The 6th video for Week 1 of Fundamentals of Music Theory is a 4:15 second piece called “Primary chords and their application“. Dr. Worth begins the video by recapping that we’ve found 7 triads that we can derive from the major scale. I believe that what he’s referring to are triads with root notes started on each note of the scale. So, in C-major (C-D-E-F-G-A-B) we’d have a triad with a root of C, one with a root on D, the next on E, etc.
He says that we’re going to focus on the 3 major ones, which are C, F and G. I believe that those are major because we’re working in the key of C, and in that key, [C is the 1], [F is the 4] and [G is the 5] – which is also called a I-IV-V chord progression. In a major tonality, the 1, 4, and 5 are major.
Worth explains that these chords are important in common practice classical music, jazz, pop, rock and folk music. Their use is sometimes referred to as the “Three Chord Trick”. Yes, that does sound like a derogatory name for a musician. He then walks us through each of the three triads that we’re going to look at.
- The C-major chord, which starts on the tonic, or 1, and is called the Tonic triad
- The F-major chord, which starts on the 4th degree and is called the Sub-dominant triad
- The G-major chord, which starts on the 5th degree and is called the Dominant triad
Now, these are just names. The names tell us their function in the scale they’re derived from, but I personally just think of them as the I, IV and V. This also helps me figure out which finger and fret to use to find them, based on where the tonic, or 1 is. Of course, that’s because I still use this info with one of two major scale patterns that I know.
What he says next is important to bassists and applies to most Western music: When we’re harmonizing a melody its normal to have a melodic note be a member of a chord that’s backing it. We can expect to hear a strong melody note existing in its chord.
The 5th video for Week 1 of Fundamentals of Music Theory is called “Introduction to chords“. Its about 9 1/2 mins long. Dr. Worth begins the session by explaining that with scales so far, we’ve been working sequentially, in a linear fashion, sounding one note at a time. However, its very common in music to sound multiple notes at the same time. This sounding of several notes together is called playing a chord.
My understanding of chords is that they’re the odd-numbered notes in a scale. So, if a scale has 8 notes, the chord tones are the 1, 3, 5 and 7. People also include the 8 because its the octave, making it the same as the 1. The even-numbered notes are notes in the scale, but aren’t chord tones. Also, these odd and even numbers are called scale degrees. So, the first note is the 1, the second note is the 2, and so on. I believe they also call this the Nashville Number System.
Dr. Moir jumps in to say that before we continue, we must recap the difference between the C major scale and the A Aeolian mode, or Natural Minor scale. So, C major is played using the notes C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. That’s fairly straightforward. A Aeolian is built by playing the notes of the C major scale starting at the 6th scale degree, or the note A. So, its A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A.
The Dr.’s then proceed to play both scales on the piano while showing the note names by letter as well as tone & semi-tone formulas onscreen. The formulas show us whether to move one fret or two frets on a bass before we land on the next note in the scale/mode. For pianists, using only the white keys, the formulas reveal whether to move forward by 1 or 2 keys at a time to get to the next note.
Here’s something interesting that expands on basic chords. Previous posts have gone over major and minor triads, including how they’re derived from the major and minor scale, respectively. They’re the two most basic chords in Western music and are each comprised of 3 notes – the root (or 1), a variable 3rd (major or minor) and the 5th degree of the given scale. So, they’re spelled out as:
- Major triad: 1 – 3 – 5
- Minor triad: 1 – b3 – 5
There are apparently three other chords that are variations of the triads. Two of them alter the 5th chord tone, which generally remains the same in a major or minor triad (which is why the 5th is called a perfect fifth). The last one replaces the 3rd with a 4th, regardless of whether its major or minor. These triads are called the Augmented, Diminished and Suspended triads.
Video #3 for the 6th, and final, lesson of Coursera’s online Developing Your Musicianship class reviews all of the chords that were introduced in prior lessons: the triads and 7ths.
3. Review: The Major and Minor Triad, Major 7th and Dominant 7th Chords (7:51)
Continuing from the last video, in which he spoke about the major scale, Professor Russell opens this video with, “Now, another thing we learned was a major triad and a minor triad. These were the first chords we learned and we’re going to get those chords right from the major scale.” He plays a C major scale on the piano and then explains that a major triad would consist of the root (the 1st degree of the scale), the third (3rd degree of the scale) and the fifth (5th degree of the scale). He calls what he just played the 1-chord, “because its built upon the first degree of the scale.”
He further explains that if we played the 4-chord, or 4 major triad, that it would be built on the 4th degree of the scale, which is an F (F-A-C) and the 5-chord would be built on the 5th degree of the scale – a G (G-B-D). Those three chords are called C major, F major and G major (the 1-chord, 4-chord and 5-chord in the key of C) and they’re used in a huge amount of songs.
I’m still working on memorizing the notes on the E string using the Cycle of Fourths. Its gone pretty well. I can play them through without slopping it up until I turn on a metronome, then I can run it a few times before forgetting where I am or hitting the wrong note.
I’m going to mix it up a little bit though by running chords and scales along the cycle, and since I like the sound of the minor scales & minor chords more, I’ll start by using those. Here’s a fingering comparison of the natural minor, harmonic minor, melodic minor and Hungarian minor. It should work for any of the closed positions (positions where you don’t use an open string). If its played starting on the open E, the pattern is a little bit different, but shouldn’t be the biggest headache. I’ll do a separate write-up for that when I find time.
Also – a note about the melodic minor: when you play it up (1st note to 8th note) it uses the fingering provided. When its played down (backwards, from 8th to 1st) then just use the regular natural minor. There’s some historical reasons for this dating back a few hundred years, but I don’t remember them. I’ll see about possibly doing a quick post about that later as well.
Tonight, after dinner, I sat in the living room and ran major triad exercises similar to what I did two nights ago (yesterday, I didn’t get to practice – but it did let my hands recover after being so rusty). Sometime during that, I started moving the triads in a box pattern. Like, I’d play them with the root on the the E string, 9th fret, then A string, 9th fret, then I’d move to the 7th fret and repeat. I started doing it over 4 strings using E9, E7, A9, A7, D9, D7 and then added in triads going in reverse (moving from the 5th to the 3rd to the root). It was fun trying to do exercises that sounded melodic.
I began to hop around, descending every other fret – like E9, E7, E5 using triads. Then I started trying just the root and 5th instead of triads. I was playing different rhythms while doing this, repeating grooves and making small variations in them. I like varying note lengths and creating short grooves.
The nursery is basically done. Carpet tiles came in late today, so I’ll install them tomorrow. I eschewed picking up Rocksmith for a 2nd try at the stuff I was working on yesterday so that I could focus on ramping back up again a little before I give it another shot.
Tonight, I decided to drill major triads back into memory. Only, I mixed it up a little bit, because thanks to Rocksmith, I know that I’m having trouble moving around on the strings. I started just running a major triad pattern in 2nd position for a bit, and then began alternating from 2nd position to 3rd position (all with the root on the E string). It looked like this: