Sketching Chords (part 3)

We’ve been talking about sketching out chords for a while.  The last time we walked through what we’ve looked at so far, and I left you with the thought that if there’s a number attached to a chord (say you’re asked to play a G9-chord) you count up the scale that number of notes from the letter name of the chord (9 notes up from G is A, if you remember music starts counting at 1, not zero), and the note you get to is part of the chord.

I just want to move this along one more small step today.  This one’s fairly easy, but it’s kind of important.

So far we’ve been talking about chords based on the notes in a major scale, starting on whatever letter name you’re given.  And if the chord says ‘major’ (or if it’s not called anything specific, in which case it’s assumed to be a ‘major’ chord), you figure out the notes of the chord using the major scale.  But if the chord is called ‘minor’, you cannot use a major scale.  A minor chord uses the notes of a minor scale.

What does that mean?

Well, you’ve got two ways you can go at it.  One is to know the pattern of tones and semi-tones that makes up a minor scale, like I showed you the pattern for a major scale.  If you can remember that a C-major scale is the one that has no sharps or flats in it, you can probably also remember that an A-minor scale is the minor scale that has no sharps or flats in it.  (I’ll show you a couple of cool things about that relationship between major and minor later, for now just remember that A-minor is your friend.)

The other thing you can use as a shortcut, though, is to remember I told you that the difference between a major-chord and a minor chord is that where the major chord uses doh-mi-soh as the three notes, the minor chord uses the same doh and soh, but lowers the ‘mi’ by a semitone.  And that is the only difference between a major and minor chord.

Example–a C-major chord is made up of 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of a C-major scale.  That’d be C, E and G.

So a C-minor chord is going to be made up of C, E-flat and G.

In other words, if you can tell me the notes of any major chord, you can easily figure out the notes of the minor chord from there.

So now you know that a C9-chord is a C-major chord, plus the 9th note of a C-major scale.  So the notes involved would be C, E, G and D.

And you also know that an A-minor-9-chord would be an A-minor chord, plus the 9th note of an A-minor scale.  So the notes involved would be A, C, E to make the minor chord, plus a B-note on top.

So when you’re sketching out chords, knowing whether it’s major or minor is important.  And the other important thing is knowing what note of the scale matches any number you’re given as part of the chord name.  (Shortcut note–subtract 8 and then start counting, 9 is one note above high doh, 11 is three notes above high doh, and so on.)

So, walk through a bunch of fancy chord names and see if you can figure out what notes are involved.  Heck, make ‘em up and see what they’d be.

  • G-minor-7 chord
  • G-9 chord
  • B-flat-13 chord
  • C-minor-9 chord
  • F-major 7 chord

Once you’ve got a bit of that in your brain, then we can start sketching.  And that’s where this gets really interesting.