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Music Theory

Introduction to Chords

Learning Module



1) The following prerequisites are required for this course -

2) Major scale theory

3) The understanding of how to produce major scales in any key

4) The basics of mode construction

5) Reading the treble and bass clef and notation

A topical refresher can be found below, under the heading "Refresher". Use this brief overview to assist in any remedial learning that you may need before the course begins.


This eight lesson course will use the foundations of music theory, identified in the prerequisite section, to build chord triads and seventh chords. There will be opportunities in each course meeting to complete a task and peer evaluation. The task will be comprised of submitting an update relating to the current topic, or a task will be specifically addressed. After completing the task, you'll be required to complete responses to three of your peers. There should be a comment for classes, when required. Always feel free to comment on areas needing addressed or help.

The updates should include a multimedia approach. There should be links, videos, attachments, images, etc. attached that further add or give emphasis to what you're trying to express. All forms of media are not necessary, but be encouraged to explore more than one type. An example of an update would be to take a piece of music (video, audio, sheet music, guitar tab, etc.) and explain how the current class is represented in that piece of music. Another idea would be to comment on a video from the lesson or lesson idea and share ideas of its use in a style of music, or particular music progression.

This course builds learning by making direct use of the prior lessons learned in the following lesson, for example, week 2 will be on Triads and Week 3 will be on progressions created by the use of triads. This building of learning will continue through each lesson, so it's imperative to make use of the comment and messaging features to engage with peers or the teacher if you need assistance. Try to be creative and expressive in your updates and feel free to share your individual work or interests.

Learning Targets:

  • Identify intervals and their sonorities.
  • Understand the changes in sonority through the sharpening and flattening of intervals.
  • Create triads, be able to create all diatonic triads in a key, and know their forms (Major, minor, diminished).
  • Understand how to alter diatonic triads by sharpening or flattening intervals, and what their names are, e.g., name the triad that has a 1-3-#5.
  • Know the Roman numeral system for writing triads.
  • Identify triads in staff notation.
  • Know the triad progressions harmony chart.
  • Be able to create a simple progression using the triad progression chart.
  • Create seventh chords, be able to create all diatonic seventh chords in a key, and know their forms (Major 7th, minor 7th, dominant 7th, and half-diminished).
  • Identify seventh chords in staff notation.
  • Know the Roman numeral system for writing seventh chords.
  • Know how the triad progression chart applies to the seventh chord progressions.
  • Be able to create a simple progression using the progression chart with seventh chords.
  • Know the first, second, and third inversions and how they differ from the root position.
  • Identify inversions in staff notation.
  • Know how to write chords and inversions in figured bass.
  • Identify chords using figured bass.
  • Using the progression chart, create a simple progression using inversions.

Pre Survey:

A survey will be conducted pre and post course. The teacher will publish the Pre-Survey. Please, take it and submit it before the Intervals and Sonority class. 


The first thing is to understand the notes in Western music. In Western music, there are 12 notes. These notes are broken down into 7 naturals and 5 accidentals.

A natural is represented by just the note itself: A-B-C-D-E-F-G

An accidental is a note that either has a sharp symbol (#) or a flat symbol (b) displayed after the note: A#-B#-C#-D#-E#-F#-G# or Ab-Bb-Cb-Db-Eb-Fb-Gb

The chromatic scale is just a fancy way of saying all of the notes in Western music displayed in a row. The chromatic scale has all of the note qualities without skipping anything. As you can see in the picture below, there are 2 chromatic scales. One has all sharps and the other has all flats. The best way to understand this is with a piano keyboard.

The Chromatic Scale with Both Enharmonic Qualities.

 The piano shows that some of the sharp notes and the flat notes are in fact the same note. This is called enharmonic. You can see that a C# is the same as a Db, D# is the same as Eb, F# same as Gb, etc. The reason for this, which will become more apparent later, is that you want 1 note from each letter in the major scale, and that can't be done without the use of enharmonic notes. On a piano there is no B# or E# nor Cb or Fb, but theoretically they exist. Don't let that confuse you. Just know the 5 accidentals are C#/Db-D#/Eb-F#/Gb-G#/Ab-A#/Bb

The Chromatic Scale on the Piano.

 Moving from one note to another is called a "step". There are 2 different kinds of steps, half steps and whole steps. Looking at the Chromatic scale keyboard, above, moving from C to C#, or E to F, is a half-step, usually abbreviated to H. The whole step is the equivalent of 2 half steps. Therefore, a whole step would be from C to D, or E to F#. A whole-step is abbreviated as W.

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Major Scales:

Major scales are built from 2 - two whole steps and one half step (diatonic tetrachord), separated by 1 - whole step. Ex.: W-W-H -W- W-W-H or C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C

The series of whole steps and half steps can also be called tones and semitones, therefore the major scale would look as such: T-T-S -T- T-T-S

A good visual representation of this is using the piano:

C major scale on keyboard.

As seen above, the skipped piano keys (e.g., C to D, skipping the C# black key) represents a W or T. The half steps can be seen in the keys played next to each other (E to F, or A to Bb).

Circle of 5ths:

The circle of 5ths and 4ths should be utilized to create sharp and flat keys.

Circle of 5ths and 4ths.

