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Major Scale Chord Formula Sequences

  •  28 January 2017
  •  704

This little blog is about the chord sequences derived from the Major Scale.

These blogs will help: Major Scale Formulaand Major Scale Chord Formula.

If you are not familiar with those concepts just follow along and see what makes sense.

The chords from the Major Scale are

  • Major
  • minor
  • minor
  • Major
  • Major
  • minor
  • Diminished

Three Major chords, three minor chords and a diminished chord at the end.

The diminished chord is represented by either "˚" or "dim".

If I play the chords from the C Major Scale, in sequence, I would play:

  • C
  • Dm
  • Em
  • F
  • G
  • Am
  • B˚ (AKA B diminished)

The convention is to reference these chords numerically using Roman Numerals.

Depending on where you look, the conventions for using Roman Numerals could differ, but this is a good starting point:

Roman Numeral Convention 1:

Major chords are all upper case letters and minor chords are all lower case:

  • I,
  • ii,
  • iii,
  • IV,
  • V,
  • vi,
  • vii˚,

Roman Numeral Convention 2:

  • I,
  • II,
  • III,
  • IV,
  • V,
  • VI,
  • VII˚,

With this convention you would only reference Major or minor if it is different to how it would normally appear in the Major scale:

  • I,
  • IIM,
  • IIIM,
  • IVm,
  • Vm,
  • VIM,
  • VIIM,

Get used to both conventions.

We can also slide chords up and down by a semi-Tone (and more):

  • I,
  • bii,
  • biii,
  • bIV,
  • bV,
  • #vi,
  • bvii˚,

I - IV - V

Using the C Major Scale, if I was to play C, F, G then I would be playing a I, IV, V formula.

Why not just say C, F, G then?

An example highlighting the benefit of numerically naming the chords comes when changing key.

What chords would I play if I was to change key to G?

Using the formula I would simply play the 1st, 4th, and then 5th chord of the scale.

That is much easier than going through this process:

“Right, in the key of G, C would be G”
“In the key of G, F would be erm, hold on, sorry, er, is it F?”

To which you reply,

“Dufus, no it is not F!”

If your singer was Celine Dion and she decided to leave the band (much to everyone's joy), you would get a new singer in. Say it turns out to be Randy Blythe from Lamb of God?

Different types of singers I hope you would agree.

The change in voice could/should/would warrant a key change to match the singers range.

How would you go about that?

First, convert the song’s chords in to Roman Numerals, then deduce the chords by applying the Roman Numerals to scale you want to use.

In the key of G a I-IV-V sequence would be G, C, D.

We Are All the Same!

So it turns out we like the sound of certain chord formulas.

Generally speaking we find certain chord formulas pleasing.

In the 1950’s they couldn’t get enough of I, vi, IV, V. It was very popular back then.

In the 1980’s there were a lot of I, V, vi, IV songs but really, there are still a lot of I, V, vi, IV songs.

Jazz guys and gals would be left walking around like zombies if we took ii, V, I sequences away from them.

There is a great sketch by Axis of Awesome called 4 Four Chord Songwhich highlights the I, V, vi, IV chord sequence, medleying all the songs the could manage in to a few minutes - there is a serious amount of cheese factor in there - you’ve been warned.

Play around, create cool formulas, see where you can play them, what key sounds best, which key is easiest for that formula?

Have a Google of these search terms and see what songs pop up that you want to try and then try and play them in a different key…

  • songs with 1 6 4 5 progression
  • songs with I vi IV V progression
  • songs with 2 5 1 progression
  • songs with ii V I progression
  • songs with 6 4 1 5 progression
  • songs with vi IV I V progression

To get you started, some examples…

Songs with Progression: I, vi, IV, V

Key of Bb
Bb, Gm, Eb, F
Stand by Me - Ben E King
Key of A
A, F#m, D, E
Every Breath you Take - Police
Key of B
B, G#m, E, F#
What a Wonderful World - Sam Cooke

Songs with Progression: I, V, vi, IV

Key of D
D, A, Bm, G
With or Without You - U2
Key of C
C, G, Am, F
Let It Be - The Beatles
Key of C
C, G, Am, F
No Woman, No Cry - Bob Marley & the Wailers

Songs with Progression: ii, IV, I, V

Key of Eb
Fm, Ab, Eb, Bb
Boulevard Of Broken Dreams - Green Day
Key of E
F#m, A, E, B
Oasis - Wonderwall
Key of G
Am, C, G, D
Fly Away - Lenny Kravitz
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