51. Diatonic Harmony Review 2

By this time, even if you don’t feel completely comfortable with these concepts, you can still move right ahead as you learn—as long as you get just a few basics. The most basic concepts of diatonic harmony are the following:

  1. I, IV, and V are the chords made from the 1st, 4th, and 5th degree of any major scale, and they are called PRIMARY chords. They are the only major chords made from the scale.
  2.  ii, iii, and vi are the chords made from the 2nd, 3rd and 6th degrees of any major scale, and they are called SECONDARY chords.
  3. The vii chord is diminished– again, disregard it for now.



ii, iii and vi are MINOR

Example:  Key of G major—G major scale—


The major chords are G, C and D

They are made when using the following notes of the G major scale:

G major   G     C    D         (1,3, and 5)

C major    C     E     G         (4,6, and 8)


D major    D     F#   A         (5,7 and 2)         (1 and 8 are the same note, G, we don’t count it twice)

The minor chords are Am, Bm and Em.

They are made when using the following notes of the G major scale:


                  A minor      A     C     E            (2,4 and 6)


                 B minor      B      D     F#          (3,5 and 7)


                 E minor      E       G     B           (6,8 and 3)

      Thus, when musicians refer to a chord progression, they will say, for instance, “one-two-six-five”, which in the key of G means G-am-em-D. By using this language, the emphasis is put on the progression, which stays the same in every key, rather than the actual chords, which change from key to key. This is exactly the same logic used in the do-re-mi song in The Sound of Music to teach the sound of the major scale.

      If an out of key chord is used, it will get a name to distinguish it from the diatonic chords, such as “major two”, which in G would be A major (instead of the diatonic A minor).  For now, always look for diatonic progressions first—they are by far the most common. Once you are familiar with these progressions, learning out of key chords and their use will be much easier.    

© 2012 Jim Greenfield