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Nashville’s Number System and Music Theory

Will Griffin

Scales and Chords
Key of C

Purpose:    To give the student a firm understanding of the diatonic scales and chords in the Key of C.
Objectives:  Upon completion of this lesson, the student will:
    A:    Know that in the Key of C that the I-IV-V chords (C-F-G) are Major chords and why these naturally form major chords and scales.
    B:     Know that in the Key of C that the ii-iii-vi chords (D-E-A) are minor chords and why these naturally form minor chords and scales
    C:    Know how to form the C, F, & G chords using 1-3-5 notes;.
    D:    Know how to form the D, E, & A minor chords using 1-b3-5 notes
    E:    Know how to form the I7 (C7) chord and the notes which are in it.
    F:    Know how to form the V7 (G7) chord and the notes which are in it.

    We are going to reference our handy little table again here, because it contains the notes in the scales of each key and it shows the Major and minor chords in each key.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8(1)
Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do
C D E F G A B C
G A B C D E F# G
D E F# G A B C# D
A B C# D E F# G# A
E F# G# A B C# D# E
I ii iii IV V vi vii I

    Familiar enough with this yet?  If so this new chart will also make sense.

    Let's go back to the Key of C, which has no sharps or flats (black piano keys) in it.

    This time, we'll go across from "Do" to "Do" and we'll go down from "Do to "Do" and not put in any sharps or flats, because there are none in the key of "C"

Scales in the Key of C

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8(1)
Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do
C D E F G A B C
D E F G A B C D
E F G A B C D E
F G A B C D E F
G A B C D E F G
A B C D E F G A
B C D E F G A B
C D E F G A B C
I ii iii IV V vi vii I

    So as you can see, there is no F# if you start on the "D" note (D major scale has an F# in it), thus the 3rd. note is naturally flat, therefore you have a minor scale and if you played the F you would have a flat-3rd. which is what you use to make a minor chord. 

And because you also don't have a C# as the 7th. note, you then have a naturally flatted seventh, which is why in the key of C, you'll see a Dm7 or ii7 voicing for that chord.

    Remember a major cord is notes 1-3-5 and a minor is 1-b3-5, so with a D Major, it would be D-F#-A and a Dm would be D-F-A and since the key of C has no sharps or flats in it, the D chord is thus a D minor.

    You'll see the same for "E" where there is not a natural 1/2 step between 3-4, thus a flatted third once again is a minor.

    When you get to starting with an "F" in the key of C, you'll notice there is a natural 1/2 step between 3-4 and also 7-8(1), which is why in the Key of C, the F chord is a major chord.

    Do this again starting with G and you'll see a natural 1/2 step between 3-4 and you'll see between 7-8 there is a whole step, thus the 7th note (F) is really a flatted 7th, which is why when you see a G chord in the key of C, you'll also often see it voiced as a G7, or V7

    When you do this starting with A in the Key of C, you'll see there is a 1/2 step between 3-4 and in a that C note would be a C#, thus it is a flatted 3rd. and of course a flatted 3rd. note in a chord makes a minor chord.

    When you see a B note in the Key of C, it is usually a Bb, unless of course the chord is a BMaj7.  This is why in the C chord in the key of C, if you play a B, you play the Bb to make the I7 chord.  This is why the B scale in C is highlighted above in purple, because there are some songs with a Bb chord in it, even though you are in the key of C.  Making any sense to you now?

    Sample Chart/Song - Key of C:

Four Strong Winds

    This song is in 4/4 time, meaning each time you see a chord number, it gets 4 beats (guitar strums or piano beats), because each 'measure' has 4 beats.  Notice the / between I/ii which occurs.  This means it is a split bar, thus each chord only get 2 beats in that measure.

I - ii - V - I
I - ii - V - V
I - ii - V - I
I/ii - IV - V - V

             I           ii                   V                 I
    Think I'll go up to Alberta, weather's good there in the fall
                           
 I              ii               V 
    I've got some friends I could go to workin' for
              
I                                           ii
    Still I wished you'd change your mind,
             
V                            I
    If I asked you one more time.
                       
 ii                               IV                      V
    But we've been through that a hundred times or more.

Chorus:

                   I                ii
   Four strong winds, that blow lonely
            V             I
    Seven seas that run high,
                   
         I                                      V
    And all those things we can't change, come what may.
               
I                              ii
    If the good times are all gone,
                       
V                        I
    Then I'm bound for movin' on,
              
 ii                    IV                    V
    I'll look for you, if I'm ever back this way.

    Now that you have seen how this works in C, we are going to do this again next for the Key of G and then the Key of D, next the Key of A and then Key of E, after which you should have the basics down well and you'll know quite a few keys and chords in those keys.  You'll also be able then to write up your own scales and chords table for any key you choose.

    The reason these "Scales and Chords" lessons are going in the order of the keys of G, D, A & E is that in each key following the number of sharps in the diatonic scale increases by one...G has 1#, D has 2#s, A has 3#s and E has 4#s.

Part - 2  (Key of G)
Part - 3  (Key of D)
Part - 4  (Key of A)
Part - 5  (Key of E)

    Again it is recommended you go through each of these parts one by one and in the order they appear, just as you should go through each lesson in the order they appear and not try to move on or too fast, until you understand everything in the lesson you are currently working and studying.

    You'll soon see what notes you can play in what chords in whatever key the song you are playing is in.  It will also show you why I-IV-V are Major chords and ii, iii, & vi are minor chords and this holds true for the most part in all of the keys of music.

    After getting this down then try creating a scales and chords tables for the other keys like we referenced previously such as the Keys of F, Bb, etc.

    You'll find this helpful to do, not only to really understand how this works, but as you see exceptions to these 'rules' or better termed principles, you will be able to identify them and why in the particular instance it appears, why it works.


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