7 Notes that can take you (almost) Anywhere

(for intermediate musicians)

Trying to learn how music is created can be intimidating to many aspiring musicians with any instrument.  In our favorite songs we hear hundreds if not thousands of progressive notes and chords that are played and wonder what it must be like for the musicians we hear to have every single one under their fingers.  In turn, many of us find comfort on the musical plateau of mimicking chord progressions and riffs/melodies from these artists without daring to understand how and why everything works harmoniously together in their songs.  

What if someone were to tell you that most all of the music you listen to could be broken down to 7 notes, and if you could wrap your head around just these 7 notes that you could crack the code to the thousands of chords and melodies of virtually all of your favorite artists?  This may sound overly simplistic, but the reality is that the reason all of these notes seem to work together perfectly in a song is because they are considered diatonic, meaning that of the same scale.  These scales can be boiled down to 7 notes at most, and many times just 5 or 6 of the seven notes are used.  

We can refer to this musical code as harmonization, that is to say the way in which chords and melodies are developed off of our 7 note scale.  For instance, let’s take the major key of C, where one of the first scales you may have learned was C-D-E-F-G-A-B (the key of C is a great scale for reference because there are no sharps or flats, however any root note can apply here).  So what can we do with these seven notes?  Let’s start with chords:

Chord triads (3-note chords) are developed from the root note, the 3rd, and the 5th of their scale.  Beginning with C, and staying within our scale notes above, we can call this our “I” chord of the C-scale.  The root note would of course be C, with the 3rd note as E (major 3rd interval), and the fifth note as G (5th interval). 

I.     C-E-G = 1, maj 3rd, 5th (C major chord)

Let’s take this same method and start with the 2nd note of our scale, D.

II.    D-F-A = 1, minor 3rd, 5th (D minor chord)

And so on…

III.   E-G-B = 1, min 3rd, 5th (E minor chord)

IV.   F-A-C = 1, maj 3rd, 5th (F major chord)  * notice how the scale is continuous back to C for the 5th interval

V.    G-B-D = 1, maj 3rd, 5th (G maj chord)

VI.   A-C-E = 1, min 3rd, 5th (A min chord)

VII.  B-D-F = 1, min 3rd, diminished 5th (B half-diminished chord)

With just these 7 notes, we just created 7 chords from which hundreds if not thousands of progressions can be developed. Again, the reason all of these chords work together in these progressions is because they are all diatonic.

Without getting too far ahead of ourselves for this entry, grab your guitar and play around with these chords and see for yourself how you can create music from these chords of all sorts of styles and different feels.  And better yet, find yourself a jam buddy or instructor to interact with you on these chords while coming up with leads and melodies using these 7 scale notes.  Here is a common position (1st position) for the scale of C major on the guitar for those who are just starting to learn soloing scales.  If you are on the piano, you have it easy… just hit the white keys!

For many of us, this new world of harmonization may sound a bit too academic to start jumping into, however it is actually very intuitive and fun when learned in the right manner.  There are many great instructors out there who have the ability to get this harmonization method under your fingers within the context of the music you love.  This is incredibly motivating, because once you crack the code to this music you can begin to use it as an empowering influence and create your own progressions and songs.  The more artists of whom you gain an understanding, the more influences you have and the more diverse and unique your music can sound!  This hurdle in understanding harmonizations truly leads to what is referred to as infinite learning, where new territories of music can be conquered every week for as long as you would like to build your musical empire.  If this sounds like a journey you would like to embark on, then it may be the right time for you to find a creative instructor in your area to start it with you!

- Written by Travis Palladino, Founder & Director of Music Flow LLC