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Take complexity out of learning your invaluable chord theory.

Chord Degrees

As promised, we are now going to take a step back into the traditional method of chord theory education. In the opinion of many, traditional music theory in unnecessarily complex. If you feel yourself getting lost, don't become frustrated. Understanding the traditional concepts is a must in terms of communicating with other musicians and digesting other sources of theory education. The more used to it you become, the more its peculiarities will make sense.

Numbering the notes in a chord 1st, 3rd and 5th was not something I had you do by accident. Traditional music theory refers to these as chord degrees. So a basic chord (a chord with just three notes) consists of the 1st degree (the root), the 3rd degree (which determines whether a chord is major or minor) and the 5th degree (which simply 'beefs up' the root, unless it's altered).

Taking a C Major Scale's 1st, 3rd and 5th degrees provides us with a C Major chord. In traditional music theory education, you would be told to 'flat the 3rd' degree to get a C Minor. (C, E and G then become C, Eb and G; Major to Minor.) When working within chord theory, you can see that rarely would you want to describe a C Minor chord (which we've seen is the 'ii Minor' chord in the Key of Bb) in terms of how it relates to the Key of C where we now know that the C would be played as a major (and is the tonic!). If this doesn't make sense, well..., that's the point.

To make matters a little more confusing for you, instead of describing the 'ii Minor' chord in terms of 2nd, 4th and 6th notes of the root's Major Scale, traditional theory requires us to rename the degrees as 1st, 3rd and 5th and correlate back in terms how the degrees would relate to the 'ii Minor's' root note if we looked at it with it's own major scale (even though it's a minor and we're using it in an entirely different key). So the C minor would become 1st, flat 3rd and 5th in the C Major scale. Thus the formula for a 'Minor Chord' is 1st, flat 3rd and 5th.

Let's get back to the more straightforward concepts behind the Chord Wheel so that instead of being confused by the smoke and magic behind music theory, you can start using it to make music.