A Refresher in the Major Scale And Diatonic Chords

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If you have been following my articles over the last couple of months we have covered an awful lot of scales. Before we move on any further or change subjects it seems appropriate to return to the beginning and revisit the Major Scale and the chords built from it. This is also very useful for any new readers who may have missed the start (you can always go back and reread the earlier articles too!).

The Major Scale is important because it sets the names of the notes and how we refer to them. It gives us a common language and helps us understand other scales and chords. It also helps us converse with other musicians so that we have a common language.

The Major Scale is made up of a certain sequence of intervals. This sequence is the same for any Major Scale, regardless of the key it is in.

The C Major Scale


If we now want to describe a different scale, we can refer to the notes in relation to the notes within the Major Scale.

For Example:

C Natural Minor Scale


So, if you know how to spell a scale you can work out what notes are in it by comparing it to the Major Scale.

So, get those intervals learned, spending time on the Major Scale will help you more than you ever imagined!!

T, T, ST, T, T, T, ST

Building Chords

A basic chord is called a ‘triad’, and, as the name suggests, it is made up of 3 notes. A common triad is made up of every other note, the 1st, 3rd and 5th. There are some exceptions, but more of these at a later date.

The first chord we can use in the key of C Major would begin on the C. This chord would be made up of the C, E and G - the C major chord. We can then build chords starting on each note of the scale.

The next chord would start on the D and use every other note from there (2nd, 4th and 6th notes of the scale). This would give us D, F and A - the D minor chord.

If we repeat this process for each note we get the following:


Because the notes in a scale always have the same gap (or interval) between them, it follows that the order of the chord types is always the same. These chords are referred to as Diatonic Chords or Triads. Try and remember the order – Major, Minor, Minor, Major, Major, Minor, Diminished – it will save you a lot of time in the long run.

We can also expand these chords by adding the next note in the sequence. Starting on the C note, our chord would be made up of C, E, G and B. This gives us the chord C Major 7th. If we start on the note D, the chord consists of D, F, A, C, this is a D minor 7th.

If we repeat this for every note we can summarize it as follows:


We now have a bigger palette of chords we can use. We can mix and match, you can use majors and minors and throw in the odd extended chord here or there, you don’t have to stick to one ‘type’.

Learning the order of these chords is also invaluable and will enable you to play in any key.

Remember – Maj 7th, m7, m7, Maj 7th, 7th, m7, m7b5

Have fun revisiting these chords and see you next week!!


-Duncan Richardson - MU Columnist


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