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Piano Fact

Week 23: Scales and Minor Chords

We’ll continue the discussion regarding the association between scales and chords. We saw in a previous lesson that the first, third, and fifth notes from any major scale when played together, form a major chord. The major chord, having just three notes, is often referred to as a major triad. Any three note chord is a triad. Last time we saw that when you add the flatted seventh note of the scale to the major triad, the resulting chord is a seventh, sometimes more accurately called a dominant seventh. Now we’ll see how to make the so-called minor chord or minor triad.

Referring once again to the scale — any major scale — if you play the first, flatted (lowered) third, and fifth notes together, you get the minor chord. Thus, referring to the chart below, a C minor chord is C, E-flat, and G. A G minor is G, B-flat, and D. And an F minor is F, A-flat, and C.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1
C D E F G A B C
G A B C D E F# G
F G A Bb C D E F

If you know all your scales well, you have instant access to minor chords, just by using this formula.

Important concept: The family of major, minor, and seventh chords constitute the most important chords in music. With one or two possible exceptions, every chord in music is either major, minor, or seventh or will be found in one of those three primary families. There are 12 chords in each chord type, corresponding to the 12 notes in the chromatic scale. Thus, from a palette of just 36 chords, one can play almost any song, regardless of the key it’s in.

There are, of course, ways other than by using scales to construct and memorize chords. But if you do use the major scale as a reference for deriving chords, there is virtually no limit to your understanding of music theory. If you are a beginner, learn these 36 (12 roots times three chord groups) chords first. They are the most important chords you’ll ever learn.

For a great reference on scales, look in a music store for The Virtuoso Pianist, Vol. 2 by C.L. Hanon. Practice playing these scales on the piano, using the fingering provided. But above all strive to associate every note within each major scale with its numerical position on the scale.

For further information on basic chords see Popular Chord Style Piano.

For more information on scales see How to Play Piano by Ear.

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