ( º ) (dim)- Constructed by playing the 1st, lowered 3rd, and lowered 5th of the scale.
Example in “C” ….. C Eb Gb Written as: Cº or Cdim
Augmented Chords ( + ) or (aug)- Constructed by playing the 1st, 3rd, and a raised 5th of the scale by one half step.
Example in “C” ….. C E G# Written as: C+ or Caug
**Lowered by 1/2 step
To any chord, alterationsmay be added for tonal color, mood, and dynamics. These alterations are other notes common to the scale not used to create the basic chordal triads. These are the most common alterations…..
6th ( C6 ) Add the 6th note of the scale to the basic triad….. CEG+A
maj7th( Cmaj7 ) (C∆7) Add the actual 7th note of the scale to the basic triad ….. CEG+B
7th( C7) Add a flatted 7th note of the scale to the basic triad ….. CEG+Bb
sus (Csus) Replace the 3rd with the 4th of the scale in the basic triad…CFG
9th( C9) Add the 2nd note of the scale an octave higher to the 7th chord
11th(C11) Add the 4th note of the scale an octave higher to the 7th chord
13th(C13) Add the 6th note of the scale an octave higher to the 7th chord
The 9th, 11th, and 13th chords are known as Compound Chords since their alteration is a compound interval (over an octave). Actually, as long as the b7 is present, the 2nd, 4th, or 6th in any octave can be considered a 9th, 11th, or 13th chord. It is preferable to have all the compound intervals of the 9th, and 11th present in the 13th chord, and the 9th in the 11th chord as well. Inversions are used to play as many of the notes of the chord as is possible.
Minor 7th ( Cm7 ) chords use the lowered 7th note added to the basic minor triad .. C Eb G Bb
The 7th (lowered 7th type) chord is commonly referred to as a Dominant 7th chord. It gets its “Dominant 7th” name from the fact that the 5th scale tone is named “dominant” and is usually played as a 7th chord.
Diminshed 7th (Cdim7) This chord is constructed from the 1,b3,b5 plus lowered dominant 7th note. Since the dominant seventh has already been lowered once and is the lowered again it actually results in using the 6th. The 7th is actual a double flatted 7th….i.e. C Eb Gb A
Common Chord Progression
There is nothing mysterious about the movement of chords within a song. In fact, chord progressions are rather predictable. Below, you will find the common chord progressions that are used today. Granted, these are not etched in stone either, but they will give you a track to run on when trying to figure a song out by ear, improvising, arranging parts, composing, or playing accompaniment for a soloist.
Chords have a tendency to move in certain directions creating a progression that is generally comfortable to the listener. Some chords create a sense of stability and others create tension from their instability from using tones that are not found within the key scale.
Generally Moves To
IV or V
ii or vi
iii or vii
V or I
iii or vi
IV or vii
ii or vi
IV or V
I or vii
I or V
iii or ii
vi or vii
I or IV
ii or vi
iii or vii
IV or ii
iii or V
I or vii
Again, these changes are not etched in stone and can experience some changes from minors to majors, but will still follow the progressions fairly closely.
Test some of the songs that you might have previously played and see how closely they follow the Common Chordal Progressions. When the chord changes from I to IV drop down to the IV line and see if the next chord follows the chart. You may be surprised to know that this process has been around for centuries and was used to compose some of the greatest works in history.
The Nashville Number System is actually derived from the same process although The Jordanaires claim they invented it back in the ‘60’s. So sorry guys, Bach and Beethoven had it going on centuries ago.
Chord Scales: Cycle Of 5ths complete the following chord
I – IV – iii – vi – ii – V – I C – F – Em – Am – Dm – G – C
More often times than not, the V, vi, ii, and iii chords will be played as 7th chords
The I and IV chords are best used as pure major, 6th, or maj7th chords
V7 chords are quite often preceded by a Vsus (suspended) chord which give a firm sound of resolution, or an “amen” effect.
The vii° (diminished) chord almost always leads to the I and is effective between a V7 and the I chord
Diminished chords have many other uses as chords to fill the gaps between the normal chords in the progression. The diminished chord is a very effective tool that can greatly enhance the ability to play chord solos with thick, rich accompaniment.