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Major scale harmonization: The Major Scale Chords

Knowing how to harmonize the major scale is very important because it will allow you to understand the structure of a song and the chords that appear in it. And not only that, it will give you the immense power to write yourself melodies that sound good and have a musical sense.

Therefore, in this article I will explain in detail how to harmonize the major scale and the 3 necessary steps to do it. Also, to make sure you understand this concept well, we will harmonize the C major scale in triads and tetrads, as an example.

When I started playing guitar I used to create my own compositions for fun. However, to my surprise, I found that they didn’t sound quite right (not to say it sounded horrible).

It would start with one chord and then jump to another and then to another and then to another and then to another… As this change had no logical basis, sometimes it sounded good and sometimes (the vast majority) it sounded… quite bad.

Luckily, before long I learned the importance of scale harmonization and why sometimes you have to play some chords and sometimes others.

And this is exactly what you are going to learn today.

What is harmonizing? Building Chords from the Major Scale

When we harmonise the major scale we are just building chords using the notes (scales degrees) it contains.

🎵 How to harmonize the major scale?

Harmonizing scale is building chords with notes. In other words, we build chords from each note of the scale.

If this sounds like Greek to you, don’t worry, we will go through it step by step. But in general, just keep in mind that harmonizing a scale is making chords using the notes of the scale.

And how do we harmonize a scale? Easy, in just 3 steps:

  1. We take the note that we will use as the key.
  2. We draw the musical scale.
  3. We get the chords from the notes of the scale.

If you always follow these steps you will be able to harmonize any musical scale, major or minor.

But be careful, becasue the chords you will get from the scale have to contain the notes of that scale.

This means that if your scale, for example, contains D, the chords cannot contain a D sharp or flat.

Don’t panic!!! you’ll understand it in a few minutes.

And likewise, I would like to add that depending on the number of notes we use we can build some types of chords or others. In other words, we can harmonize a scale to form triads (three notes stacked in thirds) or to form tetrads (four notes stacked in thirds).

Let’s see in more detail how to make chords from a scale.

Harmonizing the Major Scale in 3 Easy Steps

Now that you know what a scale is and how to harmonize it, we can move on to harmonize the major scale. How is this done? Easy, we are going to remember the 3 steps described in the previous section and we are going to adapt them to the major scale:

  1. We take the note that we will use as a key.
  2. Draw its major scale.
  3. We obtain the chords from the notes of the major scale.

As I have commented before, we can obtain triads (the chords of all life that we know) or tetrads (more difficult, like seventh chords). In this article we are going to describe both processes so you know how to create triads and seventh chords from each note of the major scale.

Harmonization of the Major Scale to Build Triads

We start with the triads, which can be thought of as two thirds stacked on top of one another.

To do this, we are going to perform the harmonization of the C major scale.

The harmonized c major scale

Step 1: We take the note that we will use as key.

In this case, the note is C, our key or tonic.

Step 2: We draw the major scale.

Easy, we know this scale by heart.

C – D – E – F – G – A – B

harmonized c major scale piano

Step 3: We obtain the chords from the notes of the major scale.

Attention, this is the key point. As you will remember, a chord is formed with the root, its third and its fifth. In the case of the C chord, it is composed of the following notes:

  • The root (C).
  • Its third (E).
  • Its fifth (G).
Building Chords from the Major Scale

To understand this well, remember that C is the root, D is its second, E is its third, F is its fourth, G is its fifth, A is its sixth and B is its seventh.

And as a result we have the C major chord.

c major chord guitar

Well, now that we have seen the first chord, let’s see what the second chord, D, would be like:

  • The root (D).
  • Its third (F).
  • Its fifth (A).
major scale harmonization

What have we done?

In our scale of C, we have positioned ourselves in D and we have looked for its third and its fifth on this scale.

In this case, we obtain the D minor chord because its third, which is F, is 3 semitones (or half steps) above D.

Although you may have already understood it, let’s see one last example to reinforce concepts. If we want to obtain the E chord, we position ourselves in it and look for its third and fifth.

  • The root (E).
  • Its third (G).
  • Its fifth (B).
harmonizing notes chart

By doing this procedure for each degree we get the harmonizing chords chart:

major scale chords

From the above diagram we see that the first, fourth and fifth triads are major while the second, third and sixth are minor.

