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The Weird Chord (part 2)

Yesterday we were talking about weird chords, in particular one that’s called ‘diminished’.  I thought maybe in the interest of accuracy I should probably point out that so far we’ve been talking about chords with three notes in them.  However in some forms of musical theory language (I know, there are a few) a ‘diminished chord’ actually has four notes, not three.  In that case it has the three notes we talked about plus another one on top (for what it’s worth, the top note is based on the 7th note of the scale, then lowered down a semi-tone)  For now I just wanted to point out that in some circles what we were talking about is actually a diminished ‘triad’ (triad = 3-notes) rather than a diminished ‘chord’ (chord = anything more than two notes).  Triad is a word you’ll hear a bunch when we’re talking about music.  I figured you might as well know.

The Weird Chord

You and I have been looking at chords for a while now.  I’m starting to think that maybe I’ve given you the idea that all chords are either major or minor.  They’re not.  There are other options, although we don’t hear them quite so often. There’s one particular chord it’s good to know.  I think of it as ‘the weird chord’.  You won’t come across it every day, but every once in a while.  And when it does come up it’s good to have someone in the room who knows what to do.  So think of this as your own musical heimlich manoeuver.

When it comes to chord names if it doesn’t say major or minor there’s a good chance it’ll say ‘diminished’.  It’s definitely a weird-sounding chord, but it’s not as unusual as you might think (you see it a bunch in things like ragtime and a lot of old-school pop music).  You can arrive at it a few ways.  Me, I start from a known and work from there.  And for me there is no bigger ‘known’ in music than the major chord.  So let’s start there.

Let’s work from a C-major chord (just because in C there aren’t any sharps or flats to confuse things, but you knew that, right?).  A major chord is made up of doh, mi and soh in a major scale.  So a C-major chord would be C and E and G-notes.  Okay, once we’re there the rest is easy.

Remember that the only difference between a major and minor chord is that the minor chord has the middle note a semi-tone lower.  So the three notes that make up a C-minor chord are C, E-flat and G.

All good so far, nothing new there.  But what if we also take the highest note of that C-major chord, the G-note, and do the same trick, change it from a G-note to a G-flat by lowering it a semi-tone?  Our new three notes would be C, E-flat and G-flat.  And those are the notes that make up a C-diminished chord.

So if you know the major chord you can figure out the diminished.

  • If a D-Major-chord is made up of D, F-sharp and A-notes,

a D-diminished chord is made up of D, F and A-flat notes.

  • If a G-major chord is made up of G, B and D-notes,

an G-diminished chord is made up of G, B-flat and D-flat notes.

Yup, it’s that easy, once you know the major chord.  So next time somebody chokes over a diminished chord, you’ll know what to do.

You’re welcome.

(Sidenote–the distance from C up to G is called a fifth.  You figure if we lowered it a semi-tone it’d be a ‘minor fifth’.  But there’s no such thing.  Neither is there a ‘major fifth’.  If a fifth is exactly where it would be in the major scale it’s called a ‘perfect fifth’.  And a semi-tone down from ‘perfect’ it’s called diminished.  Same is true of a fourth, and an octave for that matter.  So for this reason it’s useful to remember 1458.  When we go from doh to any of those notes in the scale they’re all referred to as ‘perfect intervals’, not ‘major’.  And a semi-tone lower is called ‘diminished’, not ‘minor’.  A little goofy, but good to know.)

A Thing About Fifths

So while we’re thinking about fifths, the distance between doh and soh, here’s something that’s kind of neat.

Take a C-note and go up a fifth, that’d be a G-note

G up a fifth is D

D up a fifth is A

A up a fifth is E

E up a fifth is B

In each case we’re taking the first note and going up five notes of a scale.  It’s actually 3-and-a-half tones, but who’s counting.  Let’s keep going with the same pattern, we were at a B-note.

