Monday, March 21, 2011

Minor Chord Leading

We're leaping right into it with a look at the minor side of A Major.

A    B    C#    D    E    F#    G#
I   ii    iii   IV   V    vii   vii°

Each one of the seven notes is given a scale degree. Uppercase Roman numerals denote Major and lowercase represents minor (lowercase with ° is diminished.)

When songwriting, certain intervals of chord changes have deeply resonant effects of conflict and resolution. Certain chords just "feel" like they need to go somewhere in particular.
I chord leads to any chord
ii leads to IV, V, vii° chords
iii leads to ii, IV, vi chords
IV leads to I, iii, V, vii° chords
V leads to I chords
vi leads to ii, IV, V, I chords
vii° leads to I, ii chords

Beginning the A Major scale on the sixth note gives us the F# minor scale and through our scale degrees remain one through seven, those numbers change from Major to minor and vice versa. The notes maintain their intervals within chord structures:

F#   G#   A   B   C#   D   E
i   ii°  III  iv  v    VI  VII

i leads to iv, VI, VII, III chords
ii° leads to III, iv chords
III chord leads to any chord
iv leads to VI, VII, and ii° chords
v leads to iv, VI, i chords
VI leads to III, v, VII, ii° chords
VII leads to III chords

Each scale degree has a name that describes its distance from the root chord or tonic. You don't need to memorize them, though it always helps. What's more important is hearing the cadences, distinct movement in the music, that result from different chord progressions.

The TONIC is the first note of the scale, whichever key you're in. We're in A Major, so let's call it A. Think of the TONIC as 'home.' No matter where you take a song, always bring it back home.

The SUPERTONIC (literally "above" TONIC) is from the second note of the scale. B minor.
Goes well to the fifth note of the scale.

The MEDIANT is the third note of the scale and shares two notes with the TONIC. It can resolve anywhere. C# minor.

The SUB-DOMINANT is the fourth note of the scale. To the TONIC or to the LEADING TONE. D Major.

The DOMINANT is the fifth note of the scale. It wants to pull the most towards the TONIC. E Major.

The SUB-MEDIANT is the sixth note of the scale. Most naturally flows towards the second or SUPERTONIC, but also goes to the DOMINANT. F# minor.

The LEADING TONE is the very pivotal seventh note of the scale. It pulls towards the TONIC. Remember, this is a diminished scale and a G# diminished chord, so strange things are afoot anyway.

There are a few different schools of thought on building chords off of the natural minor scale versus the harmonic or melodic minor scales. I promised I was going to bring that up at some point and I see no better time and place than right now and right here.

I swear, I'm not trying to murder you. Really. This stuff makes sense in context. I have to rub my brain all over it every day to make it stick - so you're going to suffer with me, yeah? Okay. We move on.

Minor scales and other harmonizations

Since this has already been hinted at in the worksheet material for this study, I'll get it out of the way first. It's been hanging over my head now for about a week and it just needs to get out there.

We talked about building chords (triads) by stacking them three notes apart.

A    B    C#    D     E     F#      G#

Just skip every other letter, starting with the TONIC of A:

I = A - C# - E = A Major
ii = B - D - F# = B minor
iii = C# - E - G# = C# minor
IV = D - F# - A = D Major
V = E - G# - B = E Major
vi = F# - A - C# = F# minor
vii° = G# - B - D = G# diminished

There you have your chords - now, remember that each of these scale degrees have a personality, from TONIC to LEADING CHORD. While keeping their personalities in tact, we re-arrange the order of the notes to create the relative minor scale, also known as the natural minor. Same chords, different order. Some would suggest rather using the harmonic and melodic minor to generate chord progressions, but as a modal instrument, the diatonic dulcimer was made for this approach (and it's easier.) Fundamental. There's a better word.

Here, the 'b' represents flat, down a half-step.

Major Scale

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 0ctave

minor scale (also called descending melodic minor scale)

1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 Octave

harmonic minor scale

1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7 Octave

melodic minor scale (also called ascending melodic minor scale)

1 2 b3 4 5 6 7 Octave

Chords and other scales can be built from each of these notes and, combined, the incredible treasure of combinations begins to evolve. Let's talk about seventh chords and how to build them from a Major scale.

A    B    C#    D     E     F#      G#

Once again, skip every other letter but do it four times. 

I = A - C# - E - G# = AMaj7 
ii = B - D - F# - A = Bm7
iii = C# - E - G# - B = C#m7
IV = D - F# - A - C# = DMaj7
V = E - G# - B - D = E7
vi = F# - A - C# - E = F#m7
vii° = G# - B - D - F# = G#m7/b5

Whammo! Instant jazz chords! To review the building of each kind of chord:


Root - Major 3rd - Perfect 5th


Root - minor 3rd - Perfect 5th


Root - minor 3rd - diminished 5th or flat fifth or b5
(in other words, the 3rd and 5th are both flat.)


Root - Major 3rd - augmented or raised 5th.

Dominant 7th or Seventh

Root - Major 3rd - Perfect 5th - Minor Seventh or Flat Seventh (or LEADING TONE)

Major Seventh

Root - Major 3rd - Perfect 5th - Major Seventh

Majorminor Seventh

Root - minor third - Perfect 5th - Minor 7th

To play some of these chords, it's helpful to know your scales, arpeggios, across the fretboard so you can see (and hear) where the various parts of the chord are lurking.

Then, we drop out the root, in most cases, and leave the other three parts of the chord, which register in most cases as an honest-to-goodness seventh chord of some complexity.

I know, we're losing some of the diatonics here. This stuff is all covered in the chromatic hand=outs.

Going To Tra-La-La in F#m

Great - now all I can hear is that guy.

Here's some movement for F#m:

F#m - Bm - G#° - A - D -- F#m -- Bm

Bm - C#m - D - F#m

What I've done is just plotted the path of least resistance in seeking out "home" and passing through sequences of changes. You can clearly hear just how extraordinary a diminished chord can be when used in a certain progression and this is a diatonic transcription - all of this is possible on neo-standard mountain dulcimer (and I mean 6+ fret.) Any chromatic players out there who can't figure out the transcription, e-mail me and I'll send it to you.

I'm toying with the idea of writing out a solo. Maybe. After I live with it for awhile, yeah? There's nothing like throwing some chord changes into Band In A Box and just improvising over them in loops. It's the best way to find out what things work and what don't, without having to do all of the math. Ultimately, music theory is just putting to words what you are already putting into practice. Hearing and feeling the music is the key.

Have fun with the chord studies and mp3 file! We're going to do some different things for the next few key studies, so hang in there diatonic players - we'll have stuff that you can work on as well!

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