many chords can be developed by extracting alternate scale tones,
i.e., using tones that are major thirds or minor thirds apart within a
scale. in this series of exercises, you will begin by building
three-note chords from the major and three minor scales relative to c
major and progress to building seven-note (thirteenth) chords. you
will learn to determine what (relatively) simple chords may be
substituted for more complex chords and what extensions may be added
to chords while remaining harmonically correct. most importantly, you
will be able to figure out what notes to leave out when playing a
i developed this material as a way of learning it myself. i don't
intend it to be a list of prescriptions; merely as a way to take a
simple concept as far as i can for the background of interested
this set of lessons is divided into several parts. each part except the first builds upon material developed in the previous lesson. my plans for the set include the following:
==> part 1. preliminaries and an introduction to chord construction
part 2. 4-, 5-, 6-, and 7-note chords; naming chords
part 3. what to leave out while retaining chord identity
section 1.1. definitions and notation conventions.
first, let's define some terms.
an "interval" is the distance between two tones. there are five
qualities of intervals; their names are perfect, major, minor,
diminished, and augmented. these qualities of intervals are defined
o perfect interval: an interval which, when inverted, becomes
another perfect interval (a self-referential definition if ever
i heard one). e.g., c-f is a perfect 4th, f-c is a perfect 5th;
c1-f2 is a perfect 11th (where the 1 and 2 mean that the c and f
are in different octaves), c2-f2 is a perfect 4th, f2-c3 is a
perfect 5th; and so on.
a major scale.
o minor: an interval that does not appear in a major scale.
o augmented: a raised perfect or major interval.
o diminished: a lowered perfect or minor interval.
in defining major and minor scales, the intervals between adjacent
notes in the scale are sometimes called "half step" and "whole step",
or, equivalently, "semitone" and "whole tone".
o semitone: the interval between the notes of two adjacent keys on
the piano, or two adjacent frets on the guitar. also called a
"minor 2nd" or "half step". example: c-db. [b is used to denote
o whole tone: the interval between a key and the key next to the
adjacent key on the piano [two keys away], or at two frets' apart
on the guitar. also called a "major 2nd" or "whole step".
i will use the following conventions in my notation:
o m: major interval, scale, or chord
o m: minor interval, scale, or chord
o b: the "flat" symbol, i.e., the specified note is lowered by one
o nat: used to indicate that a note is neither sharped nor flatted
(usual music notation uses a sort of l7 symbol that i can't
reproduce at the computer keyboard).
o upper case roman numeral: a major-, dominant-, or augmented-
family chord. the number refers to the degree of the scale on
which a chord is built. example: i indicates the major chord
built on the first degree of a scale (e.g., c in the key of c).
o lower case roman numeral: a minor-, half-diminished-, or
diminished-family chord. the number refers to the degree of the
scale on which a chord is built. example: vi indicates the
minor chord built on the sixth degree of a scale (e.g., am in
the key of c).
1.2.1. the major scale.
the major scale is defined as an 8-tone scale comprising the set of
intervals (in terms of whole- and half-steps). the intervals are:
1.2.2. the natural minor scale.
the natural minor scale is defined as an 8-tone scale containing the
same notes as its relative major scale, but starting on the 6th scale
degree of its relative major scale; also known as the aeolian mode.
the relative minor of c major is a minor, and its intervals are:
1.2.3. the harmonic minor scale.
similar to the natural minor scale but with a raised 7th scale degree.
the component intervals are:
1.2.4. the melodic minor scale.
similar to the natural minor scale but with a raised 6th and a raised
7th when ascending; identical to the natural minor scale when played
descending. the component intervals are:
one can develop a useful set of chords by stacking notes from the
scale. for the purposes of this set of lessons i will stack thirds.
i will start with, say, a c major scale; over that i will place the
same scale but starting with the 3rd scale degree (e); over that i
will place the same scale starting with the 5th scale degree (g). the
harmony deriving from stacking alternate scale tones is called
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