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 Intervals Chords Triads & Harmonies, Part 1 - Degrees of the scale
Mar 10 2007, 11:48 PM
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Intervals Triads Chords & Harmonies - Part 1

Introduction

Greetings all, and welcome to the latest GMC Theory Lesson!

In this multi part lesson we are going to build on our knowledge of the major scale, and start looking at a couple of key concepts around chord and harmony construction. When we are done, you'll be able to understand complex relationships between notes, harmonize a lead line, construct a B augmented chord, and leap tall buildings in a single bound ...

Degrees of the Scale

All of the above starts simply with a concept that should already be familiar to you as the formula for a Major Scale. If you are not familiar with major scales, check out the major scale lesson here. Next, we are going to learn about degrees of the scale - this is a system for talking about notes in a scale without reference to the notes themselves, or what scale they are in. This is a little boring for now but will help us a lot later on.

You should remember that starting at the root note of a scale, and applying the Whole/Half formula, we can generate the scale. For those of you that have forgotten, the formula is:

W W H W W W H

Technically, we should be calling the whole notes tones and the half notes semi-tones, so I am going to rewrite the formula with different letters, to remind you of this:

T T S T T T S

So far so good, but where is this leading? Well the formula above tells us about the gaps between different notes of the scale, but we need a way to refer to the notes themselves, and we do this by a system of numbers and names. We start with the root of the scale and give that the number 1, (sometimes roman numerals are used), and count up one for each note in the scale. Each of these numbers is a degree of the scale, each degree also has a name.

For example, the scale of C has the notes C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C according to our formula. We would number them as in the table below. I am also showing you the formula steps, and the name of each degree.

Notice, that when we get back to C an octave higher, we call it the Tonic again, and call it the 1st degree, as in scale terms the two notes are equivalent. Also note that the 7th note can be called either the leading note or subtonic.

What does this buy us? Well, lets look at the scale of D major in the same way:

As you might expect, although the notes are completely different, the names, degrees and Gap formula all remain exactly the same. So what we have here is a way of talking about the relationship between different notes in a scale regardless of the actual notes themselves. If we want to talk about the 3rd note of a scale, it performs the same musical function regardless of the key, and we now have a language to talk about it that is independent of the actual note or scale. In our examples above, E in the scale of C, and F# in the scale of D are both 3rd notes, and anything we want to say about 3rd notes relates to each equally. This will come in very handy later on.

As a final note for this lesson, you will be pleased to know that the formal names (Dominant, Tonic etc) are rarely used. Most people refer to the numeric degrees of the scale, so if you can't remember the names don't worry!

In the next lesson will see how we can use degrees of the scale to understand intervals, and from there we move on to chords and harmonies!

Editorial note: published 24 Sept 2007

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This post has been edited by Maria: Sep 26 2007, 08:40 PM

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Mar 12 2007, 02:52 AM
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Once again, great lesson.

Thanks for doing these, they really help.

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Mar 12 2007, 03:15 AM
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QUOTE (radarlove1984 @ Mar 11 2007, 09:52 PM)
Once again, great lesson.
Thanks for doing these, they really help.

You're my biggest fan :-) I'll keep them coming!

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Mar 12 2007, 08:32 AM
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This is excellent - just what RipDime asked for in Gabriel's last lesson (Neoclassic alternate picking etude).

Well done Andrew!

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Apr 4 2007, 08:47 AM
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Isn't the 7th degree called the subtonic?

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This post has been edited by BalysLTU: Apr 4 2007, 08:47 AM
Apr 4 2007, 02:17 PM
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QUOTE (BalysLTU @ Apr 4 2007, 03:47 AM)
Isn't the 7th degree called the subtonic?

Yes, you can use either, they are interchangeable - I learnt leading note. I'll update the lesson to reflect that - thanks!

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May 10 2007, 09:49 AM
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This is really useful to me and just what I wanted to know. It also helps me appreciate Gabi's lesson more in depth !

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May 10 2007, 03:05 PM
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i can wait for your new lesson man. it is so immportant to understand all this stuff .
it is easier to communicate with each other, with this level of knowledge

Eyal

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May 11 2007, 01:37 AM
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QUOTE (Rockwouldbe @ May 10 2007, 10:05 AM)
i can wait for your new lesson man. it is so immportant to understand all this stuff .
it is easier to communicate with each other, with this level of knowledge

Eyal

Thanks guys! I'll be working on the complex chords lesson in this series soon!

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May 15 2007, 04:59 PM
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QUOTE (Andrew Cockburn @ May 10 2007, 07:37 PM)
Thanks guys! I'll be working on the complex chords lesson in this series soon!

So all we were suppose to get out of this was TTSTTTS and a chart that applys to it? Should we understand the chart?

