Chord Scales in the Key of Awesome

Wait, I am already learning chords and scales… you’re telling me there are also things called Chord Scales? Yes! Chords scales are not only useful when composing, but also in improvisation. When harmonizing a melody we can make our music more rich, have more twists and turns, and break us out of the riff-based power chord rut we have been in for far too long. This article will explain a basic harmonization of the major scale, using movable chord shapes on the four smallest strings of our guitars – all while sounds sophisticated, complex, and completely irresistible to the opposite sex.

Do Re Mi Fa Fo Fum

I use the Alnico II Pro neck model in these examples. It is my favorite neck pickup.
I use the Alnico II Pro neck model in these examples. It’s my favorite neck pickup.

To back up just a little bit, we have to remember what scales actually are. Essentially, they’re notes related to each other collected in something called a key. Imagine a key being something like a family, and the scale are the individual people in that family. The easiest and most basic scale that musicians in the Western hemisphere learn is the major scale. Major scales have a happy sound, and when we harmonize (add notes either above or below the main note) these with chords, we get a chord scale. Every scale can be harmonized, although it does require some knowledge of what notes are in each key, the types of chords within a key, and some movable shapes that make it all easier. For more on the relationship between keys, scales and chords, check out this article.

We’re going right to 7th chords!

Triads (three-note chords) are the most basic chords (outside of power chords, which are even more basic and are not really chords*). To get more complexity and sophistication in our playing and our musical statements, we can add another note to each triad, making them four-note chords. Usually, these chords have a 7 in the name, as we’re adding the 7th note of the scale to the basic triad. You can read about the differences in the names and sounds of 7th chords in one of my previous articles.
*Power chords, as we call them, are technically not chords. They are an interval of a 5th, and nothing more. However, language changes over time, and so do definitions, so my college theory professor can suck it. 
We will start with a basic major scale (not very rock n roll) in the (very rock n roll) key of E. I’ll play this on the fourth string only, so I can eventually use the smaller three strings to harmonize each note.

That is just a scale, dude.

Yeah, and a boring one at that. However, if we build 7th chords above it, we come out with some cool, movable shapes that will make us worthy of the sweater vests we are so fond of. Check out these cool shapes that use the notes above as the root of each chord:

Now, these will sound pretty bad with a ton of gain, as the overtones that are emphasized will clash against the other notes in the chords. Besides, use this as a chance to use that green channel of your amp, and hear how well our fingers obey our eyes and brain.

A Side Note About 7th Chords

The I chord of every key is a MAJOR 7th chord.
The ii chord of every key is a MINOR 7th chord.
The iii chord of every key is a MINOR 7th chord.
The IV chord of every key is a MAJOR 7th chord.
The V chord of every key is a DOMINANT 7th chord.
The vi chord of every key is a MINOR 7th chord.
The vii chord of every key is a MINOR 7b5 (minor 7 flat 5) chord- archaically called a half-diminished chord.

Come up with a chord progression… NOW!

I will pick an easy one: Emaj7-F#m7-G#m7-F#m7. These are the first 3 shapes of our scale. Here is the loop I made:

I will use the E major scale to solo over this progression, since each chord contains notes from the key of E. Here is my solo:

But you can also use those chords shapes to solo over anything in E major. Here is my solo over a basic loopy drone using the 4-note chord scale.

Don’t Forget

These shapes can be moved anywhere up and down the fourth string of the guitar. As long as you keep each shape lined up after the first one, you can use these chords in any key. Using these shapes, the root of each chord is on the fourth string. Remember, chords are not just used for the music in between the solos, but they can be used for solos too- in any style of music. But now, I will be quiet and let Robert Fripp conjure up some demons with a chord-tastic solo:

Do you ever solo using chords? What are some of your favorite chord progressions?

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