As you move clockwise around the Circle of 5ths diagram the new sharp (#) is added and the new key is generated, ex.: C-D-E-F-G, from C to G is a 5th. The new key is G and it has one sharp, the F#. The 7th note in the new key is the new sharp. Once you get a sharp, you keep the sharp, i.e., G has one sharp, F#. The next key, D (G-A-B-C-D) has two sharps, the original F# as before and a new sharp, which is the 7th of the new key, C#.

The Circle of 5ths clock doesn't show that the key of C# has all sharps (C#-D#-E#-F#-G#-A#-B#) and Cb has all flats (Cb-Db-Eb-Fb-Gb-Ab-Bb), but is represented in the attached chart on the bottom.

These added sharps make up the sharp keys, dictated by how many sharps are in that major scale, for example a key signature of three #s is in the key of A because A has three 3 #s in its major scale (A-B-C#-D-E-F#-G#).

An inverted perfect 5th is a perfect 4th, thus going counter clockwise on the Circle of 5ths produces the Circle of 4ths which represents the flat (b) keys. C-D-E-F, a 4th creates the first flat key, F, which has one flat, Bb. The 4th interval in the new flat key is the newly added flat note (F-G-A-Bb, thus Bb). The same method applies for producing all of the flat keys.


Modes are scales that are constructed from the major scale. It creates a new scale, or mode, from an interval of the major scale, without changing the intervals of the original major scale.

Modes in C major.

The modes all have distinguishing note qualities that will prove valuable to know when creating triads and chords. This will be explained in the triads section. The key point in the refresher is to understand this and to know that the Aeolian scale is also called the natural minor scale. Every key has a natural minor scale equivalent, eg., C - Amin, G - Emin, A - F#min, etc. which are commonly referred to as relative minor keys. Therefore, the key signature with one sharp is either the key of G major or E minor. The difference will be relevant in the construction of the song.

In the center of the Circle of 5ths diagram the relative minor keys are in red. Inside the keys are blue Roman numerals. These relate to chords, which will be explained in this course.

For the Teacher

Pre Survey:

The Pre Survey is the same as the Post Survey that's to be completed at the end of the course, prior to the Peer Reviewed Work. The purpose is to examine the student's knowledge before and after the course. This can help the students feel good about their learning path and can also be used to gauge future courses and where more emphases may need to be placed. The answer key is below and included in the survey.

Pre/Post Survey Answer Key

Intervals and Sonority

For the Student

Objective: Understand intervals and the interval numbering system. Learn the sonority of the intervals and listen to how they sound when played melodically (one note after the other) and harmonically (played at the same time).


It's imperative that you are able to understand intervals and triads and how they relate to modes and major scales. An interval recap is provided in the video below. 

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The intervals are generally expressed as a number. The 2nd or the minor 2nd are examples of intervals. These can also be expressed like M2 or m2, where the Major is in uppercase and the minor is in lowercase. These terms comprise what is called harmony. Harmony is when 2 or more notes are played at the same time, whereas melody is when notes are played consecutively. These tonal qualities distinguished by these harmonies will be the distinction of the chords that we will create and how and when they can be played.

Intervals Displayed on the Keyboard.

 Intervals are always counted from the root note or the 1st note. That means that a 5th is the 5th note as it applies to the 1st note in the scale. 

Let's simplify this even further by relating it to the major scale. The diagram below shows a keyboard with the C major scale in light blue. You need to use your imagination and rotate the diagram where the keys are on the bottom. On the far right is the interval number, just to the left of that is the interval.

Interval Guide.

C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C are intervals 1-M2-M3-P4-P5-M6-M7-8

Major intervals + a half step (H) = Augmented (ex. A2)

Major intervals - H = minor (ex. m3)

minor intervals + H = Major (ex. M3 in any minor scale)

minor intervals - H = diminished (ex. d7)

Perfect intervals + H = Augmented (ex. A4)

Perfect intervals - H = diminished (ex. d5)

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The easiest way to understand why a note is either an Augmented 4th or a diminished 5th depends on the scale. Always refer to the scale, always.

4+ or 5° example:

C-D-E-F-[ F# or Gb? ]-A-B should we use the F# or Gb and would that be an Aug 4th or a dim 5th? Remember, in a scale there should be 1 letter of each note, and only 1 letter of each note. That means the note should be a Gb and therefore a diminished 5th note (5th note of the scale). If the scale looked like this C-D-E-[ F# or Gb? ]-G-A-B then we already have a G, therefore the note should be a F# and an Augmented 4th (4th note of the scale).

Some scales have sharps and some have flats in them. Sharpening or flattening a note means that the pitch is 1/2 step higher or 1/2 step lower, respectively. Take a C. To sharpen it, you get C#, to flatten it you get Cb. Now, look at a Gb. Sharpening it becomes a G, and flattening it makes it a Gbb. A note can be #, b, ##, or bb, but never ### or bbb.

Example of bb note:

Ab-Bb-C-Db-Eb-F-G is the key of Ab. If you want a dim 5th, the Eb (5th note of the scale) has to be flattened. If you go down 1/2 step from a Eb, you have a D, but there's already a D in the scale, therefore you need to have an Ebb to maintain the "one of each note" rule. This makes the scale Ab-Bb-C-Db-Ebb-F-G.

