Music Notes

      Sadly, you can waste years trying to get friends who play well, or teachers you may be paying who should be able to answer simply . . . drum roll please. . .

      Q) . . . What am I missing?  I (maybe) don't understand what makes a chord, or (maybe) how to built one by applying basic music theory to the guitar fingerboard.

      A)   The guitar is a hard place to learn chord theory. The root note is not always on the low string and the interval sequence does not step sequentially from the low string to the high string. So find a piano keyboard. Ignore the black keys for now. Press any combination of every-other white keys you like. As long as none of the keys you press are beside one-another, you will hear a familiar, bright and happy version of some major chord, anywhere on the keyboard. Try every other white key. Take one, skip one, take one, skip one. The first one will be your root or first, the next one will be your third, the next one will be your fifth. Hmmm. .that sounds familiar,. . oh!  I remember, 1,3,5,7. . . or Root, Third, Fifth. The basic Triad. (It takes three or more to tango with chords).

      The harp and keyboard instruments are the only instruments with the scale intervals laid out sequentially on them. There are no notes printed on the strings or keys. You are expected to realize that there are only twelve unique tone intervals that repeat on endlessly in both directions. All the white keys on the keyboard are whole notes. All the black keys are sharps (or flats) of those whole notes. The marked strings on a harp are wound with colored thread.

      There are no semi-tones between the 3ed and 4th whole tone intervals, or the 7th and 8th (octave). So you go straight from E to F and from B to C. There will be no black piano key in those two positions because there is no interval there.

Starting with "C" - Piano Keyboard Intervals

This is the established convention, and produces another thing you may recall hearing.
whole whole half, whole whole whole half.

      Note that the pattern corresponds to the positions of the semi-tone black keys as they divide the whole tone white keys. This pattern reflects the intervals of 12 repeating tones in the scale. It defines the template of intervals as built on C-Major (chicken or the egg, whatever), and is in fact at the heart of music theory. This major pattern is held over any change in the root key of the scale being used. The sharping or flatting of a particular note to make a minor or augmented chord is found counting up or down on this template of interval patterns, based on the root note of the key you are in at any point in the progression.

  W - W - H - W - W - W - H
1          3            5           7

      In any key other than C-Major, you will incorporate black keys in the scale pattern following the WWHWWWH pattern. This is very significant to understanding scales and chords as they relate to the different keys and changes in any piece of music.

      Obviously the piano keyboard is literally designed and laid out to incorporate and define the key of C Major as its point of theory. As long as you play in the key of C Major you will never touch a black key. Many songs common to children, and Christmas holidays are in this happy sounding major key. Lots of marching band music too.

      Most people wonder why theory is based on C and not A, as it would seem the place to start. Let's just say it could be that the letter names were assigned to the tone frequencies before the theory of their use was defined. More likely it would be that the intervals used in the scale have changed many times and things got locked down when the convention of the piano standard keyboard gained popular acceptance. I like to chalk it up to history's need to be self important and mysterious and not get into it further. There is no point to it, as there are so many relative points to consider in music. Once you are out of the safe and simple C-major key you will also use black keys as stepping stones, so just memorize the intervals from the major key of "C" template, and apply that template to any new root note you shift to.

            Now you have a place to hang your coat.

      Want to try your hand at a minor chord? Flat the third. Where you would press the "third" move down (lower) one key. Black keys are now in play too. If you play the seventh, flat that one too. In essence, to make your major chord into a minor, take a look at the every-other-one you picked to make the major chord, and pick out every other interval again, and then flat them by one half step. Dividing again for every-other-one, and then flatting it is what you are doing. The intervals of the scale were picked out precisely to make this work. We divide the tones, and then divide them again for the next definition. If you were looking at an oscilloscope display of the scale intervals, you would see the harmonics dividing in patterns that work together.

      And now, on to chord patterns for the guitar. View and print this PDF chart of movable chord patterns. Notice on this chart that the intervals of the scale are not on adjacent strings, rather that the fingers get the notes of the chord as they fit for the hand position. There are many chord books out there and they can go on forever with alternate patterns for any particular chord. This chart is intended to show the basic Barr chords and emphasizes the relative nature of the pattern placement on the fingerboard, opting to show the shape name and the root the pattern is based on, rather than any arbitrary chord name for a particular position on the neck.

      I learned on clarinet and saxophone in grade school, had private lessons on saxophone with Eddie Flenner, played in stage band, rocked on saxophone in a band for a summer and didn't pick up a guitar until sometime after the age of thirty-five. I always wondered what a chord was since none of the instructors I had seemed to think it important to explain chord theory to someone with a scale instrument. Asking my guitar playing friends for 20 years did nothing to help either. There are only four or five instruments that come to the mind of most people that can even play a chord. Pianos and harpsichords, accordions, guitars and harps. Three or more notes sounding simultaneously are required to make a chord. Three trumpets playing three different notes at the same time can sound a chord. But that's called orchestration. The radius of the violin, cellos, and upright bass saddle, and the linier nature of the bow make it difficult to sound more than two strings at a time. Hammered instruments like rack bells and xylophones may be laid out sequentially, but most players would have a hard time finding a third hand to hammer that extra note for three. Then there's the piano, get to a piano if you want to study chord theory. Most good guitar players also know their way around a keyboard and use it to work out songs before working the chords up on guitar.

      I think and remember with images. I don't really remember an idea unless I can draw it out. It sort of forces me to complete the assimilation of information and proof the concept. To this end I constructed this drawing for my interest. I will put it up here and let others take shots at it. I show a ring of sequential notes to illustrate the relative nature of the pattern as it is built from and shown in the key of "C".

Music Theory             For Further Study . . . This Is Your Brain On Music

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