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Music Theory:

Chords & Harmonic scale



 

In the scales section, we saw how the Harmonic Minor scale has a different interval layout from the Natural Minor scale and its relative Major scale due to the 1 Tone and a half interval between the 6th and 7th degree.

 

Natural Minor

 

Harmonic Minor


We wonder what would happen if we harmonized a scale with such a distinctive sound, would some unexpected, strange chords be generated? Well, let’s do it.

 

 

As soon as we play the first chord we hear there’s something weird: within an A chord, G# is the major 7th and together with the minor third it produces quite a dissonant effect, not really unpleasant but it suggests caution before using.


 

 

We will call this chord A minor Major7 or Amin-maj7.

 


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The chords not affected by G# remain the same as in the Natural minor scale: on the second degree we find a Bmin7b5, a Dmin7 on the fourth, and Fmaj on the sixth.

The chord on the third degree is a C Maj with a sharp 5th that is also a bit dissonant:

 


Things get interesting on the fifth degree where the G# makes the E chord a Dominant 7. We don’t need to examine this chord, we already know it, but the important thing is its sound, G# is one semitone from A, and though the chord on the I is minor, the tension from the Dominant V to the Tonic is very strong and the cadence V - i is very common, especially in classical music.

But the most important chord generated by the Harmonic scale is the one on the seventh degree.

 

 

As you can see, all the intervals in the chord are minor thirds so every note could be the Root, we have four chords in one. We have already seen the diminished triad and the half-diminished chord and the difference here is that the seventh is not minor but diminished, the interval from the root is 4 and a half Tones. You could object that 4 and a half Tones is a major sixth interval and the seventh couldn’t go there but if we examine the intervals in the chord , we can see that the sixth (E) is minor (four Tones), we got room to move back the seventh one more half-tone without any problem. More precisely, if we play A Harmonic minor starting on G#, the sixth degree is 4 Tones from the root and the seventh 4 and a half.



Since every note can be the Root, we can move the same shape up or down three frets to play each of the four chords or we can stay in the same spot and consider the chord as an inversion of the other three. This means that we can play all twelve diminished chords in a three-fret span and then the cycle starts again. It’s actually easier to play it than to explain it…

The most important feature of this chord from a musical standpoint is that we can lower any of the four notes by one semitone to get a Dominant 7 chord: in our example, we can move the F to E and get an E7 chord that is also the V chord of the scale and seeing that they differ only by one note, we could substitute Fdim for E7 if we wanted to create more tension or a more classical mood or add it as a passing chord to go back to A minor.

Now that we learned how scales can generate chords let’s examine their relationship and enter the world of Keys and Tonality.

 

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