You will see in future lessons that you don't actually change a major scale degree. What you really do is play outside of the major scale and the difference of the note in relationship to the major scale is what is changing. The Ab major scale will always be Ab-Bb-C-Db-Eb-F-G, but you may play an Ebb note, which is therefore a diminished 5th in relationship to the Ab major scale.


Go to and test your interval knowledge. If you press the COG on the upper right corner, you can click on or off intervals that you want to work with.

 Next, try creating the interval instead of just identifying it If you press the COG on the upper right corner, you can click on or off intervals that you want to work with.

Weekly Projects:

Create an update containing audio or video and another form of media on intervals and sonority. Be creative and expressive. Try to relate it to your likes and dislikes.

Comment on 3 classmates' updates.

For the Teacher


Intervals are the alphabet of music. In order to learn all the numbering systems that go into music, the concept of intervals is needed. It's important to share that the student will use numbers in all forms of communication involved with music and differentiating between talking about the 3rd of the chord, versus the third chord in a progression means learning how to communicate effectively as a musician using the terms in context.

Learning Objectives:

The student should know all of the major scales and learn the intervals that are in them. They should use the refresher as necessary and may need some help filling in the gaps if there has been some time since they have last learned major scale theory.

The concept of sonority may take a little time to understand, but as the class progresses, it will make more sense. The key idea in this class is to know changes in sonority, such as sharpening a P4 creates an A4.

Common Errors:

The idea of minor and major may not be easy to discern in the interval section. An audial explanation will be more relevant than a typed scale. Hearing the lowered 3rd is much easier to understand than seeing it.

It might be helpful to have a generic update that you can post as an example of what the level of expectations are for your class.



For the Student

Objective: Take what you have learned in the interval and sonority lesson and apply it to create triads. Know how to make triads and what the differences between the types of triads are. Memorize the mantra to lock in the order of the diatonic triads are in every key.


Triads are 3 note chords. A chord is when there are 3 or more notes played at the same time. Remember, harmony means notes played at the same time and melody means notes played consecutively.

The triad is created by using the 1st, 3rd, and 5th of a scale. These are called tonic triads or root triads. The 1 is generally called the root or the tonic. In essence, the construction is taking the root note, adding a third (1-2-3, always count where you start), then adding the fifth (3-4-5) which is also a third above the third note. This is conveniently called stacking thirds. In the key of Gb (Gb-Ab-Bb-C-Db-Eb-Fb), the tonic triad is Gb (the root) - Bb (the third) - and Db (the fifth), thus making the tonic triad Gb-Bb-Db.

There are 3 forms of triads, diatonically.

3 forms of diatonic triads: Major, minor, diminished.

The Major chord is comprised of 1-3-5

The minor chord is 1-b3-5

The diminished chord is 1-b3-b5

The diminished chord is a minor chord with a flattened or diminished 5th. The 5th is a Perfect note, when flattened, becomes diminished. The 3rd note designates whether or not a chord is minor. If the chord was 1-3-b5, it would not be a diminished chord. It would in fact be called a Major flat 5 chord.

Tonic triads are explained in detail in the video below.

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When working in a key, we create triads with the root on each note in that major scale. These are called diatonic chords. Diatonic means form the major scale or natural minor scale and chords are 3 or more notes played at the same time.

Modes used below are not explained in this series, but the concept is used. To explain in the most basic way, a mode is starting the major scale on another degree. For instance, in the F major scale, F-G-A-Bb-C-D-E, you can start the scale on the 2nd degree (the G) and get this G-A-Bb-C-D-E-F, which still have all the notes of the F major scale in them, just in a different order. This can be done to all degrees of the scale. That's all you need to know about modes for the purpose that we will explain below.

Diatonic triads will create 7 - root-third-fifth triads all of which have notes that are in the key of the 1st degree chord.

Diatonic triads in C for piano and guitar.

Notice in the Diatonic triads in C for piano and guitar diagram, that no triad created has a sharp of flat, therefore not altering the note from the key signature.

The easy way to work out building diatonic triads is to take a major scale and stack the modes below it:

Stacked Modes.

After you have the major scale and modes lined up. Concentrate only on the 1-3-5 intervals as demonstrated in the graphic below. This gives us the visualization of the major scale and the triads within the scale. Remember that a triad is Root-Third-Fifth.

Music has a lot of numbering involved. In this section, we'll cover another series of numbers. These numbers that we will learn will describe the chords and many (if not most) times they will also include an interval characteristic and other numbers called figured bass (that we haven't covered). It's important to learn each type of numbering (intervals, chords, figured bass, etc.) and use them properly.

We learned about intervals and their numbering. Those numbers are classified with Arabic numbers, such as 1-2-3-4-5-6-7. These same ideas are used in triads. When talking about triads and chords the nomenclature changes from the interval integers 1-2-3, etc. to uppercase and lowercase Roman numerals. The uppercase Roman numerals (I, II, III, IV, etc.,) represent Major and Augmented chords. The lowercase Roman numerals (i, ii, iii, iv, etc.) represent minor and diminished chords.

Major Scale Triads in root-third-fifth.

The reason the ii, iii, vi, and vii° are not major is because of the intervals within the triad. The F in the D minor triad is a minor 3rd creating a minor chord. Any chord with a Major 3rd is a major chord and any chord with a minor 3rd is a minor chord. If you look at the D major scale (D-E-F#-G-A-B-C#), the 3rd interval is F#. In the key of C there is no F#.

