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MUSIC THEORY: PART 3 - CHORD CONSTRUCTION, CHORD SYMBOLS AND PATTERN IN THE KEY
midichords // over 2 years ago //

By Patricia Lomako

In our previous tutorials we have learned how to create Major and Minor scales and how to compose cool melodies by sticking to our scale.  In this post we are going to introduce the concept of “harmony” – chords. But before we have a closer look at how we can create such chords, we should understand what a chord in music is. Now, I have already mentioned the word “harmony”. Let me explain you about this first of all.  We are talking about harmony when several notes sound at the same time. Compare this with “melodies” where each note sounds after the previous note. See the illustrations below:

Melody Harmony

If you look at the 2nd picture, you can see that the original melody has been duplicated and transposed twice. We turned our melody into harmony.

Ok, back to “chords”. In general terms, a chord in music is three or more notes played at the same time. But this is not all really as you cannot just play some random notes from a scale to get a chord. There are specific rules that govern how chords are created.

Let’s write down the simplest of all scales – C Major (with its spelling above it).  C-Major is C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. To construct any chord, we need to skip one note/letter each time. Now, the most common chords in popular music are called “triads” (chords that consist of 3 notes) and to construct the 1st triad from the C-Major scale, we need to start from the 1st note, which is note C. We then skip 1 note/letter to get our 2nd note of the chord. This is note E. Finally, we again skip one note to get our 3rd note of the chord. This is note G. Have a look at the picture below to see what I mean:

    1    2    3   4    5   6    7    8(1)

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

You can also use the spelling for constructing chords. For instance, if you want to construct the 1st chord you can simply take the 1st, 3rd and 5th note from the scale.

The chord we just constructed is called C Major or Cmaj – which is what we call the chord symbol.  Please listen how Cmaj sounds:

I guess you get the picture regarding how to create chords (well, triads that is). We have just created our first chord – Cmaj. Now, I suggest you take a piece of paper and construct the remaining 6 chords from the C Major key. Remember, for each chord you need to start with a new note/letter. For example, your next chord will start with note E. Do not worry about the chord symbols as I have not yet explained this to you. All you need to do is just write 3 notes/letters for each chord. Also, I suggest you enter them into your DAW (e.g. use 1 bar for each chord). Once you’ve finished these are the chords you should have:

 

1.    C maj – C E G
2.    D F A
3.    E G B
4.    F A C
5.    G B D
6.    A C E
7.    B D F

When you’ve finished entering these chords in your DAW, play them and listen very carefully to each chord. Try to analyze each chord and give it a “quality” – is it Major or Minor? Remember we talked about Major (happy sounds) and Minor (sadder sounds) in connection to scales. But chords have such a “quality” as well. For example, we already know that the 1st chord is Cmaj (Major).

By the way, the quality of the 1st chord always matches with the quality of the scale. For example if the scale is A Minor then the 1st chord will also be A Minor.  If the scale is E Major, then the 1st chord will be Emaj.

If you are lazy and did  not enter the chords in your DAW, you can listen to the constructed chords below. You can also download them in midi format (to make it very easy for you).

MIDI of C Major chords

You can hear that the chords were played as what we call arpeggio’s (each note played separately). Such arpeggio’s of chords actually help beginners to indentify the chord quality. If you’ve listened carefully and noted down the chord qualities, then it should look as follows:

 

1.    C maj – C E G
2.    D F A - minor
3.    E G B - minor
4.    F A C - major
5.    G B D - major
6.    A C E - minor
7.    B D F - minor

Now that we have decided the chord qualities we can talk more about “symbols”. I’ve already showed you that the chord symbol for Major is Maj (you can see that the 1st chord is written as Cmaj). Likewise, Minor chords also have their own symbol - which is part of the musical vocabulary. A Minor chord is always written with an “m” added to the note. For example our 2nd chord is Minor and should be written as “Dm”. According to this system, the chords from C Major should be written in this way:

 

1.    C maj
2.    Dm
3.    Em
4.    Fmaj
5.    Gmaj
6.    Am
7.    B⁰

 

Yes, I know… I know. You are going to ask: “Why is there a circle after the B chord instead of “m”?   Well, if you listened to all chords carefully you could hear that the B chord sounds a bit like a Minor, but it has a slightly different - creepy - sound. Indeed, it is really different. Why? Because the gap between the root note/first note and the 3rd note of the chord has fewer semitones than usual. Usually, the gap between the root note/first note and the 3rd note of the chord is 7 semitones.  Let me give you an example:

The picture above shows that if we count semitones from C to G (which is the 3rd note of the chord Cmaj) we will get 7 semitones. Actually, all chords from the C Major scale have an interval of 7 semitones between the first note and the 3rd note, except the B chord. That is why B has a circle symbol not “m”. This B chord is called “Diminished”, not Minor.

Finally, we have arrived at the last topic that I want to cover in this post – “chord patterns in the key”.  If you read my previous posts on this topic you already know that we have a “specific order” to create the Major and Minor scale. Also, you know that we have something we call a “scale spelling”. Now, we came to the point where I can tell you that the chord qualities that we have figured out for the chords from C Major are actually applicable to any Major scale. We have figured out that we have the following chords in C Major: Cmaj, Dm, Em, Fmaj, Gmaj, Am, B⁰ (this circle can also be replaced with the word “dim” – diminished). This pattern of chord qualities (maj, m, m, maj, maj, m, dim) can be used for any Major scale.  So, when you are constructing chords from your chosen Major scale you don’t have to waste your time and listen your way to the chords. You can simply apply the pattern.

Just to practice, create the A Major scale, write all chords for it and give it the correct chord names/symbols using the following pattern: maj, m, m, maj, maj, m, dim.

If you’ve done everything correctly you would get:

  1.   A C# E    -    Amaj
2.   B D F#    -   Bm
3.   C# E G# -   C#m
4.   D F# A    -    Dmaj
5.   E G# B    -   Emaj
6.   F# A C#  -    F#m
7.   G# B D   -    G#dim

That’s all for today! Happy composing and make sure to come back for more posts!

All posts in this series

Music Theory: Part 1 - Notes, Scales and Major Scale

Music Theory: Part 2 - Minor Scale, Scale Spelling and Composing Melodies

Music Theory: Part 3 - Chord Construction, Chord Symbols and Pattern in the Key

Music Theory: Part 4 - Pattern in the Key part 2 and 7th Chord Construction

Music Theory: Part 5 - Chord Spelling, Intervals and Creating Chord Progressions

Music Theory: Part 6 - Relative Keys and Contrasting Music Pieces

Music Theory: Part 7 - 6th Chords and Sus Chords

Music Theory: Part 8 - Composing a Chord Progression Around a Melody

Music Theory: Part 9 - Inverted Chords - Creating Smooth Chord Progressions

Music Theory: Part 10 - Discovering New Scales And How To Compose Blues

 

Patricia Lomako - also known as Patricia Blush - is a professional singer, composer, music producer and music tutor. She finished the BMus Degree in Contemporary Performance (Vocals) at the Academy of Contemporary Music (Guildford, UK) and holds a Higher Certificate in Contemporary Vocal Teaching. She composes and produces various styles of music for video's, blogs, websites, etc. She also produces electronic music (mainly pop, but influenced by and mixed with House, Deep House, Drum and Bass and Electro). Her tracks are used in playlists for retailers, restaurants, gyms around the globe. Some of her clients are: M&S, SportsDirect, KFC and Clas Ohlson. Visit her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/officialpatricialomako You can listen to some of her tracks on her soundcloud page:  www.soundcloud.com/patriciablush

 

 

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