B up a fifth is F-sharp.  (If you like you can figure it out by first counting 5 letters up, and remembering that music always start on 1, not zero, from B that’d be B, C, D, E, F.  So you know it’s an F-something, you figure out whether it’s sharp or flat or just normal (actually they call it ‘natural’ when the note has no sharps or flats to go with it, you knew that, right) by counting up 3-and-a-half tones, in this case from B.  You remember that there is no sharp or flat between a B-note and the C-note just above it.  So from B to C is the smallest step we make, that’s a semi-tone.  C up to D is a tone (there’s a note in between them unlike B and C), and from D up to E is another tone.  So we’ve moved 2-and-a-half tones up from our original B so far.  The 5th (soh) is 3-and-a-half tones, so we’ve got another full tone to go.  We’re on E, and we remember that the only other place where there’s no sharp or flat in between is from E to F.  So if we need one more full tone that F-note is actually going to have to be a semi-tone higher.  That make it an F-sharp, 5 letter names up from B, and 3-and-a-half tones in measurement.  Actually the first five notes of a doh, re, mi starting on a B-note would be B, C-sharp, D-sharp, E, F-sharp, I’ll show you how you figure that later.  For now let’s just focus on how B up a 5th is F-sharp.

Okay, so let’s continue where we left off.  I’ll do the counting, but feel free to check my work.

B up a fifth is F-sharp

F-sharp up a fifth is C-sharp

C-sharp up a fifth is G-sharp

G-sharp up a fifth is D-sharp

D-sharp is the same note as E-flat, so let’s count up from there

E-flat up a fifth is B-flat

B-flat up a fifth is F

F up a fifth is a C-note

Which is where we started.  And part of what’s cool about that is not only did we end up where we started, with a C-note, but we went through every one of the notes, all the letter names and all the sharps and flats in between, exactly once each before we got back to the beginning.  Works the same no matter where you start, of course.

Part of what’s neat about music is there are patterns everywhere, patterns in time, patterns in pitch, patterns in the relationships between chords.  Patterns everywhere.  Look there’s one now.  This particular one has a name.  It’s called The Circle of Fifths.  I don’t think of it that way, myself.  It’s just that really cool pattern.  But what do I know.

Mess around with it.  See what it says to you.

A List of Fifths

So you’ve had a little time to introduce youself to fifths–that is, the sound you make when you play two notes together, the 1st note of a scale (think of it as ‘doh’) and the 5th note of a scale (that’d be ‘soh’).  And you’re good with the idea that we call the distance from doh to soh ‘a fifth’.  Of course this all started with us talking about what it takes to sketch out a chord.

Since you’ve been working out fifths you’ve probably already got a lot if this, but I thought I’d lay it out for you.  The note on the left is doh, the note on the right is soh (up a fifth from doh).  Play the two together and you’re playing a fifth.

First the straightforward starting notes and their 5th above;

C—>G

D—>A

E—>B

F—>C

G—>D

A—>E

B—>F-sharp

And just in case you want to get more adventurous;

B-flat—>F

E-flat—>B-flat

A-flat—>E-flat

D-flat—>A-flat

F-sharp—>C-sharp

C-sharp—>G-sharp

G-sharp—>D-sharp

Of course if you’re ahead of the game you’ll know that C-sharp and D-flat are the same note, and A-flat is that same as G-sharp.  To save a little confusion I’d think of the notes going up like this;

C…C-sharp…D…D-sharp…E…F…F-sharp…G…G-sharp…A…A-sharp…B…C

And think of the notes going down like this;

C…B…B-flat…A…A-flat…G…G-flat…F…E…E-flat…D…D-flat…C

(Notice again that there’s nothing in between an E-note and an F-note.  Likewise there’s nothing between a B-note and a C-note)

But mostly I wanted to make sure you had the fifths working out okay.  Take a bit more time getting a few more of those fifths sorted out, then we’ll move that sketching out a chord thing ahead a bit more.

Have fun.

Sketching Chords

I know you’ve heard me talk about this before, but it’s worth thinking about for a bit.  You’ve probably noticed that when I’m playing guitar I often play only two or three notes, sketching out a chord rather than playing every inch of it.  In part that’s because I figure it leaves more room for other players to add in the notes they hear, and that makes the playing more inclusive.  I also tend to think it allows the listener to fill in the spaces with their own imagination.  And what I know for sure is that anything that helps the listener to be engaged in the music is a good thing.  I also think that’s the same mechanism that also makes a really good, original version of a well known song so captivating.  But that thought’s for another day.  For now let’s just stick with that sketched out chord.

