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Majors vs minors

Now it's time to talk about the difference between the Roman Numerals in capital letters (I, IV and V) and the Roman Numerals in lower-case letters (ii, iii, vi and vii). It's also related to the lower-case 'm' after many of the notes/chords printed on the Chord Wheel. Upper-case numerals and lack of an 'm' following a chord's name designate it as a 'Major Chord' (such a the C Major or 'I Chord'). Lower-case letters and Chord Names whose root letter is followed by a 'm' are Minor Chords.

In this manner, you can tell right away that a 'ii Chord' is going to be a 'Minor Chord' because the Roman Numeral used to express it is lower-case. When aligned to the 'Key of C,' the 'ii Chord' outlined by the pattern on the transparent disk of the Chord Wheel reads 'Dm.' This is spoken as 'D Minor.'

You may well ask "What's the difference between a Major and a Minor chord?" While this is essential knowledge, it will momentarily take us back into the more traditional concepts behind music/chord theory. If it starts to sound confusing (and it will), as always - don't sweat it. You'll get used to it. We'll start out defining Majors and Minors in regard to how we see them with using the Chord Wheel. Then let's take the more traditional approach and in this manner you'll see the object from two angles.

Start out with the tonic chord (i.e. 'I Chord') of the 'Key of C,' which you now know to be a C Major built from the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of the C Major Scale. The actual notes are C, E and G. The Chord Wheel tells us that the chord is a major but doesn't tell us why (just as it tells us the 'ii Chord' is a minor without explanation).

Using the Chord Wheel, determine the 'ii Chord' in the Key of Bb (pronounced 'B flat') and what are the notes it uses' After you spin the transparent disk until the 'Key – I Chord' box's arrow is pointing to 'Bb' you'll notice that the 'ii Chord' is a 'Cm' or C Minor. Now starting at ii (or 2) and taking every other note (adding the 'IV ' and 'vi' or in numbers the 4th and 6th), you can see the C Minor chord is made up of the notes C, Eb ('E flat') and G.

(Another great way to do this is always knowing that the 'every other note' pattern is going to provide a note with an 'every other' letter. So in this case, starting with C, we know the next two notes will be E and G because they are 'every other' letter after E. When you go past G just start over again at A. The only thing left is to figure out if they happen to be sharps (#'s) or flats (b's) in their name and the Chord Wheel can help you with that!)

Now, back to the Major/Minor discussion. So if a C Major is made up of the notes C,E and G while a C Minor is made up of a C, Eb and G, what is the difference' The second of the Minor chord's three notes is an Eb while the Major is an E. Thus the difference is this middle note is flatted. The E and Eb are a different note by one degree on any musical instrument, whether it be one piano key or one fret of a guitar. This difference is the smallest measurement used in music utilized by western culture and is referred to as a 'half-step.'