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Piano Power: Major Scale Chord Functions
Part 1
By Richard Prokop, Greenacres Press, Inc.
(more articles from this author)
2001-10-30
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A common method of labeling or identifying a triad or chord is to state its letter name followed by its quality. Here are some examples: G Major, D Minor, F# Diminished, Ab Augmented. Another method of identification refers to chords in numerical terms. For example: C Major is the one chord ( I ) in the key of C, the four chord ( IV ) in the key of G , and the five chord ( V ) in the key of F. Therefore, within each of these three different keys, the C Major chord or triad has a specific "function" or role that is different from its specific function or role in the other keys.

Functions of C Major

If we construct a triad above each note of the C Major scale using only the notes of the C scale the following sequence of triads results:

Functions of G Major

Since the G Major scale has an F# in its key signature, all of the F’s in the example below are sharped. C Major is no longer ruler of the roost and has moved to the IVth position.

Functions of F Major

Since the F Major scale has a Bb in its key signature, all of the B’s in the example below are flatted. C Major has moved once again—now at the Vth position of the sequence.

If we were to write out the diatonic triads in all twelve Major keys, each sequence of triads would have three things in common with all of the others:

* I, IV and V are major triads.

* ii, iii and vi are minor triads.

* vii 0 is a diminished triad. (The "0" indicates diminished.)

It is important that you memorize these three conditions in order to fully understand the material presented in subsequent articles.

Let’s take a look at the chord functions of D Major. How does C Major function in this new key?

Functions of D Major

Does B Major exist within the A Major sequence of chords? If so, what is its function? Let’s take a look below:

Functions of A Major

What are the names of the three and six chord in the E Major sequence?

Functions of E Major

What is the function of the G Major chord in the B Major scale? Also, what are the names of the chords on its fourth and fifth degrees?

Functions of B Major

Memorization Methods

So far, we have dealt with the major scale chords (diatonic chords) of C, F and all of the sharp keys that include G, D, A, E and B. Take this opportunity to learn them backwards and forwards. Here are some methods you can use to make the process of memorization a little easier:

* Copy all of the above examples on a sheet of manuscript paper.

* Go through each sequence a number of times saying the numerical function followed by the chord out loud. For example, using the C major sequence you would say, "One - C Major, Two - D Minor, Three - E Minor,…"

* Note that the individual notes or letter names of the I chord in any key provide you with the roots of the I, iii, and V chords in that particular key. For example, in the key of G major, the spelling of the I chord gives us the letter names G, B, and D that are the letter names of the roots of the I, iii and V chords respectively in that key. Then, simply attach the qualities (major, minor or diminished) to each letter name based on the degree of the scale that each one occupies. Therefore, in the key of G, the I, iii and V chords should immediately be recognized as G major, B minor and D major respectively.

* Note that the individual notes or letter names of the ii chord in any key provide you with the roots of the ii, IV, and vi chords in that particular key. For example, in the key of G major, the spelling of the ii chord gives us the letter names A, C, and E which are the letter names of the roots of the ii, IV and vi chords respectively in that key. Therefore, in the key of G, the ii, IV and vi chords are immediately recognized as A minor, C major and E minor respectively.

* Note that the vii 0 chord is located one-half step below the root of the scale. For example, in the key of G major, the note F# is a half-step below the root G. Therefore, F# diminished functions as the vii 0 chord in the key of G major.

If asked, "What is the six chord in B major?"…you should immediately know the answer to be G# minor. (The ii chord of B major is spelled C#-E-G#. Therefore G# minor functions as vi in B major.) Similarly if asked, "What is the three chord in A Major?…you should immediately respond with C# minor. (The I chord of A major is spelled A-C#-E. Therefore C# minor functions as iii in A major.)

Take a Quizz

1. What chord functions as vii 0 in the key of E major?

2. What chords function as IV and vi in the key of A major?

3. What chord functions as ii in the key of B major?

4. What chords function as IV and V in the key of G major?

5. What chords function as ii and V in the key of C major?

6. What chords function as iii and vi in the key of D major?

7. What chords function as ii and the V in the key of B major?

8. What chords function as iii and the vi in the key of G major?

9. What chord functions as vii 0 in the key of D major?

10. What chords function as iii, vi, ii and V in the key of A major?

Answers


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