Past

Thirds

I’d like to give you one more thing to think about while you’re spending a bit of time getting used to what 5ths feel like.  And I’d like to come at it from a different angle than what some folks suggest.  First, let me lay this on you–you can already play both some major and some minor chords, right?  (And just to confirm something you’ve probably already figured out, if it’s for instance called a D-chord that’s actually a D-major chord, or if it just says G that’s a G-major chord, kinda saves time.  Small point.  Got it?  Good.  Onward.)  Well, have you figured out that there’s only one tiny difference between a major chord and a minor one?    Absolutely.  And that difference is the middle note.

Remember that a major chord is made up of three notes, that they’re notes in a major scale (the scale that starts ‘doh, re, mi…’), and that they’re the 1st, the 3rd and the 5th notes of that major scale (‘doh’, ‘mi’ and ‘soh’ in doh-speak).  So if we’re talking about a C-major chord, and since the first five notes in the C-scale are C, D, E, F, and G, you and I can figure that a C-chord is made up of a C-note, an E-note, and a G-note.  And I guarantee you that every C-major chord you ever play has only those three notes, although it might have more than one of each just to keep things interesting.

fretc3The thing I want to focus on for the moment is the 1st and 3rd notes of that scale, the C and E-notes (the C-note is the bass note in your C-chord, and the E-note is the 2nd fret on your middle D-string, that’s the third from the bass, check out the diagram to see what I mean).  First of all let’s solid up the notion that the there’s a musical distance between those two notes.  That distance is called ‘a third’.  Actually a major-third, but ‘third’ will do.  Much like you’ve been reminding yourself that a 5th has a sound, a 3rd has a sound too.  It’s sweet and pretty, whereas I think the 5th sounds kind of square and hollow, like a frame that’s going to have some walls put on it to make it a house.  The 3rd is very different from that, can you hear it?

I love all kinds of intervals (that’s what the distance between any two notes is called, ‘an interval’, now you know).  All the different intervals have their own sound and feeling, kind of like all the different herbs and spices have their own taste when we’re cooking.  Trust me, when you’re looking for pretty, reach for a third.

fretcminorOkay, that’s all been fun, but here’s the thought I want to leave you with.  If you take that note you’re playing with your second finger and move it down one fret so you’re playing a note on the first fret instead, that E-note has now been changed to an E-flat note.  And if you leave the other two notes the same and play all three of these three notes now you’re playing a different chord.  That chord is a C-minor chord.  Cool, eh?

So the only difference between a C-major chord and a C-minor chord is that one fret, one note.  In official language you’d say that to make a C-major chord into a C-minor chord you lower the 3rd by one semi-tone.  So while you’re walking your way through all of those 5ths, I want you to think about what we just figured out.  You already know how to play G-major and F-major chords, for instance.  If you do a bit of figuring you might be able to turn them into minor chords.  See if you can make sense of that thought and I’ll follow it up later.  In the meantime, spend a little longer on those 5ths and then we’ll get back to sketching out chords.  Have fun.