1. UNDERSTANDING BASIC HARMONY (Playing by ear)
One very clear idea is to take a look at any keyboard. We have the white keys and the black keys. The white keys represent a collection of tones which we call diatonic. These pitches came to be through the playing of music stretching back to ancient Greece. We have seven tones and each can be the first tone of a given scale. The note left of the two black notes is “C”. From the note C the white notes are named C,D,E,F,G,A, and B. Each of the possible scales has traditionally carried the name of a Greek tribe.
When we play C to C we discover our major scale and it also carries the name Ionian. When we play from A to A we discover our minor scale which is also called the Aeolian. Out of these two scales we can build chords that are found in many songs we know and cherish. A capital letter means a major chord and a capital letter followed by a small “m” means a minor chord. Guitar players can learn chords by studying tablature and the keyboardist must learn the combinations of separate pitches that construct a chord. A chord is the combination of three notes or more.
1a. Playing Piano by Ear
The basic three-note chords (triads) in C major or A minor look as such. C major is (C-E-G or E-G-C or G-C-E) D minor is (D-F-A- or F-A-D or A-D-F) E minor is (E-G-B or G-B-E or B-E-G) F major is (F-A-C or A-C-F or C-F-A) G major is (G-B-D or B-D-G or D-G-B) A minor is (A-C-E or C-E-A or E-A-C) B diminished is (B-D-F or D-F-B or F-B-D).
I will now write tabs representing various chordal movements.
C-G-Am-F ; C-Em-Am-G ; Am-F-C-G ; Am-Dm-F-C ; F-C-G-Am ; C-Em-Am-Dm ;
Dm-G-F-C ; Am-F-Em-G ; Em-F-G-C ; Dm-Am-G-C ; F-G-Am-Em ; F-Am-G-C
These are all built with only four chords but of course we can expand our chord progression to encompass as many chords as we wish.
We can also play the four chords more than once. C-G-Am-F-C-G-Am-F etc.
We have worked till now in what we call the “key” of C or the “key” of A minor. Each step of the scale will now receive a number. In C major C is “1” D is “2” E is “3” F is “4” G is “5” A is “6” and B is “7”. Often these numbers will be represented in Roman Numerals. C is “I” D is “II” E is “III” F is “IV” G is “V” A is ”VI” and B is “VII”.
Our chord progressions can be described with these Roman Numerals. C major (C) is “I” , D minor (Dm) is “II”, E minor (Em) is “III”, F major (F) is “IV” , G major is “V” A minor is “VI” and the weird chord B diminished (Bdim) is ”VII”.
The minor keys begin with the Roman Numerals in the lower case. For example A minor (i) B diminished (ii) C major (iii) D minor (iv) E minor (v) F major (vi) G major (vii). Therefore our chord movements can look like this when we use our Roman Numerals.
C-G-Am-F (I-V-VI-IV) C-Em-Am-G (I-III-VI-V) Am-F-C-G (i-vi-iii-vii) Am-Dm-F-C (i-iv-vi-iii) F-C-G-Am (vi-iii-vii-i) Dm-G-F-C (II-V-IV-I) Am-F-Em-G (i-vi-v-vii) Em-F-G-C (III-IV-V-I) Dm-Am-G-C (II-VI-V-I) F-G-Am-Em (vi-vii-i-v) F-Am-G-C (IV-VI-V-I) There are twelve keys, which begin on all tones from C-Db-D-Eb-E-F-F#-G-Ab-A-Bb-or B. Or for the minor keys A,Bb,B,C,C#,D,D#,E,F,F#,G,G#.
A guitarist can either capo or bar his chords and reposition the strings to ring in all keys. Playing in C we can capo or bar the strings from the first fret and we shall receive the key of D flat. Moving the capo or barring from the second fret brings the key of D. Another example is playing in E Major and barring or using the capo from the first fret resulting in the key of F Major.
The keyboardist has a bit more work. It is wonderful that the white notes give us the key of C and the key of Am but each piano method goes very painstakingly through the learning of each new key. However there only a dozen in total and the pianist can work with the graphics of the keyboard and can find his way through all 12 keys. All the other keys use at least one of the black notes. The note left of the two black notes once again is “C”. Therefore we have our orientation.