In any case, let’s analyze in more detail the the triads in the key of C major:

  • C – E – G: with formula 1 – 3 – 5. The chord is C major (C).
  • D – F – A: with formula 1 – ♭3 – 5. The chord is D minor (Dm).
  • E – G – B: with formula 1 – ♭3 – 5. The chord is E minor (Em).
  • F – A – C: with formula 1 – 3 – 5. The chord is F major (F).
  • G – B – D: with formula 1 – 3 – 5. The chord is G major (G).
  • A – C – E: with formula 1 – ♭3 – 5. The chord is A minor (Am).
  • B – D – F: with formula 1 – ♭3 – ♭5. The chord is B diminished (Bdim or B°).

As a result we would get the C major scale guitar chords:

how to harmonize guitar chords
harmonized c major scale guitar

By the way, if at this point you don’t know why, for example, the F chord is major and the A chord is minor, I recommend you to read the article about major and minor chords guitar.

🎵 Major vs Minor Chords Scales

It all comes down to the interval between the 1st degree and the 3rd degree.

If this interval is a major third (4 half steps above the root), the chord will be major and if it is a minor third (3 half steps above the root), the chord will be minor.

However,I feel the need to tell you that if you don’t understand this, don’t continue with the article, first understand the triads and the third intervals.

At this point it is important to say that the seventh chord is diminished (dim or o) because it stacks 2 consecutive minor thirds, but don’t pay too much attention to this because it is not a chord very used in current music but rather in classical music or Jazz.

How To Harmonise The A Major Scale

Great, now we know how to harmonize the C major scale, the one that almost everybody knows and uses as an example. But what happens with the other keys? what happens if the song is in E, F or A? It gets complicated because sharps or flats appear and may confuse us.

So, let’s see a different example, let’s see how the harmonization of the A major scale would be.

Step 1: We take the note that we will use as key.

In this case, the note is A, our key or tonic.

Step 2: We draw the major scale.

A – B – C# – D – E – F# – G#

harmonized major scale chart

⚠️ Attention, the A major scale has several sharps.

Why? Because of the major scale interval distribution (tone – tone – semitone – tone – tone – tone – semitone).

Step 3: We obtain the chords from the notes of the major scale.

We start with the A chord, formed by:

  • The root (A).
  • Its third (C#).
  • Its fifth (E).
harmonizing the major scale

Notice that the A chord contains C#, but absolutely nothing happens. C# is not a natural notal, but it is still a note, with its rights just like the others.

Moreover, while we’re at it, let’s start harmonising the major scale from the 2nd note of the A major scale just to see how the chord would look like:

  • The root (C#).
  • Its third (E).
  • Its fifth (G#).
harmonized major scale guitar

Notice that, again in C# we have another sharp, G#. Which is perfectly normal.

Let’s see in more detail the major scale chords in the key of A:

  • A – C# – E: with formula 1 – 3 – 5. The chord is A major (A).
  • B – D – F#: with formula 1 – ♭3 – 5. The chord is B minor (Bm).
  • C# – E – G#: with formula 1 – ♭3 – 5. The chord is C sharp minor (C#m).
  • D – F# – A: with formula 1 – 3 – 5. The chord is D major (D).
  • E – G# – B: with formula 1 – 3 – 5. The chord is E major (E).
  • F# – A – C#: with formula 1 – ♭3 – 5. The chord is F sharp minor (F#m).
  • G# – B – D: with formula 1 – ♭3 – ♭5. The chord is G sharp diminished (G#dim or G#°).

Now that we have understood the procedure and we have the A and C scale harmonized, let’s see an easy formula that simplifies this whole music theory.

Harmonizing Scales in All Keys

From the two examples above, we can see that the notes and degrees can vary according to the key we choose, but what never changes are the types of chords that we obtained.

We always have that:

  • The first chord is major.
  • The second chord is minor.
  • The third chord is minor.
  • The fourth chord is major.
  • The fifth chord is major.
  • The sixth chord is minor.
  • The seventh chord is diminished.

This structure is always like this and therefore we can write the following formula to explain the harmonization of the major scale

I ii iii IV V vi vii°

Notice that the Roman numerals appear sometimes in uppercase and sometimes in lowercase. Why? Very simple, the uppercase letters represent major chords and the lowercase letters represent minor chords.

