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Thread: Music Theory Questions- Ask Away

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2010
    Hood River, OR

    Default Music Theory Questions- Ask Away

    Our mini music theory question in another thread got me thinking. Lets start a music theory Q + A with me as its own thread! Whatever you are thinking about or working on, ask away! To get you thinking, I will post the two items from the other thread. Do you want to know about chords, scales, progressions, melodies, ??? I think I can be helpful to some people and it would be a great way to make me feel like all those student loans for music school were worth it! See below to get you started.

    When musicians talk about chords in a song, they often use roman numerals as a shorthand. If every key as 7 notes (do re mi fa sol la ti) then you can assign a numeral to each I ii iii IV V vi vii. because of how our musical scale is laid out, the I IV V chords are major, the ii iii vi chords are minor and the vii chord is diminished. Most two chord songs just use I and V, I and IV or I and vii (but the vii is lowered by a half step, like in shady grove)

    That means, if you know your scales, then you can figure out which chords are common in every key!!!!

    In the key of C:
    C Dminor Eminor F G Aminor Bdim

    In the key of F:
    F gminor aminor Bb C Dminor Edim

    In the key of G:
    G Aminor Bminor C D Eminor F#dim


    Chords usually have three notes. the root, the third and the fifth. the distances between these notes (called intervals) are set according to what kind of chord it is. For example, a major chord has a perfect 5th between the root and 5th and a major 3rd between the root and 3rd. this is what makes it sound like a major chord.

    A minor chord has a perfect 5th and a minor 3rd, which is one half step lower than a major 3rd. For example, Fmajor has F A C in it while Fminor has F Ab C.

    A diminished chord has a flat 5th and a minor 3rd in it. F Ab B

    An augmented chord has an augmented 5th in it and a major third F A C#

    with this knowledge, you can "figure out" how to build a chord starting on any note. You just have to be able to count frets or piano keys to find the intervals.

    Chords with a 7 on the end of it add another note to spice up the chord. So far, to build our basic F chord, we used the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of the F scale. to make a 7 chord, we just add the 7th note, which make F A C E or FMajor7.

    Remember above where we wrote out I ii iii IV V vi vii ?
    Well we can do the same for 7th chords, they all have different qualities that are dictated by adding the notes of the scale. there are four kinds of 7ths that come from the major scale.

    Major 7th: major 3rd perfect 5th major 7th
    Minor 7th: minor 3rd perfect 5th minor 7th
    Dominant 7th: major 3rd perfect 5th minor 7th
    Diminished 7th: minor 3rd flat 5th minor 7th

    Imajor7 ii7 iii7 IVmajor7 V7 vi7 viidim7 Only the V7 is dominant, its the 7 you hear and use all the time. In the key of F, it is what makes C7 sound so good.

    Chords like to move from one to the next, its what makes songs in western music keep moving. 7th chords have one more degree of spicyness or tension in them which makes our ears want them to move even more badly. its what gives jazz, swing, blues, broadway, tin pan etc...its harmonic motion.

    SOOOO, to get to gary's question, a G chord on your uke, which you are probably fingering 0232 has the notes gdgb coming out. (notice you have two gs. This happens a lot. there are three notes in the chord but you have four strings) if we switch it to 0212 we have G7 with the notes gdfb. Now we have four notes! Its the F that makes it sound like a dominant 7th chord. g is root, b is 3rd, d is 5th and f is 7th.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Apr 2010
    Clark Fork, Idaho


    Can you explain the diatonic and chromatic scales? Why is there a diatonic scale?

    See you at the Gorge Uke Fest.


  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Hampshire, UK


    Thanks for sharing your knowledge, although I have some experience of music theory, there is always something new to learn.
    Just yesterday a friend who has played guitar for over 20 years saw a copy of a printout of the circle of fifths, that I had on the kitchen table, he asked me to explain it to him and he was over the moon that something so simple could take his playing to new depths. So I think what you propose is a great idea.
    The good thing about music is when it hits you, you feel no pain!

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2010
    Hood River, OR


    The chromatic scale is every note that is used in western music. it would be like going to a piano, starting at middle c and hitting every white and black key till you get to c again. The names of the notes are

    Notice some notes have two names, the names change according to the context it is used in. (another can of worms)

    The diatonic scale is the most common group of 7 notes used in western music. Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do. There are 12 of these scales, one for each note in the chromatic scale. Just like there are 12 major keys and 12 minor keys in music.

    As we know many other cultures use different scales as the foundation for their music, but the diatonic is the foundation for classical music, church music, pop, jazz, folk, rock, blues, etc...

    Our attachment to it goes all the way back to ancient greece when people started to learn about the ways that strings vibrated and sound was produced. In a nutshell, a vibrating string (or tube of brass, or cane reed, or whatever) vibrates in geometric ways along its length. When you start to measure them, certain intervals show them selves. Basically a note is not just one note, it is many notes combined, your ear just hears the most important one, the fundamental. It is what gives a musical note its richness and timbre.

    Anyway, when you start to map out all the natural overtones that come off a string and measure them, you end up with all the intervals that go into our major scale. Cut a string in half, you get an octave, cut it into thirds you get a perfect 5th, cut it into 4ths you get a perfect 4th etc...You can read more about it here:

    So, when we take the strongest notes from this harmonic overtone series that naturally comes off of a string, we get the beginnings of our major diatonic scale, the most common intervals between notes and the common chords that we use all the day. Notice that the first harmonics I mentioned above (octave, perfect 4th and perfect 5th) correspond with the I IV and V chords!!!!

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Feb 2010
    Hood River, OR


    Really? No one has any other music theory questions? Chords, chord shapes, melodies, scales, keys, music reading, tab, etc...???

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Feb 2009
    Massachusetts, USA


    Great thread thanks!

    What is the difference between a melodic and harmonic scales?

    Also what makes a chord a "jazz" chord?

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  7. #7
    Join Date
    Oct 2011
    Rocklin, CA


    Pure GOLD, Aaron! Thanks, man.

    Can you give me some insight on the Diatonic Scale -- is it defined by the W-W-H-W-W-W-H steps?
    And how do I relate that piece of knowledge to the Modes?
    On a more uke-centric topic, what are the basic movable shapes for chords -- and how do I find the chord root (I managed to memorize the roots on the fifth and sixth strings of my guitar)?

    Much Mahalo!
    Me so ho'kie ...
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  8. #8
    Join Date
    Feb 2008


    How do you form modal chord progressions?

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Dec 2009


    Adding to this...Apart from the major and minor, what are the point of the other modes?

  10. #10


    Adding a question I also posted to the beginner area:

    Damn...I've seen Uncle Rod's Boot Camp Document, even downloaded it but didn't commit to it. But now I see it's exactly the place for me to start my fingerstyle/chord changing practice.

    A related question though. So I see these chord progressions. What are the rules with these chords within the progression? Meaning for example C - Am - F - G7 is a common chord progression Can I play G7 -> F - Am - C (backwards basically) or does this counter the idea of a progression? how does one determine how these chords can be mixed/matched together in a song?

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