So what does it take?  Well, there are a couple of things you probably already know.  Like if the chord has a letter attached to it that note is probably important, right?  So if you’re playing by yourself and the chord is a G-something, you need to play a G-note.  See, you knew that.  Yeah, alright, it means you’re going to have to figure out where the notes are on the guitar.  But trust me, you don’t need to know the location of each and every G-note on the guitar.  Figure out which G-note is on the bottom of your G-chord and that’ll get you where you need to go for now.  And that’s the other thing you probably already know–if you’re playing a fairly normal chord chances are the lowest-sounding note is ‘doh’, which is the letter-name of the chord.  So you already know where to find a bass A-note, a C-note, a B-note, a G-note, an F-note, a D-note–they’re all the lowest note of a basic chord in DADGAD.  If you want to figure out where other notes show up you can count them.  It’ll help things along if you can remember that there is no note between a B-note and a C-note, and there’s nothing between an E-note and an F-note (yeah, one of the few things you kinda need to flat-out memorize), but aside from that there’s a sharp or a flat between every note.  You tend to use sharps when you’re going up and flats when you’re going down.  Going up it’s C, C-sharp, then D and going down it’s D, D-flat, then C.  C-sharp and D-flat are two different names for the same note.

If it’s a straightforward chord the next most important note is 5-notes up from the bass note (the distance between those two notes is called a 5th, easy, eh?).  Remember when we’re counting in music there is no zero, so 5-notes up from our G-note is going to be a D-note (that’d be G, A, B, C, D).  So the two most important notes in a G-chord would be a G-note and a D-note (of course in doh-speak that’s ‘doh’ and ‘soh’, but you knew that).

So do me a favour.  Before we go ahead with the rest of this thought, spend a bit of time finding ‘doh’ and ‘soh’ for a bunch of the chords we’ve already gone over.

For a C-chord that’s a C-note and a G-note

For an F-chord that’s an F-note and a C-note

You can probably figure out the rest from there.  Oh, and one more thing to know–it doesn’t matter whether the chord is a major chord or a minor chord, ‘doh’ and ‘soh’ are still the two most important notes.  So in a B-minor-chord that would be a B-note and an F-sharp-note.  Anyway, spend a bit of time finding ‘doh’ (also called the ‘root’ of the chord) and ‘soh’ (called the fifth) in as many chords as you can figure.  Once you’ve got that down I’ll show the rest of what you need to sketch a chord.

Have fun.

DADGAD–Overview

You’re right, it’s time we had a look at what we’ve got so far.

D

D majorfretd3fretdminor

D/C-sharp bassD/C bassG

G major

G/B bassG/B-flat bassA (fifths)fretffretbflatbfretcE Minor 7B minorF-sharp minor

DADGAD chords–D-minor

fretdminorAnother one of those chords I haven’t had a chance to show you yet.  Can be interesting with all kinds of chords, including  an F-chord.  I’ll have to show you a few more of the minor chords, then we can start to string a few of them together.  May as well start here.  Only one small change from the D-major chord I showed you back when we began all this.  But a whole different sound.

DADGAD chords–G/B-flat bass

G/B-flat bass

Well, if we’re going to be playing around with bass lines you may as well know this one, add it in after the G/B bass-chord for the really fancy version of the ‘D through C-sharp to B-note’ bass line.

DADGAD chords–G/B bass

G/B bass

This one has a couple of uses, it’s a natural follow-up to playing your home D-chord, then the D with C-sharp bass–follow those two up with this chord, then finish it with home D-chord playing the A-string as your bass note and you have a nice bass line for ballads or fiddle tunes, it’s a pretty chord on its own, sounding a little less ‘stable’ than some of the others because it has B as the bass instead of a G or D-note, then you can always put your third finger onto the second fret of the treble A-string to make it even prettier.

DADGAD chords–G major

G major

I can’t believe I haven’t shown you this before now, play the D-major (home plus one), then this G, sounds really pretty, then take it up two more frets for an A-major version of the same thing, you can’t really use this as a stand-alone G-chord, but when you’re playing in D and you’re looking for a G-chord, this is a good choice, I often use my third finger instead of second on the D-string, dunno why, but there it is