What’s going on everyone!? Welcome to another installment of Axe of Creation here at the wonderful Gear Snobs. Last week, we began our discussion of Chord Scales, what is it and how to put it together. If you missed it, catch up and then let’s talk chord function. How thrilling…
Let’s make things real simple. Chords tend to function a certain way. Some of the chords tend to be stationary, meaning they don’t create a sense of movement or forward progress. Let’s put this into the Root/Home category and they’re the I, iii, and vi chords from a chord scale. By looking the chords below, I’m hoping you can see the relationship between them and how they share almost all the same notes.
Ever notice that when you play, for instance, a C major chord then move to an A minor chord how good it sounds? But it doesn’t seem to move forward or go anywhere? That you can just keep jamming them on. This is because they are both considered “root” or stationary chords (based on their function with the Key). You could look at the above chords a Cmaj7 (CEGB) or and Am9 (ACEGB). It’s all the same (depending on the sound you’re looking for)! For those of you ahead of the game or in the jazz world, you’ll see this often as the iii chord substituted for the I chords.
A Step in the Right Direction
We’ve all heard that music is all about tension and release. Well, chord progressions work in the same way. We can see this in the most used (cliche) chord progressions in music; I IV V I or ii V I. This brings us to the ii and IV chords. In technical terms, these chords are Sub-Dominant chords but we can (and should) think of them as “transition” chords. They allow us to move forward or transition from our starting point (root/home) to something new. Just as above, we can see that these two chords are essentially the same and can easily be substituted for each other. Notice if we combine them, we get a Dm7 (DFAC) chord.
For those keeping score, we only have two chords remaining from our chord scale, the V and vii chord. Now, the V chord in any Key is your Dominant chord. What makes a dominant chord, well, it’s a Major triad with a b7 added. It functions as your tension chord, or peak of climax, and leads to resolution (Home base).
We didn’t mention it in Part 1 but the vii chord is a diminished chord. Without going into too much detail, the diminished chord is an extra tense dominant chord. See, simple! Why does this “release” actually work? Let’s look:
As you can see, all of the notes in the V chord are one note away from the notes in the I chord. What happens when you play notes that are close to each together? Dissonance! Hopefully, you can see the “G” is a shared note and the other three move step-wise to the next chord. The most important and commonly used progression (in Western Music) is the V – I. Go look at you pop songs, classical, jazz, and blues. This movement is the cornerstone of tension-release.
This wraps up Part 2 of our journey into chord scales. Next week we will explore a little more thoroughly the idea of chord qualities and begin putting chords together. Be well m friends.
Gregory Arthur is Axe of Creation, a Gear Snob, and a Father of Two. He challenges you to become uncomfortable with yourself in attempts to gain a new perspective. Never give your energy away to what you’re not. Focus on what resonates within you and bring forth in creation.
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