To make a diminished chord there is a minor 3rd (hence the lowercase Roman numerals) and a diminished 5th. Recall that Perfect intervals can be augmented or diminished, whereas Major intervals can be minored or Augmented. So, the B dim chord is B-D-F, having a flat 3rd and a flat 5th interval. In the B major scale the notes are B-C#-D#-E-F#-G#-A#. This shows that B diminished chord has a D and F which are flat compared to the B major scale.

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 The above video explains how to make a tonic triad in any minor scale. For this course we will only consider the natural minor scale, because it is the minor scale that is formed naturally from the major scale. That natural minor scale can be found at the 6th interval of the major scale. In the key of C major (C-D-E-F-G-A-B) the natural minor would be A-B-C-D-E-F-G. Further examination of the natural minor compared to an A major scale (A-B-C#-D-E-F#-G#) reveals that in the A natural minor, the 3rd, 6th and 7th have been flattened from C#-F#-G# to C-F-G. We should know by now, that if the 3rd interval is a minor third, that particular note classifies the scale or chord as a minor.

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I created what I call my Major Scale mantra:


The mantra is read like:


When creating the triads from the Major scale, the chords will ALWAYS follow that order. An example to that would be in the key of C and the corresponding triads which are: C major, D minor, E minor, F major, G major, A minor, B diminished.

There is a difference between the diminished and half-diminished which will be discussed later. Sometimes you will see a superscript degree symbol (o) for a diminished chord, or a superscript degree symbol with a slash (ø) through it as on the half-diminished chords.

If we combine this mantra with the Roman numeral system, then we end up with the following:


The diminished or vii chord can cause some confusion. In many cases it's written vii°. This can be somewhat confusing in later parts of this course, but for the triad, know that it means that it's a diminished triad.

Diatonic Triads in All Major Keys.

 The above chart shows diatonic triads in all major scales (except for F#, because most people transpose this key to the enharmonic key of Gb). The following video plays the C major triads in order, so you can hear each one as they progress up and down the scale.

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 Try this to identify the types of triads

Try this to construct triads

The above links may contain extended chords that have not been explained yet. If you press the COG on the upper right corner, you can click on or off chords that you want to work with. Depending on whether you are a pianist or guitarist, there are piano and guitar fingerings that you can identify at



Weekly Project:

Create a multimodal update on triads. Evaluate the triads in different keys and discuss the triads, sonority of triads, or any topic relating to this lesson plan.

Go to the websites and try your hand at the self-evaluations.

Comment on 3 classmates' updates.

For the Teacher


Chords are foundational to music. The basic triad is an essential learning step to creating more vividly aural music. It's very important they understand the difference between major and minor and can create triads in any key.

Learning Objectives:

The key concepts and take away is to understand about stacking thirds to create the basic triad and the basic nomenclature for triads. The creation of triads will include the use of minors and diminished terms. These should be explained by directly connecting the idea of the mode in which the chord is built to the major scale.

A solid relationship between the chord and mode to the original major scale is essential. An example would be in the key of C major with a D minor chord. The student should understand that within the C major scale, the Dorian scale is D-E-F-G-A-B-C, thus the D minor is D-F-A. The D major scale is D-E-F#-G-A-B-C# and the D major chord is D-F#-A. The F# (3rd) is flattened to F as it relates to the D major scale. Since the major third is flattened to a minor third, the chord is a D minor. The Dorian mode's intervals are 1-2-3b-4-5-6-7b showing the relationship.

Knowing this relationship will be pivotal in the further progression of the class.

The student should know how to write the chords in Roman numerals.

Common Errors:

It is common for a student to not understand the concept of a flat 3 (b3). The note does not need to be a flat note. In D (D-E-F#-G-A-B-C#) the 3rd is a sharp, but if the note was an F, it's a flat 3rd. It's important to teach the idea of the pitch moving down, not the addition of a flat symbol that makes a note flat.

The student sometimes gets the major and uppercase Roman numeral with the minor and lowercase Roman numeral messed up.


Have the students create updates that relate to the advancement of this knowledge and express in the 3 comments to other's updates to speak on relationships. This week is important that they prove their understanding of those relationships.

 Below are some worksheets that can be given out if needed to not quiz them, but to let them evaluate themselves if they feel like they need more help. You can fill them out and also attach an answer key.

Interval Worksheet 1.
Interval Worksheet 2.
Writing Intervals Worksheet. has online exercises which are very useful. The links to relevant exercises will be added to the lesson pages.

The video below may take some explanation, but it's a good visualization of harmonics and what is happening when harmonies are played.

Media embedded September 26, 2018

Progressions Using Triads

For the Student

Objective: Learn how to use triads to create progressions. Learn the numbering system to create progressions and read others' progressions. Learn the rules for chord placement in progressions.


Progressions are chord passages used in a musical movement. These progressions usually repeat themselves through the song, with specific alterations. There are many commonly used chord progressions.

Some of the most common chord progressions are I-IV-V, ii-V-I, and I-vi-ii-V.

