Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Go Ahead: B minor.

I hope you hung out in the key of D Major for awhile and had some fun exploring! I've been exploring the joys of spring cleaning here at the studio (and in the guest room and in the bedroom.) So sorry about the delay in posting the follow-up to our Major key study by delving into the relative minor key:

For every Major scale there is a relative minor or natural minor scale that shares the same notes, albeit in a different order. To find it within the Major key, simply begin on the sixth note of the scale and play the seven notes in sequence:


D  E  F#  G  A  B  C#
1  2  3   4  5  6  7


B  C#  D  E  F# G  A
1  2   3  4  5  6  7 

Though we keep the scale degrees the same, the character of each tone remains the same as it was in the Major scale.



D    E    F#    G    A    B    C#
I   IIm  IIIm  IV    V   VIm  VII°


B    C#    D    E    F#   G    A
Im   II°  III   IVm  Vm   VI  VII 

This is as good a time as any to talk about more complex scale harmonization. As discussed in the last post, one of the foundations of harmony is taking a Major or minor scale and then adding a second note and then a third note on top to form a chord. For each note of the scale comes a full three notes played at the same time or a triad. You play one chord for each scale note and this creates harmonies all the way up the scale. To get the chord tones, just look at the scale and skip every other note.

Based off of the 1st minor scale degree, a B minor chord would be B (skip a letter), D (skip a letter) and F# as the notes. G Major would be G, B and D. See the pattern?

I'm going to write something in B minor, just to play with some chords a bit:

i - iv - VII - III

VI - iv - III - VII | ii°

which translates into:

Bm - Em - A - D

G - Em - D - A | C#dim

Okay, there are the changes. Eight measures with that final measure being three counts of A and then one count of C#dim as a passing chord. Passing chords can be viewed as "filler chords" to assist you in getting from one chord to another. Chords built off of the Major seventh scale degree (the same as the minor second in this minor scale) carry an inherent tension that leads naturally to the roots of these two scales. (6 1/2 - 6 - 8 will form a C#dim chord for you. Try playing that and then going to Bm. Then play the C#dim and go to D Major. Hear the resolution?

Quick review on chord building:

Major chords consist of a root - Major third - perfect fifth

In the case of D Major - skip every other letter from the root:

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

D - F# - A = D Major

Minor chords consist of a root - minor third - perfect fifth

In the case of D minor - skip every other letter from the root.

D - E - F - G - A - Bb - C

D - F - A = D minor.

Another way to do that is to use the Major scale and simply take the Major third (F#) down a half-step (F).

Diminished chords are like minor chords but you also take the perfect fifth down a half step as well.

If you have a 8+ fret on your dulcimer, you can play a 6+ - 6+ - 8+ chord, which is C# Major. Then flatten, lower the third and fifth a half-step. What was C# - F - G# becomes C# - E - G. C# diminished!

In this exercise, play through the above chord progressions and then work out a melody that will fit neatly over the top. Generally speaking, when writing melodies, you should select notes that can be found within the scale of each chord. For example - melody notes for Bm should come from the B minor scale. Melody notes for A should come from the A Major scale and so on. Some of your melody notes will obviously be found in many different scales, which makes it easy to sustain melodies through the chord progressions. When you're ready to end your song, be sure to end it on the root of B minor.

For my tune, I've chosen a 3/4 time signature:

Go Ahead, B Minor.tef

Go Ahead, B Minor.pdf

Fun With 7th Chords

As promised, we'll have a quick look at 7th chords, of which there are a few. Please refer to the .pdf for D Scale Harmonization.

So, we've got Major chords and minor chords plus the odd-sounding diminished chord. What else is there? The answer to that question is "plenty." But for starters, we'll look at the different types of 7th chords.

When you see D7 - you're looking at the fundamental 7th chord, known as a dominant seventh. Is it bossy? Perhaps a little. I don't want to get into all of the scary music theory terms too early here, but suffice it to say that each of the scale degrees have names associated with them that are descriptive of their strengths and weaknesses. The fifth note of any scale is often referred to as the "dominant."

If you build a major triad starting with the fifth note of the scale and add a fourth note to the mix, you'll get a naturally occurring dominant seventh. Let's do this with D Major:

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

So, we're skipping every other letter, beginning with A, which is the fifth note of the D Major scale.

A (skip) C# (skip) E (skip) G

So, take A - C# - E - G and play them all simultaneously, you've got an A7 chord. Another way of thinking about this: take a Major chord and add the seventh note of the scale, flattened a half-step. In the case of D7 - we'd build a D Major chord:

D - F# - A and then add the seventh note of the D Major scale, which is C#. Then take that down a half-step to C. D - F# - A - C is a D7 chord.

As dulcimer players, we are often playing on three string courses, so how do we add a fourth note? By playing a rootless voicing. That is, taking the root out of the picture and playing only the remaining three notes. Believe it or not, it still works! Let's play an A7 chord this way.

Play 1 - 2 - 4 on your diatonic dulcimer. Now drop the A on the melody string down to the third fret, which is G. You're now playing, from bass to melody, E - C# - G which is enough to play the A7. Cool, huh?

Now, let's suppose you see this note: GMaj7. This is a Major seventh chord. Begin the same, with a Major chord. But now add the seventh note of the Major scale. In the case of G:

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

Skipping every other note: G - B - D - F#

Try this - Play a 3 - 1 - 0 chord, your G Major in diatonia. You're playing, from bass to melody, G - B - D. Now, on the melody string, replace D with F# at the second fret. Voila! You're playing a GMaj7! It's got a distinctly jazzy sound and a great chord substitution for G Major.

A minor seventh chord takes, you guessed it, a minor triad and adds the minor seventh to it. Let's take a look at Em7:

Beginning with the E minor scale which has, remember, one sharp (F#) - 

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

Skipping every other letter we get E - G - B - D

Play 8 - 6 - 5 and you've got E minor. Now play 8 - 6 - 7 and you've traded the B on the melody string for the flat seventh (D) and you've got an Em7! Remember that when the number 7 is there by itself, always use the flat/minor seventh.

So, what happens when you see AmMaj7? You play a minor triad and add the seventh note of the major scale, in other words, the Major seventh.

A minor scale

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

A Major scale

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

Play 6 - 7 - 8 and you've got your A minor chord. (A - C - E) Now, switch out the root (A) for the G#. 6 - 6+ - 8 (A - G# - E) and you've got an AmMaj7 chord. Sort of mysterious sounding, isn't it?

Of course, not all of these chord options are going to be available for diatonic dulcimer players, but it helps to know how to build these chords. If you're looking down at your fretboard asking "what are my options?" The best way to proceed is to know what scales you can play from every root spot on the fretboard. And once you know those scales, you can build chords and begin working with extensions, "color chords", etc. If you're playing four-string equidistant, you'll get even more benefit out of these exercises.

Okay then! We've explored the key of D Major and its relative key of B minor. Coming up next, we'll get into the key of A Major and I'll introduce the Circle of Fifths as a way of keeping all of this stuff together. Happy Playing! And thank you to all who have been donating through PayPal. I appreciate it very much!

No comments: