The word "music" in front of "Music theory" A must for Newbeis
The very word "theory" conjures up images of geometry class or, worse, physics lab. Scary stuff. Scarier, when you put the word "music" in front. "Music theory?" Music is supposed to be fun, carefree, an audio expression of our feelings. Music is not science. Is it?
Well, not rocket science, anyway (though the ancient Greeks did study harmony as part of the school of mathematics). We can nit-pick ourselves to death with this question - after all music is sound and sound is physics (again? arrrrgggg!). But let's save ourselves trouble and anxiety by approaching music theory, and especially how it relates to the guitarist, with a simple idea: music theory is actually simple and fun. Okay, it's not really simple, but it's nowhere near as complicated as you might think. And it really is a lot of fun. In the introduction of Harmony, by Walter Piston (possibly the best music theory text a person could ever hope to have), we read: "...musical theory is not a set of directions for composing music. It is rather the collected and systemized deductions gathered by observing the practice of composers over a long time, and it attempts to set forth what is or has been their common practice. It tells not how music will be written in the future, but how music has been written in the past."
Over the course of future columns, we will cover quite a bit of theory, sometimes when you least expect it. In this column, though, I'd like to go over the formation of chords.
First, we need to get on same page, so to speak. Virtually everybody seems to call musical terms by different names, so let's quickly agree on a few things. The major scale, for instance. Whether you still use the "Sound of Music" theory ("Doe, a deer...") or various numbering schemes, I think we will all concede that the major scale is eight notes.
The first three notes are whole steps, followed by a half step, then three more whole steps and then a final half step (remember that each fret on the guitar is a half step). Using the key of C (as pictured), the scale is as follows I II III IV V VI VII VII
do re mi fa sol la te do
C D E F G A B C
We know that there are other half steps lurking in there as well. If we were to write them in, the scale would look like this: I II III IV V VI VII VIII
C C# D Eb E F F# G Ab A Bb B C
(And while we're agreeing on things, let's also agree on this: the "I" note is called the "root" or "tonic." This is to ensure that we are all starting with the same "do" when constructing our scales. Using this same chart and "rotating" either the notes or the Roman numerals in one direction or another, I can figure out any major scale in any key.
Pick a key, any key. How about A flat?
In realigning the notes, Ab is now the root ("I") of the scale. So that is where we start. First we put out all the notes (in half steps) and then place the Roman numerals in their proper place (whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step). This is what you should have: I II III IV V VI VII VIII
Ab A Bb B C Db D Eb E F Gb G Ab
And finally, I remove the notes that do not have Roman numerals above them and voila! - a scale in A flat major: I II III IV V VI VII VIII
do re mi fa sol la te do
Ab Bb C Db Eb F G Ab
Okay? Let's move onto forming chords.
Now, and indulge me in this, imagine that you are the leader of a small choir. "How small is it?" There are only six voices in your choir. Okay? This is your guitar. Each string is one voice and each voice can only "sing" one note at a time. You chose whether one note is being sung at a time or whether (and which notes) all six voices are sounding at once. If you strike two or more separate strings, but they sound the same note (playing the fifth fret of the A string and an open D string, say), then the voices are in unison. If they are sounding different notes, you are playing a chord. Maybe. A chord must be at least three different notes - two different notes are not a chord. Let's see:
not a chord
chord ( C major )
The first group of notes are E (second fret on the D string) and G (open G string). It is impossible to call them a chord. They could be a part of many chords - think about how many simple chords you know that use these notes. E minor works. So does A7, A minor 7, A 11 (that's the "chord" you get when you strum a guitar with all open strings - just like the Beatles did in A Hard Day's Night) C, C major 7, F major 7 add9, D sus 4 add 9, and on and on. It is not until we add the C note (at the bottom of the second group) that we have a definite chord. Now, this could also be part of a larger chord, such as A minor 7 or F major 7 add 9, but it is recognizable as a chord on its own.
Believe it or not, you are now equipped to figure out chords all by yourself. All you need to know is how any particular type of chord is constructed. Let's go over the most basic ones. CHORD TYPE: COMPONENTS:
MAJOR I III V
MINOR I minor III V
(a minor III is a half step below III)
7th I III V minor VII
(a minor VII is a half step below VII)
MAJOR 7th I III V VII
MINOR 7th I minor III V minor VII
SUSPENDED I IV V
SUSPENDED 7th I IV V minor VII
Okay, can we make an Ab minor chord? Well, let's consult our Ab scale again (for simplicity's sake I'm going to use the full scale with all the half steps): I II III IV V VI VII VIII
Ab A Bb B C Db D Eb E F Gb G Ab
So you can see that an Ab minor chord would consist of Ab (I), B (minor III) and Eb (V).
Now, even if you'd never played a particular chord before, you should be able to figure it out pretty handily. Let's try a D minor 7th, okay? First, we construct our D scale. From this we'll see that for this chord we'll need D (I), F (minor III), A (V) and C (minor VII). D is sounded with, of all things, the open D string. Covering the second fret of the G string will give us the A note and if we place a finger on the first fret of the high E and B strings, then we'll have the F and C as well. Ta da!
E A D G B E
X 0 0 2 1 1
One last bit of advice: write things out! It really helps your thought process when you set stuff out on paper, one step at a time. As you get more proficient with practice, you'll find it gets easier every time. Using this system will also help you when you start transposing and wait 'til you see how your knowledge of chord formation removes a lot of the mystique of alternate tunings. We'll also be delving into "chord theory" to see how most song writing falls into fairly easily recognized patterns. We've got a lot of fun ahead of us!
hi, i am a complete newbie here. i am learning a lot frm this site and i must congratulate all of ya for the gud work. cud anybody pls answer my silly question that when we play the chords shud we strum from top to bottom or bottom to top? i.e from the thickest string to the thinnest or the vice- versa ?
one more question is when a song is described in terms of chord like C , G etc, can u pls tell me whether it means C major? or C MINOR? OR ONLY C?
i havent read it all up till now but looks quiet impressive!!
Strumming top to bottom or bottom to top depends upon the song.........u must hear the song properly (approx 4 to 5 times prefarably with headphones on) to get that one.
As for the chord part.........when its given only C or only G.......it is considered to be a major chord. Minor chords or any other variations are specifically mentioned...eg: Cm, Gm, Csus etc.
Good Work Anuranjan......Keep it up.
The default stroke is always a down stroke, from the thickest toward the thinest. Try playing the full chord on the down stroke and the treble strings ie. the 3 thin strings on your up stroke.
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