A black note has two possible names. The movement from a white note to the right carries the name of the white note with a “sharp” sign added to it. For example from D to the black note to the right is D sharp, which has the symbol as such, D#. Or when we move to the left of the white note E it receives the name E flat, which has the symbol Eb. When we look at the keyboard we see always the same pattern. Two black notes separated by two white notes and three black notes separated by two white notes.For facility I will give the interested reader the letters of all 12 keys, major and minor.
C major scale C(I)D(II)E(III)F(IV)G(V)A(VI)B(VII)C
A minor scale A(i)B(ii)C(iii)D(iv)E(v)F(vi)G(vii)A
Db major scale Db(I)Eb(II)F(III)Gb(IV)Ab(V)Bb(VI)C(VII)Db
Bb minor scale Bb(i)C(ii)Db(iii)Eb(iv)F(v)Gb(vi)Ab(vii)Bb
D major scale D(I)E(II)F#(III)G(IV)A(V)B(VI)C#(VII)D
B minor scale B(i)C#(ii)D(iii)E(iv)F#(v)G(vi)A(vii)B
Eb major scale Eb(I)F(II)G(III)Ab(IV)Bb(V)C(VI)D(VII)Eb
C minor scale C(i)D(ii)Eb(iii)F(iv)G(v)Ab(vi)Bb(vii)C
E major scale E(I)F#(II)G#(III)A(IV)B(V)C#(VI)D#(VII)E
C# minor scale C#(i)D#(ii)E(iii)F#(iv)G#(v)A(vi)B(vii)C#
F major scale F(I)G(II)A(III)Bb(IV)C(V)D(VI)E(VII)F
D minor scale D(i)E(ii)F(iii)G(iv)A(v)Bb(vi)C(vii)D
F# major scale F#(I)G#(II)A#(III)B(IV)C#(V)D#VI)E#(f)(VII)F#
D# minor scale D#(i)E#(f)(ii)F#(iii)G#(iv)A#(v)B(vi)C#(vii)D#
G major scale G(I)A(II)B(III)C(IV)D(V)E(VI)F#(VII)G
E minor scale E(i)F#(ii)G(iii)A(iv)B(v)C(vi)D(vii)E
Ab major scale Ab(I)Bb(II)C(III)Db(IV)Eb(V)F(VI)G(VII)Ab
F minor scale F(i)G(ii)Ab(iii)Bb(iv)C(v)Db(vi)Eb(vii)F
A major scale A(I)B(II)C#(III)D(IV)E(V)F#(VI)G#(VII)A
F# minor scale F#(i)G#(ii)A(iii)B(iv)C#(v)D(vi)E(vii)F#
Bb major scale Bb(I)C(II)D(III)Eb(IV)F(V)G(VI)A(VII)Bb
G minor scale G(i)A(ii)Bb(iii)C(iv)D(v)Eb(vi)F(vii)G
B major scale B(I)C#(II)D#(III)E(IV)F#(V)G#(VI)A#(VII)B
G# minor scale G#(i)A#(ii)B(iii)C#(iv)D#(v)E(vi)F#(vii)G#
To facilitate transposition we will now analyze the members of each chord. Earlier I assigned a Roman Numeral to each step of the scale. Therefore I will offer an analysis of each chord from C major or A minor. C major the first chord (I) or in minor (iii) is (I-III-V). D minor the second chord (II) or in minor (iv) is (II-IV-VI). E minor the third chord (III) or in minor (v) is (III-V-VII) F major the fourth chord (IV) or in minor (vi) is (IV-VI-I) G major the fifth chord (V) or in minor (vii) is (V-VII-II) A minor the sixth chord (VI) or in minor (i) is (VI-I-III) and B diminished the seventh chord (VII) or in minor (ii) is (VII-II-IV).
Now we will take our formula with the Roman Numerals representing a given chord movement and transpose it from C or A minor to any other key we want and then translate it into the same chord movement in a new key. For example our first example C-G-Am-F (I-V-VI-IV) in E major is E-B-C#m-A (I-V-VI-IV) or F-Am-G-C (IV-VI-V-I) in Ab major is (Db-Fm-Eb-Ab). Taking a look at our E major scale we will use the Roman Numerals to figure out for example B major. B major in the key of E is the fifth chord. Its formula is (V-VII-II). Looking at our E major scale above we see the notes will be (B-D#-F#). Our sixth chord has the formula (VI-I-III). The sixth chord in E is C# minor. Therefore the sixth step C# the first step E and the third step G# result in C# minor. With the help of this small tutorial we can begin a wonderful journey to a full understanding of harmony coming in the next blogs.