The Major Scale Chart: Part 4 [All Levels/Any Style/Theory]

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The Major Scale Chart: Part 4

This lesson is a branch from Area 4 from the Playbook for Beginners and Beyond main lesson. Visit the main lesson to see my philosophy on the five different areas of learning to play.


In the previous 3 lessons in this series, we talked about the main function for practice using this chart:

Do Re Mi


Play the note scale

Play the chord scale

See and hear the connection

Sing or hum as you play


We also talked about the basic theory behind intervals, note numbers and note names. Then we began the theory behind how the chords for our chart are constructed, a method called 'harmonizing the major scale'. If any of this seems strange to you, then please back up and begin with the first lesson in the series, The Major Scale Chart: Part 1. Be sure to read each line of the chart from left to right.

The Chords

Now we want to concentrate on the bottom part of the chart, The Chords.

As you can see, the roman numerals for the chart are numbered I, ii, iii, IV, V, vi and vii. The way it works is that upper case numerals indicated major chords and lower case designate minor chords.

If you recall in the third lesson we talked about why each chord degree of the harmonized scale was minor or major. So we see on our chart that these roman numerals follow suit. We could use the proper designations for our chart: Imaj7, ii7, iii7, 4maj7, V7, vi7 and vii7b5. But there's a reason why we don't.

Sometime ago in Nashville, they came up with a system where they could use roman numerals to call out the chord progressions that studio musicians were to play in sessions. This way they could give the musicians a chart with the chord progression in roman numerals, and the musician could then play the song in any key because musicians know the basic intervals!. The system comes directly from the harmonization of the major scale. It recognized that the 1st, 4th and 5th 'chord scale' degrees were major chords and the 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th degrees were minor.

So if you refer to the previous lesson, you'll see that the roman numeral designations for the harmonized major scale are Imaj7, ii7, iii7, IVmaj7, V7, vi7 and vii7b5.

Because the approach of this lesson is to help you see how songs are written, the chords of The Chords in this chart have been shortened to C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am and Bm7b5. All very regular and common chords (well, except for the 7th one, the m7b5 I suppose). It's not my idea: this is what is used in most common, non-jazz music. So this means that the roman numerals designations are shortened to I, ii, iii, IV, V, vi and vii. These roman numerals can be further modified when desired (I7, vii9, etc.), and they have been!

Although many songs do follow the harmonized major scale, many follow some other 'mode' or 'chord scale' idea. For example, a regular blues progression might be I7, IV, I7, V, IV, I, V7 while a jazz progression might be ii7, vi7, V7, Imaj7, VImaj7.

But for our purposes, we're looking at the stripped-down version of the harmonized scale (I, ii, iii, IV, V, vi and vii). We're not cheating ourselves, believe me! Here's a chart example:


There have been a million songs written with these simple chords. Here's a couple of them.



I'm sure you'll come up with many more.

The Chord Substitute

I don't know how it came about, but there is a substitute chord that is used many times in the place of the vii, or the m7b5. It's the Dominant 7th chord, or the V7. Try it right now and you'll love it. Try this progression in the key of C: I, ii, vi, vii, I. Now substitute the V7 for the vii: I, ii, vi, V7, I. Pretty cool, huh? In either case, this is what is known in music theory as providing tension and then giving release. Either chord just seems to beg to be resolved back to the I chord.


So now you have some very dangerous tools to dissect songs that you hear and to write songs and progressions of your own. As you saw in the two song examples above, many popular songs are very simple. They don't have to be complicated to be a hit. There's hundreds of songs that were written in the 50's that use the basic I, IV and V rock progression. There's hundreds of songs written since that are maybe not following any formula at all. But the one thing they all have in common is that they are following some set of rules regarding intervals. It begins with the major scale.

Do Re Mi


Play the note scale

Play the chord scale

See and hear the connection

Sing or hum as you play

For more information on the roman numeral system and related information, check out Kirk's lessons Related Chords, Music Building Lesson and the Anatomy of the C Major Guitar Chord. For a very thorough lesson on everything about intervals, check out Fretsource's lesson here at GfB&B called All About INTERVALS.

The Major Scale Chart.pdf

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