The lesson shows you how to construct chords from each degree of the major scale so you can create your own chord progressions and understand why certain chords have particular qualities.

Chords In The Major Key

As bass players, we tend to think of playing just one note at a time and can easily forget to pay attention to the movement and quality of the chords. Knowing what chords are in each key and what notes are available to you in those chords will really improve your playing. Let’s start with the C major scale:

We know that chords are built from stacking thirds and the combination of 3rds we use determines the type of chord. A C major is a major 3rd and then a minor 3rd. A C minor is a minor 3rd and then a major 3rd.

If we take the C major scale and skip every other note so we are left with the 3rds then we get this:

C E  F  G  A  B
 2   3  4  5   6   7

C E G = C major

Because we can see that the notes we are left with are the root, 3rd and 5th, we know we have a C major chord. We can use the same scale and formula to work out the next chord.

D  E  F  G  A  B 
1   2   3  4  5   6   7

D F A = D minor

Here, we get D, F and A. D to F is a minor third so we know that this chord must be a D minor. Similarly, if we do this from E then we get an E minor chord.

E  F  G  A 
1   2   3  4  5   6   

E G B = E minor

If we apply this process to each scale degree then we end up with a sequence of chords. We refer to these chords by number and they are often written as roman numerals.

Chords of the Major Key

Chord I – Major
Chord II – Minor
Chord III – Minor
Chord IV – Major
Chord V – Major
Chord VI – Minor
Chord VII – Diminished

In the key of C:

Chord I – C Major
Chord II – D Minor
Chord III – E Minor
Chord IV – F Major
Chord V –  G Major
Chord VI – A Minor
Chord VII – B Diminished

Steps To Memorising Major Key Chords

  • Chords I, IV and V are major
  • Chords II, III and VI are minor
  • Chord VII is diminished

Major Key Chords Exercise

Starting each chord on the A string, play through the following exercise to get your fingers around each chord in the key of C major.

Now let’s take some simple chord progressions in C:

This opens up a whole load of possibilities for writing music as now you can refer to the different notes in each chord and know that they will always work.

The Study Of Harmony

There is more to creating chord progressions than just picking random chords from within a key and placing them together. We call this subject the study of harmony. Now we know the basic triads within the major key, we can extend the chords to include 7ths. We do this by adding an extra 3rd to the end of the triad. Let’s take the C major scale again and take every other note to get C E G B – a C major 7 chord.

C E  F  G  A  B
 2   3  4  5   6   7 

C E G B = C major 7

Let’s try from D…

D  E  F  G  C
1   2   3  4   5  6   1

D F A C = D minor 7

Just like with the triads, we can build a 7th chord off every scale degree.

Major Key 7th Chords:

Chord I – Major 7
Chord II – Minor 7
Chord III – Minor 7
Chord IV – Major 7
Chord V –  7
Chord VI – Minor 7
Chord VII – minor 7b5

In the key of C:

Chord I – C Major 7
Chord II – D Minor 7
Chord III – E Minor 7
Chord IV – F Major 7
Chord V –  G7
Chord VI – A Minor 7
Chord VII – B minor 7b5

As before, try playing every 7th chord arpeggio in C starting on the A string.

Steps To Memorising Major Key 7th Chords

  • Chords I and IV are major 7
  • Chords II, III and VI are minor 7
  • Chord V is dominant
  • Chord VII is diminished

Now let’s play through the chord progressions we practised earlier but with the 7ths added.


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