Frequently Asked Questions - Chords


1. Augmented triads - major keys
2. Chord Formula - Major key
3. Chord Formula Natural Minor
4. Chord Progressions ~ Part 1
5. Improvising / Chord Progression Part 1
6. Triads construction
7. What are inversions?
8. The Neapolitan chord
9. Chords 3 string triads - part 1
10. Triad chords of a key


1. Augmented triads - major keys

Question: Why are there no augmented chords in the major key chord formula but you explain it in the triad construction section?

Answer: There are no augmented triads in any major key, so You don't need to play that chord in the context of a major key, Augmented chords are used in other types of keys but we have not yet learned about those (we will). I did need to include the augmented chord as part of the triad construction lesson because augmented triads are triads and will appear in Harmonic minor and other types of keys.

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2. Chord Formula - Major key

Question: I would appreciate it if you could explain to me what and why I did wrong in the questionnaire you sent (only the one regarding the harmonization). I thought that I was at least able to harmonize chords based on the Major/minor scales but it seems that I am not...

The question was: What key is this chord progression in?: C, Gm, F, Dm

I answered: C Major (I-V-IV-II) but it could be also F Major (V-II-I-VI), no?

Answer: No. The correct answer is F major (not C major) because in the key of C major, the V chord is G not Gm. The roman numerals should look like this in Your answer:
F major V-ii-I-vi (the ii and vi are small because these chords are minor)

Question: What key is this chord progression in: Bb, Fm, G, Cm

Answer: This question is more difficult. The general answer is C minor. To find the correct answer You need to understand how all three forms of the minor scale (natural minor, harmonic minor and melodic minor) work together AND how they work separately.
Looking back at the question, the chords function in the key of C minor as follows:

  • Bb = VII (in C natural minor only)
  • Fm = iv (in C natural minor or C harmonic minor)
  • G = V (in C harmonic minor or C melodic minor)
  • Cm = i (in C natural minor, C harmonic minor or C melodic minor)

Question: What are all of the triad chords in the key of E major?

Answer:

	Function:      I  ii  iii  IV  V  vi  vii°
 
Chord symbols: E  F#m G#m  A   B  C#m  D#°
 

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3. Chord Formula Natural Minor

Question: I became confused when I started working on this one. On your lesson sheet for "Natural Minor Scale Notes: 1 2 3flat 4 5 6flat 7flat", this is correct if the heading had been "Natural Minor Scale Notes for the Key of C". The way it is written in the lesson made me think that all minor keys would have a flatted 3rd, 6th, & 7th. I started writing out the scales and soon discovered this was not so. Going back to the page for Major Scales I see the same assumption is made, that is, that we are working in the key of C. This confused me and might confuse others too.

I can figure out all the Triads, Major, minor, dim, aug in all keys. I've started recording the C Major chord progressions and improvising over them. In a couple more days I'll start working on the other chord progressions you gave me.

This is a great lesson and has really made me have to think. I'm sure it is helping me. I could work on this stuff a couple months, probably a lot longer.

Answer: This is an excellent question, not because You are correct, but because You are thinking critically about the theory behind the construction of the scales and keys. What I wrote is absolutely accurate, but I do see the source of Your confusion and I'll clarify any ambiguity here.
ALL major scales (no matter what key they are derived from) are given this formula for the notes in the scale:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

The formula of the notes for ALL other scales / modes are compared to the major scale formula.
Here are some examples compared to major scales:

	Scale            Formula                Notes
 
C major    1  2  3  4  5  6  7    C  D  E  F  G  A  B
C minor    1  2 b3  4  5 b6 b7    C  D  Eb F  G  Ab Bb
C Dorian   1  2 b3  4  5  6 b7    C  D  Eb F  G  A  Bb
C Lydian   1  2  3 #4  5  6  7    C  D  E  F# G  A  B

Here is another set of examples using the same scale types but based on A instead of C.

