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Harmonizing the Major Scale
by Bernie Corrigan

I have great news! No matter what you've been told, there are only three things you need to learn to be a great guitarist. Those three things are scales, chords and arpeggios. Any and everything else you will ever play will come from one of those three things. The not so great news is that there is almost an endless supply of those 3 things.

In the coming weeks we will be exploring scales, chords and arpeggios from the ground up.

The best way to look at them is in the starting with scales, then applying the chords to the scale, then arpeggiating the chords.

Archtop Jazz

Archtop Jazz

Lets start with the Major scale. In Example 1 we see a C major scale.

Example 1


For most of you this is nothing new. But lets look at it further.

Every note within the major scale (or any scale) has a triad (3 notes) chord that goes with it. This is called harmony.

Lets start by harmonizing the C major scale. One simple way to look at the harmony of a major scale is by memorizing the "color" of each chord. Basically it goes as follows: I IIm IIIm IV V VIm VIIm7b5. This applies to every major key. In Example 2 we see how that applies to the C major scale. Notice that the VII chord is a min7b5. We'll explore min7th chords and more in the next example.

Example 2


Now we can see how the chords fit right into the scale. We can further "color" these chords and still keep them within the major scale. In Example 3 we will add major 7th, minor 7th, 7th and 13th chords. Major 7th chords simply add the 7th note of the root's major scale. Minor 7th chords add the 7th note of the root's minor scale. 7th chords have the 7th note of the major scale flatted. 13th chords have the 7th note flatted while adding the 13th (same note as the 6th but an octave higher) note of the root's major scale.

Example 3


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