TonalityGUIDE - basic tonal music theory and analysis for undergraduates
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Chords and Scales
introduction diatonic scales triads diatonic chords chromatic chords embellished chords


Major | Minor

Because the diatonic minor scale has different forms in different contexts, the chords based on it are also more fluid. The example below shows the chords based on the natural or Aeolian minor scale with those based on the harmonic scale (with its sharpened leading note) in square brackets.


As in the major scale i, iv and v are still related by fifth, but in the natural minor they are all minor triads rather than major. It is the fact that tonic, subdominant and dominant triads are minor that defines the sound of minor key music. As discussed in the section on the diatonic minor scale, however, the leading note of the minor scale is usually sharpened in order to enhance the finality of the perfect cadences from V to I.

[If you need a reminder of the functional names of chords, go to the Toolkit and look in Basics]

If the major and minor scale are opposite in terms of the tonic, subdominant and dominant, III and VI, which are minor triads in major keys are also reversed to become major. The difference is even more fundamental for these chords because the roots are different: III is a minor third above the tonic and VI a major third below rather than the other way around. This reinforces the fundamental difference in sound between major and minor key music.

Chords ii and vii in the harmonic minor are the same as in the major - they are minor triads related to the tonic by a tone and semitone respectively. In the natural minor the root of vii is flattened, but this is less commonly in tonal music vii based on a raised subtonic.


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TonalityGUIDE - Tonal Harmony and Voiceleading - Table of Contents