2.12 Degrees: triads and scales
|Category: Harmony | Tags: Chords, Triads|
In this chapter you’ll learn that chords and scales are connected to each other. Then you’ll learn that the seven basic triads need to be adapted to the scale used in a piece of music. Next, you will learn what degrees are and how to make a table of degrees.
1. Basic triads with sharps and flats
In Chapter 2.10 Triads you learned that there are seven basic triads, and that all chords - even the most complicated, are based on one of these basic triads.
When you play the seven different basic triads, it is possible to play them all using only the white keys on the piano. But, when you play chords, you often need to use black keys as well. How exactly does that work? When you play a chord (a basic triad), depending on its position on the keys, you may need raise or lower one or more tones of the chord. Then, you are using sharps or flats.
If play a chord on D, for example, with D as the root note, the basic triad is D - F - A. You could raise or lower any of these tones. Raise the third of this basic triad - F - and this becomes F sharp. Now, the chord is D - F sharp - A. You’ve now changed the D - F - A into D - F sharp - A.
And, we can raise or lower more tones. I’ll give a few examples of chords you can make from the basic triad D - F - A. Among others are: D - F sharp - A sharp, D sharp - F sharp - A, D sharp - F sharp - A sharp, D sharp - F - A sharp, D flat - F - A flat, D flat - F flat - A flat, D - F - A flat, D flat - F - A.
Do you understand now why the knowledge and use of chords can be easy, but also, very complicated? The basic zeven triads from which you can build and trace back (almost) all chords make for an easy system. The difficult part is that you can generate so many variations from each basic triad.
How can you know which of the basic triads you can (should) play, which of them are musically appropiate? How do you know which tones of a basic triad you can raise or lower? To understand this questions, we need to talk about musical scales.
2. Chords belong to scales
In Chapter 1.13 The major scale, you learned that a scale is made up of seven different tones, and that it includes all of the note names. Now, we’ll give the tones of a scale a number. The first tone of the scale gets number 1. The second tone is number 2, and so on, to number 7.
We’ll use these numbers to indicate the location of a chord in a scale. One says: the chord on the first note of the C major scale, or the chord on the fifth note of the G major scale. Or, put another way, instead of the using chord names we’ll use numbers. Using this method, one can best understand chords.
A piece of music is made up of the tones of a scale. Whether you play the melody, chords or both, you make use of the tones of the scale or scales used in your piece. For the chords used, that means adapting the basic triads to the scale. I'll show you how to do that with the help of two examples.
3. Triads in C major
I'm going to make a table of the triads that belong to the C major scale. In Chapter 1.14 The C major scale, you learned that this scale is comprised of the tones: C, D, E, F, G, A, B and C. C is the first tone of the scale and gets number 1, D number 2 and so on up to number 7 for B.
Because your piece is in C major, we'll start the table with the triad on C. The table below lists the chords used when playing in C major.
4. Triads in G major
I'm going to make a table of the triads that belong to the G major scale. In Chapter 1.15 The G major scale, you learned that this scale is comprised of the tones: G, A, B, C, D, E, F sharp and G. G is the first tone of the scale and gets number 1, A number 2 and so on up to number 7 for F sharp.
In the G major scale, F is raised to become F sharp. This means that in the basic triads, you must also raise the F to F sharp. Since your piece is in G major, we'll start the table with the triad on G. The table below lists the chords used when playing in G major.
5. How are you going to use these tables?
We have now made two chord tables, one for the scale of C major and one for the scale of G major. Using an example, I’ll let you see what you can do with these tables.
For example, we'll play a song in C major. The chords that occur in this song and order are a C chord, an A chord, an F chord, and a G chord. This is repeated over and over. But this time we are not going to use the chord names, but their position in the scale. The C chord is in position 1, the A chord in position 6, the F chord in position 4, and the G chord is in position 5. In this song, you'll play the chords in this order: 1, 6, 4, 5. Can you see that this makes it very clear and easy to remember?
Then we’re going to play this song in G major. Do you know which chords to choose and which notes to play now? To find out, we'll take the G major scale table. Find out which chords belong to the sequence 1, 6, 4, 5 in the table. Do you see that they are the G chord (G - B - D), E chord (E - G - B), C chord (C - E - G) and the D chord (D - F sharp - A)? You have now found the correct chords very easily, and you know which notes to play.
6. Chords in other scales
In this way you can make a table for each scale. However, there many kinds of scales. If you make a table for each scale, you'll end up with a lot of tables and before you know it, lose the overview. What’s the best way of doing this? How can you keep the overview?
It's really not necessary to learn all the scales and chords first. Or, to make huge cluttered lists or tables. We'll keep it simple and you'll learn the scales and corresponding chords step by step. But first try to discover the logic in the system to be able to apply that logic to another scale. In each step you'll get new scales. Then you’ll learn not only a scale, but also the corresponding chords. Step by step. Comprehensible and well built-up.
7. Table of degrees
You’ve learned that chords belong to scales and that you can put chords in a table. And, that you should start with the chord on the first tone of a scale. In this way, every chord gets its position in a scale.
The position of a chord in a scale is called a degree.
Instead of numbers, we give the degrees Roman numerals.
We say: the chord on the first degree (I) of the C scale, or the chord on the fifth (V) degree of the G scale.
Degrees in the scale of C major, indicated by Roman numerals.
The first, fourth and fifth degree are called primary degrees.
The second, third, sixth and seventh degree are called secondary degrees.
8. Table of degrees for the C major scale
A table of degrees for chords in the C major scale looks like this:
9. Table of degrees for the G major scale
A table of degrees for chords in the G major scale looks like this:
10. A final note
In our earlier example, you played chords in this order - 1, 6, 4, 5. From now on, we'll say that you played the degrees of I, VI, IV, V in the scale of..... (fill in the blank).