Therefore, the formula is read:

major minor minor major major minor diminished

To simplify it even more I have written this harmonizing chords chart for you:

Harmonizing the Major Scale to Form Triads

The diagram above that follows the is going to be your magic formula with which you will be able to harmonize any key of the major scale. From now on, for example, if you are listening to a song in the key of A, you know that the chords that will be played will be the following:

A Bm Cm D E Fm G°

Now that you know the formula that follows the harmonization of the major scale I leave you a table so that you have at a glance the harmonized major scale in all keys.

harmonizing chords chart

Chord Progression

It must be clear to you by now that the harmonization of the major scale has the following formula for the chords: I ii iii IV V vi viiº.

However, I want to emphasize that the order in which these chords appear in a song is not always the same. Depending on the song there will be one chord progression or another.

A chord progression is the order in which the chords appear in a song. This order varies from one song to another although a series of patterns can be distinguished: I-IV-V, I-V-vi-IV, I-vi-ii-V… etc.

A very easy song that is perfect to see a chord progression in the major scale is Bad Moon Rising. This song in the key of D (D), follows an I-V-IV chord progression, that is, the key and its two major chords.

Harmonization of the Major Scale to Build Tetrads

So far, everything we have done in this post has been making triads from a music scale, but ir exists also the possibility of harmonizing the major scale in tetrads.

If you still have some energy, let’s go for it!

First of all, do you know what a guitar tetrad is? A tetrad is a chord built with 4 notes. To give you an example, the typical chords that come to mind when we think of four-note chords are the seventh chords.

I take this opportunity to remind you of the importance of this music chords since the harmonization of the major scale by tetrads results in 7th chords (major, minor, dominant and semi-diminished).

Let’s see start harmonising the seventh degree of the major scale 👇.

Harmonization of the C Major Scale by Tetrads

To do this, we repeat the first 3 steps above:

  1. We take the note that we will use as a key.
  2. Draw its major scale.
  3. We obtain the chords from the notes of the major scale.

Step 1: We take the note that we will use as key.

In this case, the note is C, our key or tonic.

Step 2: We draw the major scale.

C – D – E – F – G – A – B

harmonized c major scale piano

Step 3: We obtain the tetrads from the notes of the scale.

This is the key point, obtaining the tetrads for each of these notes.

In this case, as they are tetrads we have to take the root, third, fifth and seventh. For C it would be:

  • The root (C).
  • Its third (E).
  • Its fifth (G).
  • Its seventh (B).
harmonized scales chart

This is actually not that difficult becasue we just need to add one more note onto the triads. Therefore, if we harmonize the major scale taking 4 notes we have the following:

harmonized c major scale

Let’s analyze what notes harmonize with each other:

  • C – E – G – B: with formula 1 – 3 – 5 – 7. The chord is CMaj7.
  • D – F – A – C: with formula 1 – ♭3 – 5 – ♭7. The chord is Dm7.
  • E – G – B – D: with formula 1 – ♭3 – 5 – ♭7. The chord is Em7.
  • F – A – C – E: with formula 1 – 3 – 5 – 7. The chord is Fmaj7.
  • G – B – D – F: with formula 1 – 3 – 5 – ♭7. The chord is G7.
  • A – C – E – G: with formula 1 – ♭3 – 5 – ♭7. The chord is Am7.
  • B – D – F – A: with formula 1 – ♭3 – ♭5 – ♭7. The chord is Bm7♭5.

I will admit that now things have become a little bit more complicated. When we harmonized the major scale by triads we had only major or minor chords, but now we have all the seventh chord types.

Harmonizing Scales in All Keys

If we analyze the harmonizing chords chart of the section above we can extract the formula of the harmonic major scale

Imaj7 – IIm7 – IIIm7 – IVmaj7 – V7 – VIm7 – VIIm7♭5

And, to have it summarized, I have written for you this harmonized scales chart:

Harmonizing the Major Scale to Form Tetrads

With this we have finished the article. Surely you have had to make a huge mental effort and you may have had some headaches, so congratulate yourself.

Just tell you that this way of harmonizing the major scale is valid for all musical scales. To do so, just change step 2, the formula step, and you will be able to harmonize minor scales (such as the natural minor, harmonic minor or melodic minor scale).