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Chord progressions can't be played any way that you want. I guess that you could just throw chords together any way that you want, but the result wouldn't be pleasing to the ear. That's because the harmonic structure of the notes played, create a human desire to hear specific notes to follow.

Media embedded September 26, 2018

The above video is a bit creative, but it's the idea that dissonance and consonance are created by chords/triads and that shapes where the ear wants the next chord change to go that's the main idea to retain. Below is an example of consonance and dissonance.

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 Try using this virtual keyboard

By clicking the chord button, you can click on 2 different notes and hear them together. Try to find the note combinations that sound pleasing to you and ones that aren't so pleasing.

 The video that follows is a great example of how a progression should be designed based on the creation of tension within the chords and how they resolve. Resolution is when you hear a chord that has tension (dissonance) in it and the next chord played audibly takes that tension away to a consonant sound.

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Major Chord Progression Chart.
Minor Chord Progression Chart.

Try using the information that you've learned in this class using the following chord generator

Try playing different progressions in different key. See what happens when you don't follow the "rules" explained in the videos and charts. You can also use the generator to plug in some of the progressions that are below in the charts.

Major Key Progressions.
Minor Key Progressions.

 Weekly Project:

Create an update on progressions using triads. Make sure that it has a multimodal approach. Try to relate it to your likes and dislikes. Create a progression and attach that to your update. It can be via video, audio, or staff notation. Take a few sentences to express what it is about that progression that you like or dislike.

Comment on 3 classmates' updates.

Comment on this lesson plan regarding above progressions and which ones you like better or like least and why. Try to explain in a way that explains the music and the chords.

For the Teacher


The purpose of this lesson is to learn the basics of creating progressions and trying them out.

Learning Objectives:

The students need to begin to learn that the ear wants the song to progress forward and we want to hear resolution. The key to progressions is creating a stimulating sound that we enjoy. The composer will take us through an audible journey that has ups and downs and dissonance and consonance that is the vehicle of that journey.

Common Errors:

There is no wrong way to write a progression. The music will either sound bad and the human psyche won't like the movement, or it will sound pleasing and the psyche will enjoy it. The progression chart is a road map that is known to create pleasing chord progressions that have been proven over time. Allow the student to hear different versions of good and bad progressions.

Seventh Chords

For the Student

Objective: Learn how to create seventh chords based on the interval and triad lessons that you have already completed. Know the different kinds of seventh chords and how they are constructed. With aid of the mantra, memorize the order of diatonic seventh chords.


This class will take all that we have learned about chords and intervals and add another layer to it. This lesson will be on seventh chords. In the Triads lesson, we saw the stacking of thirds 1-3-5. The 3rd stacked on top of the root and the fifth (a third above the 3rd) is stacked on top of the third, creating a triad composed of root-third-fifth.

The seventh will be, as you guessed it, another third above the fifth (5-6-7, always include the origin note). This will create a chord that has the intervals of root-third-fifth-seventh. Where the triad has 3 forms, diatonically, Major, minor, and diminished, the seventh chord has 4 forms.

The 4 forms of 7th chords: Major 7th, minor 7th, Dominant 7th, and half-diminished seventh chord.

Major 7th or M7: 1-3-5-7

minor 7th or m7 or -7: 1-b3-5-b7

Dominant 7th or Dom7 or Major/minor 7th or 7: 1-3-5-b7

half-diminished 7 or Ø or min7(b5) : 1-b3-b5-b7

Diatonic Seventh Chords in C.
Media embedded September 26, 2018
Media embedded September 26, 2018

The construction of these may appear to be overwhelming, as in, how do you remember which 7th chord goes where? This is where your knowledge of major scales and intervals comes in handy. Music doesn't generally swap between keys every other measure. Most of the time, the key stays the same for the whole song. This means that most or all of the time, you'll only use the notes from that one major scale. Let's examine a small piece of music.

Charlie Parker's "Au Privave"

 In the above passage, the Chords are written above the treble clef and the chord degrees are below the bass clef. We can see that there is major chord in the I position, a minor 7th in the ii, a dominant 7th in the V. This is just as we'd expect, because M-m-m-M-M-m-d. This goes for 7th chords too in a diatonic scale.

We go to our major scale and examine the 7s.

Seventh Chord Construction in C Major.

As with the triads, we add the seventh on top of the triad with the note from the major scale that the key is in.


In the key of A major A-B-C#-D-E-F#-G# let's find the IV7 chord

A-B-C#-D the forth interval in A major is D. We know it's a major chord because we learned the mantra, M-m-m-M-M-m-d, and the 4th degree is a Major. So the notes in that triad are the 1-3-5 from D in the key of A: D-E-F#-G#-A-B-C# 1=D, 3=F#, 5=A. Then we add the 7th which is a C#. Therefore the seventh chord in the key of A major is D-F#-A-C. So, what type of 7th chord is that? How do we determine that? We go to the D major scale D-E-F#-G-A-B-C#. Then we build a 7th out of that from the root position D-F#-A-C#. We compare them and alas, they match. That means it's a Dmaj7 chord.

Let's try that in the key of Bb looking for the 7th chord for the iii.

Bb-C-D-Eb-F-G-A the iii is Bb-C-D the D is the iii chord. Building the triad starting on the iii scale degree D-Eb-F-G-A-Bb-C is D-F-A adding the seventh gives us D-F-A-C. Comparing this to the D major scale D-E-F#-G-A-B-C# the root seventh chord should be D-F#-A-C#.

