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The relationship between chords and scales

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First, here is a look at the scales we will be reviewing in this article:

C major - C, D, E, F, G, A, B
C minor - C, D, E ♭, F, G, A ♭, B ♭
C melodic minor - C, D, Eb, F, G, A, B (this is used only when ascending the minor scale; the natural minor scale is used when descending)
C harmonic minor - C, D, E ♭, F, G, A ♭, B

Scales can be used for playing solos, but they are also used to derive the scales we ought to use for a certain piece of music. Unless you are into avant-garde music, one can not pick merely any scale for a given piece of music. Instead, one must derive one's chords from specific scales. Some chords go with certain scales very well, and others do not. It is important to know which chords go with which scales and which don't if one wants to create a pleasing piece of music.

Keep in mind that this has to do with the "harmonic" (as opposed to melodic) structure of music. Harmony is the "vertical" aspect of music, so to speak. In this case, what we're investigating is how to elicit a pleasing sound with certain chords played at the same time. Melody, on the other hand, is the horizontal aspect of music, and involves the construction of consecutive notes. Nevertheless, the two overlap and there is a great deal of interplay. SInce we derive our chords from a scale (which is a melodic concept), we can say that we derive the harmonic structure of chords from the melodic structure of the key.

The following will be a brief review of some material we have already covered elsewhere. We use the scale tones to distinguish them from chromatic notes that are not part of the scale. As we've discussed before, the Tonic, Dominant, Subdominant, and Leading notes are the most important scale tones, in order of importance. We will use the key of C major to articulate this:

I - Tonic - C
II - Supertonic - D
II - Mediant - E
IV - Subdominant - F
V Dominant - G
VI - Submediant - A
VII - Leading Note - B

We can use any chord derived from the scale tons in our piece of music. Simple! As we have said, the Tonic is the most important scale tone, so if we are going to play a song in C major, we need a C major chord. This consists of the notes C-E-G. The song will likely both begin and end with this chord. The C major scale scale provides us with 7 triad chords. They are listed below in terms of their scale tones:

I - Cmaj - C-E-G
ii - Dm - D-F-A
iii - Em - E-G-B
IV - Fmaj - F-A-C
V - Gmaj - G-B-D
vi - Am - A-C-E
VII - Bdim - B-D-F

In addition to tour three note chords, we can also use four-note or even five-note chords to enrich its sound. For example, note the four-note chords we can use in the scale of Cmaj:

I - Cmaj7 - C-E-G-B
ii - Dm7 - D-F-A-C
iii - Em7 - E-G-B-D
IV - Fmaj7 - F-A-C-E
V - G7 - G-B-D-F
v i - Am7 - A-C-E-G
VII - Bm7b5 - B-D-F-A

Likewise, the five note chords:

I - Cmaj9 - C-E-B-D
ii - Dm9 - D-F-A-C
iii - Em7b9 - E-G-B-D-F
IV - Fmaj9 - F-A-C-E-G
V - G9 - G-B-D-F-A
vi - Am9 - A-C-E-G-B
VII - Bm7b5b9 - B-D-F-A-C

Likewise, we can get a little more creative in our use of chords, combining pitches from the chords from any other scale tone combinations:

I - C6 - C-E-G-D
ii - Dm6 - D-F-A-B
III - E7sus4 - E-A-B-D
IV - F6 - F-A-C-D
V - G6 - G-B-D-E
VI - A7sus4 - A-D-E-G

So far, we have only looked at the C major chord. But the same rules we have learned applies to deriving chords from other scales as well. Let's look at a slightly more exotic scale and the chords that can be derived from it: The C melodic minor:

I - Cm - C-Eb-G
ii - Dm - D-F-A
III - Eb+ - Eb-G-B
IV - Fmaj - F-A-C
V - Gmaj - G-B-D
VI - Adim - A-C-Eb
VII - Bdim - B-D-F

Or the four note chords:

i - Cm(maj7) - C-Eb-G-B
ii - Dm7 - D-F-A-B
III - Ebmaj7#5 - Eb-G-B-D
IV - F7 - F-A-C-Eb
V - G7 - G-B-D-F
VI - Am7b5 - A-C-Eb-G
VII - Bm7b5 - B-D-F-A

Or again, 5 note chords:

i - Cm(maj9) - C-Eb-G-B-D
II - Dm7b9 - D-F-A-C-Eb
III - Ebmaj9#5 - Eb-G-B-D-F
IV - F9 - F-A-G-B-C
V - G9 - G-D-B-F-A
VI - Am9b5 - A-C-Eb-Gb-Bb
VII - Bm7b5b9 - B-D-F-A-C

Next, let's look at the chords that can be derived from the C harmonic minor scale:

i - Cm - C-Eb-G
II - D - Ddim - D-F-Ab
III - Eb - Eb+ - Eb-G-B
IV - F - Fm - F-Ab-C
V - G - Gmaj - G-B-D
VI - Ab - Abmaj - Ab-C-Eb
VII - B - Bdim - B-D-F

Or the four-note chords:

I - Cm(maj7) - C-Eb-G-B
II - Dm7b5 - D-F-Ab-C
III - Ebmaj7#5 - Eb-G-B-D
iv - Fm7 - F-Ab-C-Eb
V - G7 - G-B-D-F
VI - Abmaj7 - Ab-C-G-Eb
VII - Bdim7 - B-D-Ab-F

Or the five-note chords:

I - Cm(maj9) - C-D-Eb-G-B
II - Dm7b5b9 - D-F-Ab-C-Eb
III - Ebmaj9#5 - Eb-G-B-D-F
iv - Fm9 - F-G-Ab-C-Eb
V - G7b9 - G-B-Ab-D
VI - Abmaj7#9 - Ab-C-Eb-G-B
VII - Bdim7b9 - B-D-Eb-F-C

Information and examples for chords and scales retrieved from:


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