Music Theory: Scales #2 → Degrees & Chord Progressions...
Scale Degrees
Major
Minor
Minor
Major
Major
Minor
Dim




Scale Degrees
Major
Minor
Minor
Major
Major
Minor
Dim




Scale Degrees
Major
Minor
Minor
Major
Major
Minor
Dim




Scale Degrees
Major
Minor
Minor
Major
Major
Minor
Dim




Scale Degrees
Major
Minor
Minor
Major
Major
Minor
Dim




Scale Degrees
Major
Minor
Minor
Major
Major
Minor
Dim




 
Geeks Note: This lesson is not about chord progressions within a song but rather, chord progressions within a "Key" for a song. This lesson is what will help you sit down with your friends and jam without to much angst or confusion. That said, this topic is the building blocks that lays the foundation for your understanding of putting chords together to form songs.


Learning Objectives
By the end of this lesson, here is what you should have learned:
  1. Understand how to construct chord progressions from a major scale.
  2. Know what chords to use when jamming on the fly.
  3. Understand why others are playing different chords.
  4. Understand how to change the Key of a Song through the understanding of Scale Degrees
  5. Learn how to determine the Key of a song by knowing what chords are in it.


We need to start by undestanding what "Scale Degrees" are. There is a very specific formula for creating chords from a Major Scale that is at the basics of most Western (civilization) music. This is the Scale Degrees. For this purposes of this basic lesson, we will be using the Ionian Mode (Ionian mode is the Major Scale we studied in lesson 2, just think of it as the regular WWHWWWH scale).

Please understand, there are MANY chord progression theories. What I am presenting here is the Major/Minor theory and is the fundamental theory most of the others are, as I said, built off of or derived from.

The Scale Degrees of a Major Scale are:

Major - Minor - Minor - Major - Major - Minor - Diminished


What this means is that instead of playing whole tone chords for each note in a scale, you modify them. An example of this would be the C Major Scale:

C - D - E - F - G - A - B - C


Instead of playing the chords C, D, E, F, G, A, B you would intead play the chords:

C - Dm - Em - F - G - Am - Bdim - C


You will have possibly heard people talking about their music or maybe music instructors referring to the Five-Chord or the Three-Chord, etc. What they are refering to is the Degree of the Scale in question. So this means that if you were talking about the Key of C, then the Five-Chord would be "G" and the Three-Chord would be "E".


Progressions...

The actual PROGRESSION of chords that you will play depends on the musical style, influence and choices of the composer. For example, a typical chord progression you will see is the 1-4-5 progression, more accurately written as the I-IV-V progression.

It is standard practice to refer to the degrees of a Music Scale with Roman Numerals. Upper case denote Whole Tone chords and lower case represent minor or diminished chords. This means the degrees of the scale above would be referred to by musicians as:

I - ii - iii - IV - V - vi - vii°


A typical progression you will often see is the I-IV-V progression. Because the numerals are all upper case, we know these are all going to be Whole Tone chords or Major Chords. An example of this would be the Creedance Clearwater Revival classic of "Down On The Corner". In this song the Key is C and they use the I-IV-V to make up the song, that is to say, they play the chords C, F, G:

(First Verse)
C                     G                  C
Early in the evenin', just about supper time
C                          G                   C
over by the courthouse,they're starting to un-wind,
F                        C
four kids on the corner, trying to bring you up,
C                             G                 C
Willy picks a tune out and he blows it on the harp.


This could also have been written using the degrees of the Scale, like this:

(First Verse)
I                     V                  I
Early in the evenin', just about supper time
I                          V                   I
over by the courthouse,they're starting to un-wind,
IV                       I
four kids on the corner, trying to bring you up,
I                             V                 I
Willy picks a tune out and he blows it on the harp.


C - D - E - F - G - A - B
I - ii - iii - IV - V - vi - vii°



Using Johnny Cash as another example, in the song "Ring Of Fire", which is the Key of G, he uses the I-IV-V also:

(Chorus:)
D             C              G
I fell into a burnin' ring of fire
D                           C              G
I went down down down, and the flames went higher
G
And it burns burns burns
    C        G        C        G
The ring of fire, the ring of fire


This could also have been written using the degrees of the Scale, like this:

(Chorus:)
V             IV             I
I fell into a burnin' ring of fire
V                           IV             I
I went down down down, and the flames went higher
I
And it burns burns burns
    IV       I        IV       I
The ring of fire, the ring of fire


Waaaaaiiiiiitttttt a minute......

Have you noticed something here about these examples? When written using the chord names (C, G, etc) changing keys seems like a daunting and difficult task. HOWEVER, when you think of the music as DEGREES of the scale... then changing keys becomes a breeze.

Looking at above, we know that the song "Ring of Fire" is in G. However, jammin' in the garage one night, Talky McSaysalot tells us he wants to play it in C instead (we've learned not to ask why, just nod and do it). So how do we change the key from G to C? By using the DEGREES of the scale!

Degree   I   ii   iii   IV   V   vi   vii°
Key of G   G   Am   Bm   C   D   Em   F#dim (F#°)
Key of C   C   Dm   Em   F   G   Am   Bdim (B°)


This means we will now play "Ring of Fire" in the key of C with these chords:

(Chorus:)
G             F             C
I fell into a burnin' ring of fire
G                           F             C
I went down down down, and the flames went higher
C
And it burns burns burns
    F       C        F       C
The ring of fire, the ring of fire

See how amazingly easy that was?

Figuring out the key...

Up above I blithely noted that "Down On The Corner" was in the Key of C and that "Ring of Fire" was in the key of G. How did I know that? Did I go look at some Standard Notation and count the sharps (or lack thereof)? No. I just looked at the chords.

Knowing that "Down On The Corner" has the chords C, F, G is also knowing a pattern. I know that the C Major Scale is the ONLY Major Scale that has a I-IV-V pattern of C-F-G. Therefore, this song must be in the key of C.

Knowing that "Ring of Fire" has the chords G, C, D is seeing the I-IV-V pattern again with the "G" being the Tonic, the "I"

By knowing the notes in a Major scale AND the chords that are constructed by the Degrees of a Major Scale allows us to determine the Key of the Major Scale.

Capice?


Ummmm... you said "Tonic" up above...

1 I Tonic
2 ii Sueprtonic
3 iii Mediant
4 IV Subdominant
5 V Dominant
6 vi Submediant
7 vii° Leading Tone


Yes I did. No, I wasn't thinking of GIN AND...

The degrees of a Major Scale have names. They are not just the One Chord, Four Chord, Five Chord etc.. While you don't NEED to memorize these, knowing the names will help you communicate better with other musicians.





Okay, thats enough for now. Our next lesson is on Chord Construction and will directly build off of what you learned in this lesson.

So you will have something to play around with, here are some other Major/Minor Chord Progressions you will encounter... try them out... mess around with them....

I - IV - I - V
I - IV - V
I - IV - V - IV

I - V - vi - IV
I - V - IV - V

I - vi - ii - V
I - vi - IV - V


Now, go play guitar....


<<< Back To First Page •  Next Lesson: Chord Contructions >>>








© Aaron Gallagher