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May 16 2007, 03:51 AM
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QUOTE (Bitey @ May 15 2007, 11:59 AM)
So all we were suppose to get out of this was TTSTTTS and a chart that applys to it? Should we understand the chart?

The main thing to understand is the naming of the degrees of the scale, as the rest of the lessons build on that essential knowledge. You need to understand what a 5th is, or what a 3rd is as that language is used a lot in theory.

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May 16 2007, 07:54 PM
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QUOTE (Andrew Cockburn @ May 16 2007, 03:51 AM)
The main thing to understand is the naming of the degrees of the scale, as the rest of the lessons build on that essential knowledge. You need to understand what a 5th is, or what a 3rd is as that language is used a lot in theory.

Very true. Although the topic is on triads, i think its a wise idea to look at the relations of notes to chords i.e. b5, maj7, b2 etc. Im not sure if there is a theory lesson on this as of yet, but knowing the tones yeilded from a particular scale, or arpeggio, and how they relate to the underlying chord is incredibly important, and helpful.

Just thought id post as it jogged my memory on a lesson i will be presenting soon, perhaps Andrew you could do one on the above topic, or provide a link if you already have?

Ben

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This post has been edited by benhowell: May 16 2007, 07:55 PM

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May 16 2007, 10:19 PM
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QUOTE (benhowell @ May 16 2007, 02:54 PM)
Very true. Although the topic is on triads, i think its a wise idea to look at the relations of notes to chords i.e. b5, maj7, b2 etc. Im not sure if there is a theory lesson on this as of yet, but knowing the tones yeilded from a particular scale, or arpeggio, and how they relate to the underlying chord is incredibly important, and helpful.

Just thought id post as it jogged my memory on a lesson i will be presenting soon, perhaps Andrew you could do one on the above topic, or provide a link if you already have?

Ben

Hi Ben - yes, this is a work in progress. I started some of that in the intervals and triads lessons, here and here , and will be covering the rest of it in part 4 when I get into more complex chords!

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May 16 2007, 10:58 PM
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QUOTE (Andrew Cockburn @ May 16 2007, 10:19 PM)
Hi Ben - yes, this is a work in progress. I started some of that in the intervals and triads lessons, here and here , and will be covering the rest of it in part 4 when I get into more complex chords!

Hello Andrew,

Ah i thought you would have!

Alot of ground has been covered in the theory lessons which is great, looks like we have a database of theory to refer to! Nice

Ben

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Jan 12 2008, 10:16 PM
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QUOTE (Andrew Cockburn @ May 15 2007, 08:51 PM)
The main thing to understand is the naming of the degrees of the scale, as the rest of the lessons build on that essential knowledge. You need to understand what a 5th is, or what a 3rd is as that language is used a lot in theory.

so what you mean by 5th and 3rd is the 5th note and the 3rd note? That means that flattened fifth means that the 5th note is flatted

Also, what we learned in this lesson applies to the minor scale as well?

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Jan 12 2008, 10:25 PM
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QUOTE (FretDancer69 @ Jan 12 2008, 04:16 PM)
so what you mean by 5th and 3rd is the 5th note and the 3rd note? That means that flattened fifth means that the 5th note is flatted

Also, what we learned in this lesson applies to the minor scale as well?

This does apply to the minor scale as well, but to apply it you have to describe the minor scale in terms of the major scale, as the major scale is the basis for all of this.

So, a minor scale is actually a major scale with a b3, b6 and a b7

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Jan 12 2008, 10:30 PM
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QUOTE (Andrew Cockburn @ Jan 12 2008, 03:25 PM)
This does apply to the minor scale as well, but to apply it you have to describe the minor scale in terms of the major scale, as the major scale is the basis for all of this.

So, a minor scale is actually a major scale with a b3, b6 and a b7

i see, i get it now. awesome

im proceeding to the next lesson, thanks Andrew!!

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May 28 2008, 03:50 PM
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Are you saying that if your playing in the key of C which goes: C D E F G A B C on the E string that you can play the major scale with the tonic note being any of those notes?

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May 29 2008, 12:50 AM
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QUOTE (Pi38 @ May 28 2008, 10:50 AM)
Are you saying that if your playing in the key of C which goes: C D E F G A B C on the E string that you can play the major scale with the tonic note being any of those notes?

No - the tonic note is always the first note of the scale, in your example, C would always be the tonic.

You can play C anywhere on the guitar, on the E string or wherever and as long as it is a C, it will always be the tonic. In the same way, any G anywhere would always be the Dominant, B the leading tone etc.

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Jul 17 2008, 04:14 AM
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like a lot the theory lessons... :S

Cheers!

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