Now that we've had a deeper look into harmony, we are going to learn how to use this practically through the use of triads. In this unit, we will be learning our first Ionian piece in the style of Motown, a genre that favourably uses Ionian melody and harmony. We will be focussing on triads, and the idea of "home", whilst referring to Roman numerals. The piece is in the key of C, so might be worth playing through the C Ionian scale as a warm-up for this unit! Check out the first video to get started!
There are two sections involved in this song (we will refer to them as section A and section B). Firstly, let's look at the chord sequence of section A. The chords are as follows:
So, if we describe this track based on the Ionian mode, the chords would be 1, 6, 4, 5, 1, 3, 6, 5, 4, 5. Which in Roman Numerals, would look like this:
Really take note of how each chord feels, and the mood this sequence has to it. With the Ionian, you can really hear where the key centre lies. The 1 chord will always feel resolved as you have returned home. Let's have a look at our B section:
And referring to Roman numerals:
Triads are a very common and effective way of voicing chords. Whilst the core of each chord still has the same functionality and general feeling, the voicing can determine a subtle change in the way these chords carry themselves. We could look at several voicing (or inversions) for C major for example and each one of these would feel different despite being the same 3 notes played together, this allows us to be more selective with our sequences. We might not always want full and rich chords, maybe because we want something more subtle, or maybe we just want something that simply fits better with the instruments around it. Triads tend to feel slightly more suggestive and less abrasive, which is an incredibly useful tool to have, particularly when working with other instrumentalists.
A triad simply is just three notes stacked on top of each other. It will usually consist of the root note, a 3rd and a 5th. The only difference between major and minor triads is whether the 3rd is flattened or not (if it's flattened it will be minor). The order in which we stack these chords will determine what inversion this chord is. Each chord has three inversions. If we were to play the triad in its natural order, ie 1,3,5, this would just be a standard chord, if we stack the chords 3, 5, 1, this would be the 1st inversion, and if we stacked the chord 5, 1, 3, this would be a second inversion. This gives us a lot of scopes creatively, as we now have many more harmonic variations even within a premeditated sequence. Here we will look at triads that either has the root note on the G, B or E string. This is a good way of testing your knowledge of the fretboard whilst learning some really useful shapes.
This is a D major triad, as it consists of the notes D, F# and A. Whatever order we put those notes in, they will always make a D major triad. This first shape places the root note on the G string, meaning we are starting on the 5th (A) and therefore creating this shape - the second inversion. As you can see, it's actually just a simplified version of a D major bar chord starting on the A string (see below).
We can apply this same approach in different keys/chords. For example, if we want to find a C# Major using this triad, we just need to locate the C# note on the G string and build the 3rd and 5th around that.
We can easily make any major shape a minor by flattening the 3rd. Let's apply this to the same inversion, with the root note on the G string.
As you can see, again it is just a simplified version of a D minor barre chord with the root on string 5 (A string)
Let's look at some shapes with the root starting on the B.
This again is D major, as it has the notes needed to make it a D major chord. Here we are again starting on the 5th meaning it is the 2nd inversion. This is the most commonly recognised D chord, however, we can transpose this chord, just like we did with the other shape, to any other fret - making it a different chord. For example, if we move this shape up so that we have our root on the 8th fret, 5th and 3rd both on the 7th fret, we now have a G major chord, as the root is playing G on the B string. Again, all we have to do here to modulate this chord from major to minor is flatten the 3rd (see below)
And finally, let's look at some shapes with the root starting on the E.
Here is D major again but this time with the root note on the E string. As the 3rd is the starting note, we are playing the 1st inversion here. This is just a simplified version of a full D major barre chord starting on the E string. minor shape is as seen below!
Here we are looking at the chords involved and voicing them through triads. The great thing about having multiple shapes to choose from is that not only do we have some options in a creative sense, but we have options in terms of practicality. This is particularly useful when we have a fast-moving sequence.
In this song, the sequence is still the same as mentioned previously in terms of what chords we are playing and their roman numerals, yet the voicings are changing around a fair amount. Our sequence, as mentioned before is:
The shapes for these are as follows
Here we have used another voicing for E minor, but go ahead and see if you can apply this to your sequences using the same concepts! (All you need is the 3rd, 4th and root note of a chord). Equally, why not try this sequence using the alternative voicings. Notice how it feels and sounds different!
Try playing through this sequence with a metronome. Take it nice and slow to begin with and really get comfortable with the shapes. Slowly build up speed every few times you're successful with it!
Our sequence, as mentioned before is:
As you can see, all the voicings are pretty much the same as the verse, except for the fact we have used a different voicing for the final iii chords and we have included an ii in our sequence. Both of these chords are highlighted in blue (see above). The way we voice those two chords is as follows:
Again, play through this sequence with a metronome and build up speed with it progressively.
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