Let's compare the root major 7th chord built from the D major scale to the iii7 built from Bb major.

I7 in D major - D-F#-A-C#

iii7 in Bb major - D-F-A-C

It's easy to see that the F in the Bb major scale is flattened from that in the D major scale. That means it has a b3. The seventh in Bb major, iii7 is C, whereas the D major scale has a C#. This means that the C# has been flattened to a C, yielding a b7. We use our chart at the top of the page to tell us what a 1-b3-5-b7 chord is and it reveals that is the signature for a minor 7th chord. Therefore, the iii7 chord in Bb is a Dm7.

While this may seem painstaking, it's really simple, because you acutally memorize this:

  • I & IV are Maj7 (M7, \(\Delta\\)7) chords.
  • ii, iii, & vi are min7 (m7, -7) chords.
  • V is a Dom7 (or 7) chord.
  • vii is half-diminished (ø7, m7b5) chord.

This is true in every diatonic chord.

Your turn: Can you determine what the III7 chord in the key of E minor is?

Listen to the difference between these chords and see if you can tell the difference:

Media embedded September 27, 2018

Try your hand at these chord identifiers, this time include the 7th chords

Here you can try to create the 7th chords

Now try your hand at this quiz covering material up to this point

Here are some 7th chord flashcards

Here's a good way to look at the Major7 and -7 chords and to think about using them:

Media embedded September 27, 2018

 Weekly Project:

Create a multimodal update on seventh chords. Evaluate the seventh chords in different keys and discuss them, their sonority or any topic relating to this lesson plan. Try to relate it to your likes and dislikes.

Go to the links above and try a self-assessment.

Comment on 3 classmates' updates.

For the Teacher


Learning seventh chords is the beginning to learning about extended chords and suspensions. The seventh chord is the easiest to explain in the series of chords that are passed the elementary triad level. The seventh adds much color and movement and can express the dissonance and progression to a greater degree than the triad can, and also allows for a greater resolution.

Learning Objectives:

The student should learn all of the seventh chords in diatonic harmony and how they are constructed. Know how to read the numbering for chords (V7) and then write it out in a key (Key of D the V7 chord is a A7 chord).

Common Errors:

The idea that there are minor chords with major 7ths and major chords with minor 7ths may pose to be a challenge to their understanding of major and minor. Referencing the key you're in as opposed to the key of the chord may seem challenging to them. The Dm7 in the key of C is minor and has a minor 7th because it has a F and C in it as compared to the D major scale. That takes some time to think through. Thinking in 2 different keys gets confusing.

Progressions Using 7th Chords

For the Student

Objective: Take what you learned in the triad progressions lesson and apply it using seventh chords. Audibly evaluate how those seventh chords change the progressions you have already created.


Progressions for 7th chords follow the same rules that the triads do. Let's go over a refresher.

Major and minor Chord Progression Chart.

 These charts should remind you of what we covered in the Progressions Using Triads lesson.

Would this progression, in the key of A, work by the rules above?

Amaj7, E7, Amaj7, Dmaj7, Bmin7, C#maj7, G#º7, F#min7

Is the above progression right or wrong? Why or why not? If not, what could you do to fix it?

Would this progression, in the key of Em, work by the rules above?

Em7, Cmaj7, Amin7, Bmin7, Emin7, Gmaj7, C#maj7, F#°7, Bmaj7, Em7

Is the above progression right or wrong? Why or why not? If not, what could you do to fix it?

Angels We Have Heard on High.

In the piece above the chords are given above and the melody is in the sheet music. We're just examining the chords at the moment. Disregard the & in the C& chord. The & and the 7 are the same keyboard key and this was apparently a typo. So, it should be a C7 chord. Examine the chords and use chord numbering to examine what's happening. Are there any chords that aren't in the key? If so, why do you think that is?

We Three Kings.

In We Three Kings, the key signature is a minor key. Do you notice anything about the chords being played that alters from the formula i-ii°-III-iv-v-VI-VII? Why do you think that is?

Here's some 7 chords played through on guitar in a simple progression:

Media embedded September 27, 2018

Click on the link to try your hand writing seventh chords and reading them:

Now, see if you can identify the seventh chords by their sound. Click on the drop down box and choose Basic 7th then click START QUIZ:

Visual and audial identification is important in creating progressions. It's good to know what sound you're looking for in the movement between chords. The different seventh chords have different "levels" of dissonance and they resolve to different degrees.

 Listen to the chord resolution video below. You can hear the tension of the chord resolving into the last chord. This is why they Chord Progression Charts lead you in a certain direction and why the chords flow better in the way the chart is developed. 

Media embedded September 27, 2018

Here is a chart that you should try playing through choosing different paths. Make sure to use some 7th chords or all 7th chords:

Chord Guide.

Try ending your chord progression on a V or a vii chord. For instance, I-IV-V is a common chord progression, but when the song ends, it ends on I, not V. Try it and see.

Weekly Project:

Create an update on progressions using seventh chords. Make sure that it has a multimodal approach. Try to relate it to your likes and dislikes. Post notation or record a progression you created and discuss it. Take a few sentences to express what it is about that progression that you like or dislike.

