When I first started playing Guitar, I really had no sense for how to put chords together. I knew a handful of them and I knew which ones I liked, but I had no idea how to consistently put together a chord progression. Or analyze one for that matter. The problem only compounded itself as I became interested in Jazz and began learning chords like E7#9 and Cma7. I was totally lost. The good news is that you don’t have to be lost when it comes to understanding chords and their relationships to one another. There is a way to tie chords together into a concept called Diatonic Harmony and it begins with the Major Scale.
The Major Scale is a series of pitches, seven in all, that is the foundational building block of all Western Music. If we look at the C Major Scale for example, we see that it is made up of the notes C D E F G A B C. What makes the scale unique is it’s formula ; the distance between each of the pitches is either a whole step or a half step. All together, the formula for the Major Scale is: W W H W W W H (ie. C to D is a whole step, D to E is a whole step, E to F is a half step, etc). See the diagram below.
So, where is all of this going? Well, each one of these notes is the Root, of seven different three note chords called Triads. The process is simple. If we start with each note of the C Major Scale, we’ll get a chord starting from C, a chord starting from D, and so on. This process is called Harmonization and all we have to do is take each note of the C Major Scale and skip every other note in the scale. For example, the first chord we get is C and it is made up of the notes C E and G. The second chord is D minor and it’s made up of the notes D F and A. Get the idea? Check out the diagram below.
Play through the chords and see if you recognize any of the sounds and combination’s present within the Diatonic Harmony. Chances are that you’ll have a few moments where you find yourself saying, “Oh, so THAT’S what that is….”. The more of those the Fetter! Try playing the chords in order, backwards, in different sequences or plug them into an appropriate song. Have fun!