	Scale            Formula                Notes
 
A major    1  2  3  4  5  6  7    A  B  C# D  E  F# G#
A minor    1  2 b3  4  5 b6 b7    A  B  C  D  E  F  G
A Dorian   1  2 b3  4  5  6 b7    A  B  C  D  E  F# G
A Lydian   1  2  3 #4  5  6  7    A  B  C# D# E  F# G#

Notice that the formulas in both sets of examples are EXACTLY the same. The likely cause of Your confusion is that the formulas sometimes have flats but the notes may not contain a flat. In the C minor scale, the b3, b6 and b7 represent the process of taking the 3, 6 and 7 note of the C major scale and lowering each note by 1/2 step (1 fret), this changes the notes E, A and B (from the major scale) to Eb, Ab, and Bb in the minor scale. But when we compare A major to A minor, it looks a little different (even though the process is exactly the same). Notice that in the A major scale the 3, 6 and 7 notes are C#, F# and G#. In order to create A minor, we are lowering these 3 notes by 1/2 step (1 fret), so C# becomes C. F# becomes F. And G# becomes G.
The b3, b6 and b7 of the A minor scale represents the lowering of these pitches by 1 fret. It does NOT mean that the b3, b6 and b7 will create Cb, Fb and Gb. If this were so, then we would have lowered the C# to Cb (2 frets lower instead of 1 fret lower!) and that would be incorrect.

Question: Can you check my statement below and tell me if I'm correct or wrong. I just want to make sure that I understand these correctly. The triads for playing in the key of C minor are: C minor, D diminished, D# major, F minor, G minor, G# major and A# major. Is this correct?

Answer: You are half right. The chords and notes are all correct, BUT You have misspelled some of the chords. First, You must understand that all letters in the musical alphabet must be represented and used only once.

So:

D# major should be written as Eb major
G# major should be written as Ab major
A# major should be written as Bb major

Then it will be correct as follows C minor , D diminished , Eb major, F minor, G minor, Ab major, Bb major

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4. Chord Progressions ~ Part 1

Question: Can the V chord always be replaced with a dominant 7, no matter what key?

Answer: Yes for any major key, Harmonic or melodic minor key.  This doesn't work for natural minor because if You change the v chord in natural minor from v to V7, then You are not in natural minor anymore, but harmonic minor (or melodic minor).

Question: If the melodic minor follows one formula ascending, and another descending, how do you harmonize it?

Answer: The melodic minor contains the raised 6th and 7th degree only when we are talking about traditional classical music theory. In rock, jazz and other modern styles this is not true. The melodic minor scale contains the raised 6th and 7th degree in both ascending and descending versions for our purposes.

Question: Do you harmonize the harmonic minor scale the same way that you would with the major scale? Stacking the notes, 1-3-5, etc.? If so, can this method be used on all scales? Even pentatonic and pentatonic with the blue notes?

Answer: Yes, the stacked method is the same for major and minor keys. Pentatonic and blues scales are a bit tricky because there are two different ways of dealing with them. Literally You can't stack them in thirds because there are not enough notes in the scales to do it, however if You think of pentatonic scales as incomplete modes, You can simply use the same harmonization and chords for the modes as the pentatonic scales. So minor pentatonic would be the same as natural minor and major pentatonic would be the same as the major scale harmonization.

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 5. Improvising / Chord Progression Part 1

Question: Please give me some advice on how to improvise over the chord progressions you have given me. Normally I would just use the Pentatonic scale for whatever key I am in. In C key I'd use the C Pent. all the way through.  But this gets boring. I'm trying to use the modes over them right now.

Answer: Using the Major pentatonic scales is a perfectly acceptable way to improvise over any chord progression that is in a major key, and of course You can extend it all up and down the fretboard. But it is very limiting to use only the major pentatonic scales all the time. This is where the modes come in, Use the major scale (Ionian) and its modes (Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, Locrian) to extend the major scale up and down the neck. For example, if You want to improvise over the following chord progression:

Chord Progression in - C Major (Ionian)

l: C  l Am  l F  l G  l C  l Dm  l G  l F  :l

Use the C major (Ionian) scale and its modes. Let me clarify what I mean when say "and its modes", The modes of C major are these:

C Ionian (also simply called C major)
D Dorian
E Phrygian
F Lydian
G Mixolydian
A Aeolian
B Locrian

It is crucial that You notice and understand that I did not to play all of the modes on C! In other words, do NOT do this:

C Ionian
C Dorian
C Phrygian
C Lydian
C Mixolydian
C Aeolian
C Locrian

If You were to play the Dorian scale from C, You will be playing out of key and it will sound incorrect, If You play the Dorian scale from D, then You are still in the correct key of C. Many students first learning this often ask, How can this be right? If I want to play in the key of C, how can I play a D Dorian mode and still be in the key of C?
Look at the notes in the C major scale and the D Dorian scale, they are:

	C major:   C D E F G A B C
 
D Dorian:    D E F G A B C D

You can see that these two modes have exactly the same notes in each, the only difference is that the first scale begins from the note C and the second begins from the note D.
Let's extend this further and look at all of the modes in the key of C major:

	C Major:   C D E F G A B C
D Dorian:    D E F G A B C D
E Phrygian:    E F G A B C D E
F Lydian:        F G A B C D E F
G Mixolydian:      G A B C D E F G
A Aeolian:           A B C D E F G A
B Locrian:             B C D E F G A B

Question: I also have a point of contention with the statement: "It is the E note that sounds like the root of this progression. Why is this so? This is accomplished by repeating the Em chord multiple times." This sounds like an over-simplified explanation and it is repeated for the subsequent examples. Doesn't the answer to this lie where cadences and root motion outline overall harmony and tonal center?

Answer: No, not for modes, Your statement works more for major and minor keys, not really for modes (as far cadences go) because traditional cadences don’t exist in the same way for modes. As far as root motion, You are stating what I already did, the root motion keeps coming back to Em.

Question: Can I get the sound of the E Phrygian mode in my ears a little easier by playing an F and G triad over an E pedal?

Answer: Yes, You can get that sound that way, but that has nothing to do with our example for that chord progression, so although You are right it's not relevant to our example.. And more often than note, the chords change with bass notes. Tonic pedals, as You have shown, do work well, but they are less common than changing bass notes with chords in the progressions.

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6. Triads construction

Question: About the triad chords, what makes the minor chords sound minor if they are made with the same notes (3rd and 5th) as the major chords?

Answer: They (major and minor triads) are not the same. A minor chord has a flatted 3rd. Example: C major chord has the notes C E G, but a C minor chord has the notes C Eb G.

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7. What are inversions?

Question: What are the inversions in the arpeggios lesson?

Answer: Inversions are different ways of playing the same chord (or arpeggio.) The C chord, for example contains these notes: C E G. If the C note is the lowest sounding note, we call that "Root Position" because the C note is the root of the chord and it is in the bass (the lowest sounding pitch).

The E note is the third of the chord, so we say that the chord is in "First inversion" when the E note is the lowest sounding note.

The G note is the fifth of the chord, so we say that the chord is in "Second inversion" when the G note is the lowest sounding note.

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8. The Neapolitan chord

Question: Are you or anyone else using the Neapolitan chords in the neoclassical genre?

Answer: Yes I do use it, and I'm using it extensively on Opus 2. Just off the top of my head, here are some other musicians that use it: Yngwie Malmsteen, George Bellas, Dream Theater, and Tony MacAlpine. Its used a lot in standard Baroque (1600-1750), Classical (1750-1820s) and Romantic (1820s-1900) music.

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9. Chords 3 string triads - part 1

Question: In the "Chords 3 string triads-Part 1" lesson, why am I only playing on the 6th, 4th and 3rd strings? If I'm looking for the root positions and the 1st and 2nd inversions, shouldn't I be playing the whole chord to identify the lowest sounding note?

Answer: You are playing only these strings (for now) so that You hear only one root, one third and one 5th. Listen to the clarity of the chord that way. And as long as You have one note of each (root, 3rd and 5th) that creates a complete chord. The lowest sounding note is on the 6th string. In the future, we will play the same chords on other sets of strings. If I asked 10 guitar players to play a C chord, 9 of them would probably play the exact same fingering (voicing) of that chord. What we are doing is massively expanding on the possibilities of playing a C chord (and all the other chords too).

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10. Triad chords of a key

Question: When determining the Triads that go along with scales is this how it works: Assume C scale. C, F and G are major chords. That is easy. Does this mean that Dm, Em and Am are the minor chords that go well with the chord progression?

Answer: Yes.

Question: And that Bm is the Diminished minor?

Answer: No. there is no Bm chord, only B diminished.

Question: And what is the importance of the diminished?

Answer: The importance of the diminished chord is that it is simply another chord in the key. All chords are important. The diminished chord generally is followed by the I chord in major keys. In minor keys, it is usually followed by the V chord or the III chord, but it can really be followed by any chord.

Question: Are these the correct chords for the key of D major? D, G and A are major chords, Em, Fm and Gm are the minor chords that go well with the progression with Bm is the diminished minor.

Answer: No. D G and A are the major chords but the minor chords are: Em, F#m and Bm (NOT Fm and not Gm) the diminished chord is C# not Bm.
Play the major scale from the D note and You get these notes: D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#
Then put the correct chords on each of these notes: I ii iii IV V vi vii°
So the result is: D, Em, F#m, G, A, Bm, C#°

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