Try using the progressions you created in the triad section and make some or all of the chords seventh chords and see how that changes the sound of the previous progressions. Do you like it more or less? Try different variations of which become sevenths and which don't.

Comment on 3 classmates' updates.

Comment on this lesson plan regarding above progressions and which ones you like better or like least and why. Try to explain in a way that explains the music and the chords.

For the Teacher


Using the seventh chords is imperative to understanding them. The key ideas of movement and why chords progress through the chart will become clearer as the added noted expand on the tension of the V and vii chords, and the resolution becomes more apparent.

Learning Objectives:

They student should be creative and use the chart and veer from it to learn what sounds good and why most people use that chart (at least conceptually). Putting seventh chords together and playing with tonality is a great way to learn about resolution.

Common Errors:

Allow them to challenge what they think is good and to let others agree or disagree. All music is subjective to the listener and giving the freedom to play with these chords will usually tend to settle them into the norm, rather than telling them what sounds good. The updates and their creativity will allow for interesting discussion.

Chord Inversions

For the Student

Objective: Learn the different types of chord inversions and how to write them. Learn how to determine which inversion is in the music. Audibly evaluate the difference between the different types of inversions.


Inversions are simply playing the chord in a different order. While C-E-G and G-C-E is the same chord, they sound different and can be used in a different manner. Let's first learn through this video how to determine which inversion is which.

Media embedded September 27, 2018

It's important to note that inverting chords changes their stability. Even though the same 3 or more notes are being played, their position in aural space makes a difference. See the diagram below.

Triad Inversions and Stability.

When writing chord for a lead sheet, using inversions, the chord is represented with the chord name with a slash and then the note in the bass, i.e., D/F#. The previous example is a D major chord with an F# in the bass. We know that a D major triad is D-F#-A, therefore the F# in the bass makes this a 1st inversion.

Lead Sheet Inversions with Triads.

Below are the major and minor chords and their inversions:

C Major and Minor Inversions.

You can listen to the above C major and minor chord inversions here:

C Major and Minor Inversion Audio File.
Media embedded September 28, 2018

As you could probably have guessed, if you add another note to create the 7th chord, another inversion possibility is introduced. The 3rd inversion is a 7th chord with the 7th note as the bass note. 

Seventh Chord Inversions,

Weekly Project:

Create a multimodal update on inversions. The key to using inversions is using them. Along with your update, include which inversions you think sound better and which ones don't. Make sure to comment in a way that expresses the chord and musicality (sonority) of these chords. Which do you like played back to back? Which don't you like played back to back?

Comment on 3 classmates' updates.

For the Teacher


Inversions are used in many key areas of music, all which are not discussed in this lesson. This lesson only speaks to the bass movement and how inversions help to move a progression tonaly forward.

Learning Objectives:

The student should learn how to determine whether a chord is in which position by looking at the staff. the different inversions change the stability of the chord.

Common Errors:

Everything doesn't require a bass progression or inversion. Learning when to and when not to use an inversion will come with time. Allow them to play with the inversions and encourage their creativity.

Figured Bass

For the Student

Objective: Take the inversions that you have learned and know how to write them in figured bass.


Figured bass is a way to indicate an inversion. We saw in a video in the Chord Inversions section that spoke of intervals called out by letters a, b, and c. These inversion names are not used as much as either just the staff notation, lead sheet chords (D/F#), or figured bass. Figured bass is very common and used in many genres of music, especially sacred, Classical, and jazz music.

Media embedded September 28, 2018

The Following chart can be used to help remember the figured bass symbols. The Seventh Chords are explained in the video that follows, by Dr. B. The main idea to retain is that staff notation, the types of notes (half, eighth, etc.), figured bass, etc., are just quick and easy ways to relay information. When playing music, there isn't enough time to read a sentence on how to play that chord. There's only a fraction of a second to relay that information. All that you have been learning is mainly short hand for music.

Figured Bass Chart.
Media embedded September 28, 2018

Here is an example of a piece of music with figured bass:

Figured Bass Example.

 Try the following example using figured bass and see if you can determine which inversion is being played. You can hover over the staff to reveal an answer. If you click play, you can hear the inversions.

Now print out the Figured Bass Writing Assignment and try your hand at the self-test. Use this as an opportunity to communicate with peers and the teacher on areas where you need help.

Figured Bass Writing Assignment.

Many times, you'll see the Roman numerals and the figured bass together:

Roman Numerals and Figured Bass.

Using the above example of Roman numerals and figured bass, can you write out in staff or in lead sheet the chords?

Weekly Project:

Create a multimodal update on figured bass. This week, include a score using figured bass and give a short explanation on why you chose it.

Comment on 3 classmates' updates.

Complete the self-assessment pdf above.

For the Teacher


Figured bass generally isn't the most imperative concept to learn, but it is a great concept to know when writing music. Using a short hand will condense the writing and reading time when constructing a score (can come back and fill in the rest and not lose the idea in your head). Another good thing is that it's easy to read and can make reading music less challenging. Jazz music tends to use figured bass quite a lot.

Learning Objectives:

Learn what figured bass is and how to read it.

Common Errors:

The student may tend to write out the long versions or forget that the root position doesn't need a number. This is more adding numbers on numbers which can get confusing. Many believe music isn't about all of the numbers and learning, that creativity is lost in the concept of theory, but in fact theory is a tool to make creativity easier.

