Merry Christmas: Happy Playing Chords (Part 1)

Merry Christmas: Happy Playing Chords (Part 1)

Christmas is a time to… love? Yes, and PLAY CHORDS as well!

In this lesson, we will be looking at (1) the formula for finding chords in a major scale, (2) tonal function of chords and (3) the chord symbols in a tab, using the arrangement of the song “Christmas Is a Time to Love” in D Major (Click here if you have missed the wonderful article for this) as an illustration.

(1) Formula for finding chords in a major scale

Before we actually build a chord progression in a certain key, we have to find out the chords that can be used (in that key).

For any major scale, the chords can be derived from the following formula:
1st degree = Major, 2nd degree = minor, 3rd degree = minor, 4th degree = Major, 5th degree = Major, 6th degree = minor and 7th degree = diminished

Let’s take D Major Scale as an example:

So these are the chords that can be used when you are playing a chord progression in the key of “D”. And you should be able to find many of them in the tab, right?

Chords used in Christmas Is a Time to Love

Note: To find out what do “7” and “slash (/)” mean in a chord symbol, please click here to view part 2.

(2) Tonal function of chords

Tonal function describes how musical tension would be produced and eased (resolved) by moving back and forth from chords. And the below is how chords can be categorized according to its function:

Traids formed on the notes of the C major scale*

Note: The formation of traids and their corresponding degree vary with scales. For example, in the case of D major scale, its tonic chord consist of the notes D, F# and A.

We always compare one’s life to a marathon. In fact, we can make use of the chords to create a story about how an athlete ran a marathon. The two has many similarities.

A home (D – Tonic) was where you set off. You began with doing some warm-up exercise inside the rest area (F#m & Bm – Mediant & Submediant), where there were beverage and solid food offered to you. You feel kind of comfortable there.

Finally, it’s time to formally start the marathon. The first half of the running track was made up of highways (G & Em – Subdominant and Supertonic), where you stepped and moved forward. You only found it slightly hard to jog on a piece of flat road.

However, you soon figured out that it was connected to the rugged road (A7 – dominant 7th) beyond. You could barely walk on it, which used up all your energy, making you feel exhausted and agonized. Therefore, you strongly wished for returning home (D – Tonic), the only place where that’s completely free of stress and where you could go to relax. This marks the end of the marathon.

So here’s a brief summary of how chords are embedded with certain feelings and in which part of a piece of music we can find them accordingly.

Tonal function of chords

Now, close your eyes and listen to the chord progression once again. See if you can visualize the images in your brain with the given increase and decrease in tension generated by chords.

In the next part (CLICK ME), we will be looking into the chord symbols in a tab. See you there!

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