Let’s end this exercise. Last time I provided you with a simple slow melody for you to expand on. I also introduced you to the notion of chords having a function, as if they have a tendency to go somewhere once they happen and after I show you my own simple expansion to the problem, I’ll mention the seven chords and add the seventh to the dominant V.
And there you have it in all its glory. Not my greatest accomplishment but we are limiting things and keeping them relatively simple. If anything, it is a little too busy in that it has no space to breathe. I was tempted to alter the bass part some so that there are never or rarely eighth notes happening in both the treble and bass clefs at the same time.
Think about painting a bright sun on a canvas: if you paint a bold yellow sun on the white canvas background the sun would hardly seem to be there. But if you first painted a darker background and overlaid the sun on top of that then that same sun would come alive and seem to blaze. With that constantly busy bass line the melody has more difficulty than necessary standing out. Also, if we could adjust the relative volumes of the treble and bass clefs then the melody could obviously be more pronounced.
Now let’s look again at the seven chords natural to the C Major Scale, this time giving them names and introducing the idea of function between them. None of this will be on the test.
The scary thing in the picture above is the names. The scale degree notes have these same names. I only introduce them instead of the roman numerals because you might stumble on these from time to time. I will try to tread gently.
The Tonic is simply the main chord of the key you are in. Look directly at the Tonic, Mediant, and the Submediant. Relative to the Tonic, both the Mediant and Submediant have two notes in common.
In the key of C Major:
- Tonic: C – E – G
- Mediant: E – G – B
- Submediant: A – C – E
The Mediant has the notes E and G in common with the Tonic. The Submediant has the notes A and C in common with the Tonic. Either of these can be used as substitution chords for the Tonic although the Submediant is much more commonly used so people will be happier if you go from a C Major Chord to an A Minor Chord rather than from a C Major Chord to an E Minor Chord. When we simply shift from one chord to another by moving a third, keeping two common notes, it is a very smooth transition.
That’s three out of seven.
The Dominant and Leading chords both drive back to the Tonic. I mentioned last time making the V chord (Dominant) more powerful by adding a seventh. Actually, the Leading Chord has the strongest tendency to go back to the Tonic because it contains a Tritone (B – F) which I do not want to discuss today.
Let’s compare the Dominant and the Leading chords:
- Dominant: G – B – D
- Leading: B – D – F
In both cases, the B — the Leading Tone — “wants” to go to C (the Tonic). If we combine both these chords into one we have: G – B – D – F which in the key of C is the Dominant Seventh Chord which is most powerful of all and very much drives back to the Tonic. In both these chords the Leading Tone has the strongest tendency to go to the Tonic.
That’s five out of seven.
That leaves us with the Supertonic Chord and the Subdominant Chord. Both of these chords most typically go to the Dominant. This does not make logical sense except for the fact that the D chord is a minor version of the Dominant of G, but not really because it does not have the half step of F Sharp which would more lend itself to do this so the tendency is not as strong here. Just take for granted that they both like going to the Dominant.
- Supertonic: D – F – A
- Subdominant: F – A – C
Seven out of seven!
You don’t have to memorize all this stuff. I’ll bring it up again and again as we build more complex song segments. Today was the introduction of ideas.
Next time, we will apply these principles to the well known song “Heart and Soul”. And after that we go into blues.