Using Inversions in Progressions

For the Student

Objective: Using all of the knowledge that you have gathered over the course, learn to create progressions using triads, seventh chords, and inversions. Audibly hear the differences in the seventh and inversions included in music and the color they introduce into the scores.

Post Survey:

The teacher will make the Post-Survey available. Please, follow the instructions provided in the survey. 


What we want to do in this lesson is to use all of the triad, seventh, and inversion knowledge to be able to write a passage that allows for a smooth flow of melody and progresses the song forward. Use the same rules that you applied for chords taught in the triad and seventh chord lessons and add the inversions to it. Below you will see and hear how to use these inversions in different styles of music.

Inversions are used for many reasons. They help to create a better sound or movement through chordal passages. Many times inversions are used to pass tones and specifically the bass through a passage. Here is an example of bass movement through inversions within Canon in D:

Media embedded September 28, 2018

 Here we can see Rustington by the English composer Hubert Parry where he makes use of inversions to allow the bass to travel up through 4 chords.

Rustington by the English composer Hubert Parry

As you can see, the inversions in the passage above give a flowing movement of notes.

Take a look at the sheet music below and try to identify what the inversions are melodically doing to the passage:

Inversions and Melody 1.

Inversions will only be examined in this lesson through the movement of the bass. Know though that inversions can be used for voicing, avoiding parallel fifths, creating imperfect cadences, etc.

Here's a jazz song, "Summertime", performed by Joe Pass. Listen to the movement of the melody and the bass.

Media embedded September 28, 2018

Here's a passage from Duke Ellington's "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" and the video is below it. Look at the Dm/A - A7/E - Dm and the C/E - G7/D - C passage. The bass is moving down through the phrasing. Listen to the song. Hear the chords and the bass movement.

"Don't Get Around Much Anymore", Duke Ellington
Media embedded September 28, 2018

Weekly Project:

Create an update that includes progressions that you have created and used chord inversions on, and include figured bass. Post the progressions to include the figured bass and explain the progression, the movment of the notes, and why you chose certain chords.

Comment on 3 other updates.

Comment on this lesson plan with a video or audio of a song that uses seventh chords and inversions and why you chose that song.

For the Teacher

The Purpose:

In this course the student should challenge themselves to sum up all that they have learned in this lesson. It's a way to display all of the objectives in one place.

The Objective:

The student should put together a cogent progression and be able to look at a progression and determine what the composer is doing. They should be able to write out the chord progressions and display a basic understanding of how to use chords and inversions.

Common Errors:

Sometimes we tend to throw everything in the bowl and mix it up. That's like taking everything in your refrigerator and thinking you'll make a tasty cake out of it. More than likely that isn't the case. The student will probably put so many ideas together; it actually gets too complicated for this level of education. It's your part to show some examples where one of these and one of those is thrown in for color. Salt is a good ingredient, but that doesn't mean that when a recipe calls for a pinch that a tablespoon will make it 10 time better. In fact that could cause the exact opposite reaction. They'll learn that when creating progressions and trying to add color and flair.

Post Survey:

The Post Survey is the same as the Pre Survey. The student should show marked improvement in identifying chords in the treble clef. The answer key is below.

Post Survey Answers.


Peer Reviewed Work

For the Student

Include one of your works, a work of an artist, or a score and evaluate it's composition. The entire work isn't necessary, but a representative sample of the work should be included. It isn't necessary to include all three movements of Moonlight Sonata. You could include measures or pages from different sections of the entire work. There is no minimum or maximum word count, but be mindful of the reader. You will be evaluated on the overall work by your peers and you will evaluate you peers' work.

The work must contain, at a minimum, the following sections:

INTRODUCTION: The introduction should include a very short explanation of the composer(s), the style, and the period. You should also include why you chose the piece for evaluation.

BODY: The body of the work should outline how the composition is constructed. The chord progressions, the inversions, the chord choices, and how the presence of these chord changes color the song should be expanded on.

CONCLUSION: The conclusion of the work should include what you liked and/or disliked about the piece, what you would change, if you could, what your thoughts are about the composition and composer, etc.

The evaluation should include the following:

-Take a multimodal approach that includes audio, video, images, and etc. (The musical score to be evaluated should not count as 1 piece of media).

-There should at least be 1 published work (journal article, magazine article, etc.,) cited in the paper that speaks on the composer, the style, or the piece.


The peer review will be comprised of 5 sections. Please, follow the rubric when reviewing the composition evaluation.




For the Teacher

They key objective is to allow a student to take a piece of work and use their knowledge to create a cogent examination of what they think that person was doing when they wrote that piece of music.

We want them to enjoy the idea of examining music and discerning what is happening. This will open up avenues that they may never experience or discover on their own. The thoughtful examination of music allows a student to take the things they hear and like, and keep them, while discarding the sounds they don't like. They then use that to be creative.

This whole process is not about memorizing numbers and chords, but to take a passion in music and develop it. The knowledge and foundation needs to be created, but the purpose should be for constructive development of a musical foundation to further progress what they care about and give it room to grow.

Let this paper be about their likes and dislikes more than it is about our own. See if what was planted thorough this course bears fruit.



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