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Most study of music theory begins with scales. With a little research, you'll discover that scales will often be explained in terms of notation (the lines and dots), 'whole-step/half-step' patterns (which refer to the distance between notes in the scale) or a combination of the two. Unfortunately both methods are rather complex and usually result in confusion. Let's avoid this frustration by taking a step back and looking at scales simply in terms of how chords are constructed.As you may know, a scale is simply a set of notes (usually seven) that take you from a given note through a series of other notes until it reaches the same note again an octave higher. Though the initial note is much lower in tone than the finishing note, the way our ears hear music they sound almost identical. (Think of the two "Do's" in "Do, Ra. Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do.") This pattern repeats over and over, up and down. This circular behavior is common in music theory and is a principal reason the Chord Wheel is constructed the way it is.
The most fundamental scale is the Major Scale. (The "Do, Ra, Mi, etc." example we referred to earlier is the Major Scale.) Instead on concentrating on how the scale is devised, let's focus on how chords are constructed from a scale. A 'C Major Scale' starts from a C note and climbs through seven of the eleven notes in-between until it reaches the C an octave higher. By assigning numbers starting with the first note and moving upwards counting, we reach the octave C where it would be counted '8' (or another '1' if we consider it to be starting over).The most basic chord is called a triad as it contains three notes. Triads are put together by first taking any note in a scale as a starting point (called the root of the chord). From the root we skip a note in the scale and add the next note instead. So if we were starting from the first note in the C Major Scale (which, of course, is a C and we earlier numbered as '1') we would add the note numbered '3.' By once again skipping a note (the one we numbered '4') and adding the '5' note we have three notes and our first chord!Our three notes, the '1, 3 & 5' notes of the scale provide us with the first chord of the Family of Chords for the C Major Scale. By constructing chords from each note in the scale (using the 'every other note' pattern) we come up with seven basic triads (i.e. three note chords). Whenever we use the C Major Scale and the chords we have derived from it, we are said to be working in the 'Key of C.'Confused yet? If you are, fear not! Just read on, follow along and read it again later on. Like any good theory, it just takes getting used to. The beauty of actually using the Chord Wheel is that much of this knowledge will be just handed to you. However, it's important to have access to the actual theory behind what the Chord Wheel will make so easy for you to practice.
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