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Triadic Chords into Functional Harmony


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Music Theory: a Brief Overview

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In music theory we use Roman Numerals to number the chords - usually, upper case for Major chords, lower case for Minor (and diminished). We also refer to the chords by these names which relate to their function in a chord progression:

  • I - "1 chord" is Tonic (or Root)
  • ii -"2 chord" is Sub-Dominant
  • iii - "3 chord" is Intermediate (or Mediant)
  • IV - "4 chord" is Sub-Dominant
  • V - "5 chord" is Dominant
  • vi - "6 chord" is Intermediate (or Sub-Mediant)
  • vii dim - "7 chord" is Dominant

    Therefore, a Tonic chord is a chord built on the 1st note of the scale. Therefore, a Dominant chord is a chord built on the 5th note of a scale.

    Remember this is an absolutely, crucially important point: every note in the major scale has 2 separate and simultaneous functions.

  • 1. Its position in the scale.
  • 2. Its position in any given chord.

    For example, the note C is the 1st note of the C major scale - the 1st scale degree. But it is also the 5th of the IV "4 chord" and the 3rd of the vi "6 chord".

    Now, when we first explore the idea of harmonizing the major scale into chords we usually look at it in a way that shows directly how the chords arise from the scale.

    E |-------------------1--3------|
    B |----------1--3--5--3--5------|
    G |-0--2--4--2--4--5--4--5------|
    D |-2--3--5--3--5--7------------|
    A |-3--5--7---------------------|
    E |-----------------------------|

    But, remember this very important point. This tab only shows close harmony, triadic shapes that help show how the chords are closely related to the scale. But anywhere you can find the three notes that make a C major chord (c, e, g) is a I Tonic chord. Likewise, anywhere on the guitar you can find to play the notes (d, f, a) is a D minor chord and therefore the ii chord in the key of C major. And so on for all the chords we built from the C major scale.

    Here are some tutorials that can help you visualize these chords all over the fretboard:

    The CAGED System
    Chord Inversions

    Practicing Triad Chords & Inversions Series 1
    Practicing Triad Chords & Inversions Series 2
    Practicing Triad Chords & Inversions Series 3
    Practicing Triad Chords & Inversions Series 4

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