Music Theory 4 - From Scales to Chords

I covered keys and scales in previous lessons, and while I might return to the topic to further elaborate, I think we're ready to move on to chords, derived from these scales.

Some facts about chords
Basic chords, major and minor chords, use three notes. Minor chords differ from major chords by only one note, that is the middle note is flattened. For example, the C major chord uses the notes C E G, while the C minor chord uses the notes C Eb G. As you can see, one note makes all the difference.

Also, both the C and Cm chords start with the C note, the D and Dm chords with the D note, and so forth.

Chords in Keys
Each key has a certain set of chords (in general), because a key is restricted to 7 notes, out of 12. Because each chord has a root note, there are only 6 basic chords that are used for each key, each beginning with a different note of the scale (again, in general, or at the very basic level).

The C major key has the notes C D E F G A B, and each, except the B note, has a chord attached to it. However, we do not know if these are major or minor chords. We figure out by playing alternate notes with the scale.

Figuring it Out
Let's start with the C major scale (note names written at the bottom):

Instead of ending on C, i end on F, 4 notes higher. This is to give you enough notes to try the chords out.

Starting from the C note, we play alternate notes:

Strum the C and Cm chords. Which sounds like the notes you just played? Try to accustom your ears to hearing major and minor chords. I hope you managed to get a C major chord!

We do the same, by playing alternate notes, starting from each note of the scale (up to A), and guessing if they are minor or major chords by comparing it with a strummed chord.

You should obtain the following sequence of chords:
C Dm Em F G Am

This sequence - major, minor, minor, major, major, minor - appears in every single major key. For example, the D major sequence of chords gets you: D Em F#m G A Bm.

Generally, you will get the following for every scale/key:


Anonymous said...

I can't seem to understand this part, so sorry if I'm a bother. How do I know which alternate notes to use (C E G)? How did you end up in Dm Em F G and Am? Please help.

kenny said...

The notes in the C major scale, in order, are:

Suppose you need the C chord, and the song is in C major. Starting with 'C', skip D, take E, skip F, and take G - you get C E G, which are the notes of the C major chord.

Doing the same for D, E and A chords, we get minor chords (use your ears to listen out), while we get major chords for the chords starting with C, F, G.

Anonymous said...

So what scale do you use to figure all the chords out?

I still don't seem to get it, I'm sorry..

kenny said...

It depends on what key the song is in. If it is in A major, you use an A major scale, for instance.

Yuri said...

So basically, you make the 2nd, 3rd and 6th note of the scale minor? for instance:

F Major Scale: F,G,A,Bb,C,D,E(,F)

becomes F major key: F,Gm,Am,Bb,C,Dm

and you drop the 7th (and 8th) notes of the scale?

is this correct?

kenny said...

Yep, correct!

Yuri said...

Awesome!! Thanks alot!

God Bless you!

Anonymous said...

F, G, A, A#, C, D, E, F isnt this the F major scale

Anonymous said...

Dear All,

So why do we take out B (6th note)in the C scale? I just want to know why.

Thanks =)

kenny said...

If you form a chord starting with the B note you obtain a Bdim chord which is rarely used. I've focused on major and minor chords which will be formed using C-A notes as the base.

Aishi said...

Bdim chord is rarely used because people usually use a G7 instead. Both vii(dim) and V usually head towards a I chord.

Anonymous said...


i don't understand how to read this

RYAN said...

tell me if this is right



lovescarguitar said...

lets say a song is in the key of "A", the chords you can go to in the key of "A" would be "A, D, E(E7), Bm, C#m, F#m, G#dim(E/G#)".

if you were going to solo in the key of "A", you would use the A major scale. But you can also use the Pentatonic scale, the Relative Minor Scale, and the common Blues scale (which is just a derivative of the Pentatonic scale).

Most people go directly to using the blues scale or major scale during solos, so whichever one u use you can call that your "home plate".

now during the instrumental in which you play your solo or lead part, the rhythm player should be going through a chord progression. if you dont have a rhythm guitarist and you are the only one, you should memorize the progression in your head.

instead of just staying in your safe area, or "home plate", and staying in the key of "A" on your leads, whenever the the chord changes, you should try switching modes to the key the chord is in.

Lets say the chord progression is "A, E, and C#m", when it switches to "E" from "A", you can play a different mode (or scale) in the key of "E".

try not to stay out of key for too long because people will notice, and eventually it will clash. Also if you are not experienced in improvisation or leads, you should try this stuff at home by yourself until you are comfortable with it.

you should always try to end up back at "home plate" by the end of the instrumental.

i hope this made sense.....because i had a hard time trying to make sense of i do with many things.

please be so kind as to point out if i made any mistakes and correct them. i dont want to mislead anyone or confuse them id what i say is wrong.

until then,

Tim said...

I am new to playing leads and improvisation. So normally you would be playing the major scale or pentatonic scale over the chord progression, right? Do I have memorize all the modes such as dorian, phrygian, etc to be able to change scale when the chord changes?

teeb said...

lol this really helped me..
So if it
Key of "G"
G major scale
"G A B C D E f# (g) "

then the notes would be
" G Am Bm C D E "
If u guys know the song "
"everymove i make in you" i is just G C D C . haha this makes sense now

rein_upther said...

here's the technique that helped me a lot.

Given: Key of C
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

problem: finding out if each chord in key of C is a minor or a major

in order for me to know if the chord
in a key is a min or a maj, i would use the following simple formula:
maj chord: 1 3 5
min chord: 1 b3 5

so to check if D in the key of C is a min or a major what i do is list the major scale of D. that would be:
D E F# G A B C# D
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
D maj: 1 3 5 -> D F# A
D min: 1 b3 5 -> D bF# A = D F A

Analysis: D maj is not part of the Key of C for it contains the note F# which is not in the notes of Key of C. D min IS part of the Key of C because all notes are in the Key of C.

same procedure can be done to E, F, etc.

hope this helps.

God bless you guys

iw2198 said...

one thing that might help is that when you spell out a scale you need to always use a different letter for each step of the scale. For example: F major is F,G,A,Bb,C,D,E, then back to F. It is not F,G,A,A#,C,D,E,F. Although an A# and Bb are the same note in theory you can't have two of the same letters in a scale. If you do you will mess up the Key signature. On sheet music if there is only one sharp it is the key of G. I hope that is clear enough.