Harmonising the Major scale
(…in other words, where chords come from)
- The notes in the key of C major are C D E F G A B
- The C major scale contains no sharps (#) or flats (b)
- From the above 7 notes, 7 chords can be generated:
– 3 major chords C, F and G
– 3 minor chords Dm, Em and Am
– and 1 diminished chord B dim
Here is how to find the chords in any key:
- Take the notes of any major scale In this case (for simplicity because it contains no sharps or flats) we are using C major
C D E F G A B
Give each note a number from 1-7
- Take the 1st (which we will call the root and will become the name of the chord), the 3rd and the 5th and play them all at the same time
The result will be a C major chord.
Note: This is a MAJOR chord because the interval (distance) between the root (C) and the 3rd (E) is two tones = 4 frets. This is the definition of a major chord.
- Next, do exactly the same thing but this time starting from the next note of the C major scale.
Notice that now we are calling D the 1st (the root), which makes F the 3rd and A the 5th
The result will be a D minor chord.
Note: This is a MINOR chord because the interval (distance) between the root (D) and the 3rd (F) is one and a half tones = 3 frets. This is the definition of a minor chord.
- If we repeat the same thing over for every note of the scale we end up with this:
NOTE: Where the first 6 chords have a perfect 5th, the last one, a diminished chord, has a minor 3rd and a flattened (or diminished) 5th
Each of these seven chords contains 3 notes, they are therefore known as TRIADS
To recap, all the triads below are in the key of C major and derive from (and ONLY from) these 7 notes…
C D E F G A B
This pattern is the same no matter what key you are in.
MAJ- MIN- MIN- MAJ- MAJ- MIN- DIM
The harmonised triads in the key of C major are…
To determine the key centre in major chord sequences, try looking for clues of this pattern. For example, two Major chords a tone apart are likely to be chords IV and V. From this you can then work out what chord I is, which will be your key.