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Creating tension and resolution—the V7 to I chord change April 17, 2007

Posted by rgordon83 in Chords, Guitar Lessons, Harmony, Intervals, Music Theory.
1 comment so far

(Before you read this lesson you should make sure you understand Diatonic Harmony and Buliding 7th chords)
Good composition is about creating music that has movement. Music that has peaks and valleys. If your chord progressions don’t go anywhere, they are just boring. The best way to create music with strong movement is to create tension and resolution in your compositions. How do you do that? Well the easiest and most common way is with V to I (“Five to One”) chord changes.

The V I change is great b/c the V chord create tension and the notes in the V chord push your ear to the I chord. So when you play the I chord your ear hears resolution. But you can even increase that tension and resolution if you play a V7 to I chord change. The V7 is also called the dominant 7 chord. Lets see why this change creates such great tension and resolution.

Lets start by taking a look at the notes of the I chord in the key of C major:
C major has the notes C, E, and G.
C major guitar chord

Now lets take a look at the V7 chord in the key of C, which is G7. G7 has the notes G, B, D, and F

G7 guitar chord
Lets compare the notes of those 2 chords to each other:
V7 to I guitar chord resolution

The blue lines indicate that the notes G to C and D to G are a perfect 4th or a perfect 5th apart (see the lesson on intervals if you don’t know what this means). And the strongest sense of movement occurs when two notes are a perfect 4th or perfect with apart. So G to C is a perfect forth as is D to G. C to G is a perfect 5th apart as is G to D.

The red line indicates that B and C are a half Step apart and E and F are a half step apart. Notes that are a half step apart lead your ear to the note a half step up or a half step down. The fact that the B note in the G chord is a half step away from the C note in the C chord, the F note in the G chord is a half-step away from the E note in the C chord, and the fact that there are two perfect fourth intervals (the G note of the G chord to the C of the C chord and the D of the G chord to the G of the C chord) all make for a wonderful sense of movement, contrast, and resolution.

Try playing G to C slowly and hear how nicely it resolves. Then they playing G7 to C and notice how there is a little more tension. You can apply this V7 to I chord change to any key. Add it to your compositions to give them come character!

As usual, if you have any questions please post them to the comments!


Diatonic harmony- the building block of composition March 25, 2007

Posted by rgordon83 in Chords, Guitar Lessons, Harmony, Music Theory, Notes.

Note: Before you read this post it would help you if you read my post on notes, the major scale, and building chords.

As discussed previously a diatonic scale is a scale consisting only of the 7 notes which fit within a givins scale’s formula. The most famous and useful (at least in western music) is the major scale (i.e. The major scale is diatonic b/c is consists of all 7 notes derived from the W-W-H-W-W-W-H formula). If you recall, major chords are built from the major scale by taking the 1,3, and 5 notes of the scale and the minor chord is made by taking the 1, 3b, and 5 notes of the major scale. These notes are chosen because chords are made by stacking either major or minor 3rd intervals (See my post on intervals if you don’t know what major and minor 3rds are)

Now lets get into the diatonic harmony. Basically diatonic harmony is using the 7 notes of a scale to make 7 different chords that are all in the key of the root note. So all the notes and chords in diatonic harmony will only use scale tones. No outside tones are used.

We will use the key if C major as an example.

As discussed before the C major scale is C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C. This is in the key of C because the 1st note of the scale is C. So if you start from the C note and “stack 3rds” (note, an easier way to look at stacking thirds is that we are using every other note) we get C, E, G—or the 1, 3, 5. Those are the notes of the C major chord. But how do we derive other chords from the C major scale? Simple. We just start stacking thirds from another note and then compare the results to that notes major scale. Here is what I mean:

C major scale notes to make Dm chord
If we start on the second note, D, and stack 3rds we get the notes D, F, and A. Lets compare those notes to the D major scale so we can see what chord that is.

Let’s apply our major scale formula of W-W-H-W-W-W-H to the D note. The result is D-E-F#-G-A-B-C#-D. So the notes D, F, and A would be the 1, 3b, 5 of that scale. (because the F# note is flatted to an F). So 1, 3b, 5 is the formula for a minor chord. So the notes D, F, A are a D minor chord. So the second chord in the C major diatonic harmony is D minor!

Lets look at the rest of the notes. (blue represents the 1st note)

C major scale notes to make chords Em, F, G, Am, Bdim
So we have
E, G, B or the 1, 3b, 5 compared to the E major scale of E-F#-G#-A-B-C#-D#-E. that gives us an E minor.

F, A, C or the 1, 3, 5 compared to the F major scale of F-G-A-Bb-C-D-E-F. That gives is F major.

G, B, D or the 1, 3, 5 compared to the G major scale of G-A-B-C-D-E-F#-G That gives is G major.

A, C, E or the 1, 3b, 5 compared to the A major scale of A-B-C#-D-E-F#-G#-A. that gives us an A minor

B, D, F or the 1,3b, 5b compared to the B major scale of B-C#-D#-E-F#-G#-A#-B. That gives us B diminished.

So the diatonic chords of C major are:

diatonic chord progression of C major
Note the roman numerals below each chord. These refer to the degree of the scale each chord is build on. And the case of the numeral indicates if that chord is major or minor. The little “zero” by the vii indicates that chord is diminished. So if someone says they are playing a ii-V-I ( 2-5-1) in the key of C they want you to play the chords Dm, G, C.

It’s also important to note that each one of these scale degrees as a different name:
scale degree chart

Here are the chord charts for each of the chords in the key of C major:
C major chord on guitar D minor chord on guitar E minor chord on guitar F major chord on guitar G major chord on guitar

A minor chord on guitar B diminished chord on guitar (updated this image based on the 1st comment below)

In later lessons we will talk about how to use these chords to create tension and resolution—the backbone of good composition.