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Thread: Explain the rationale behind using a V7 chord in mnor key

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    Explain the rationale behind using a V7 chord in mnor key

    I don't understand why we do this. Thus far, i've been scouring the 'net for info on x-mas break but everywhere else teaches the natural minor key chords slightly different. My professor states that in a minor key, the "seven" chord is a major (VII), in my textbook, they use vii*. Same thing with the III which i've seen other places spelled as III+7 and, of course, V7 which I thought was supposed to be a minor v in the minor key, but other places say otherwise. What is the reasoning for so much inconsistency when talking about diatonic minor keys, especially if the words "harmonic" or "melodic" has not come into play? I'm a first year music major and i'd prefer not to have to deal with these types of inconsistencies, particularly if its my intent on working with other musicians.


    I just want to know what the STANDARD natural minor scale is and when and why would we ever deviate from that (like using chords not diatonic to the scale)
    Sorry if this came across as sloppy, i'm a first year music major, after all.
    Last edited by Broyale; 01-01-2012 at 02:51 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Broyale View Post
    I don't understand why we do this. Thus far, i've been scouring the 'net for info on x-mas break but everywhere else teaches the natural minor key chords slightly different. My professor states that in a minor key, the "seven" chord is a major (VII), in my textbook, they use vii*. Same thing with the III which i've seen other places spelled as III+7 and, of course, V7 which I thought was supposed to be a minor v in the minor key, but other places say otherwise. What is the reasoning for so much inconsistency when talking about diatonic minor keys, especially if the words "harmonic" or "melodic" has not come into play? I'm a first year music major and i'd prefer not to have to deal with these types of inconsistencies, particularly if its my intent on working with other musicians.


    I just want to know what the STANDARD natural minor scale is and when and why would we ever deviate from that (like using chords not diatonic to the scale)
    Sorry if this came across as sloppy, i'm a first year music major, after all.
    The "natural minor" scale has a b7 step, and therefore a minor v chord. Eg, Em in key of A minor. (A B C D E F G)
    This doesn't make for a very strong v-i cadence (resolution) to the tonic chord.

    What's required for the minor key - ie to give it a strong sense of "key" - is a "leading tone" to the tonic, IOW a 7th degree a half-step below the tonic. (This is mainly what makes the major key V-I such a strong sound.)
    So what we do is raise the 7th step of the natural minor scale. In A minor that means raising G to G#. This gives the "harmonic minor" scale, so-called because it improves the harmonic function of the V-i chord change. Now if we harmonize the V chord from harmonic minor we get a major triad (or dom7 chord); eg E or E7 in A minor.
    Try comparing the Em-Am change with E-Am - you should find the latter sounds a lot stronger, a lot more as if Am is a secure tonic chord.

    When it comes to the vii chord, in natural minor that's a major triad. G in key of A minor would usually be called "bVII", to distinguish it from the vii chord in A harmonic minor, which is G#dim7 (G#-B-D-F).
    Again, if you compare a G-Am cadence with G#dim7-Am, you'll find the latter is stronger.

    The problem with harmonic minor (or at least it was regarded as a problem when these conventions were being sorted out some centuries ago) is that big jump from F to G#. Nowadays we quite like the "exotic" sound that gives the scale - flamenco, anyone? - but then it was felt to be awkward to sing, and sounded wrong in melodies. So the F would also be raised, to F#. This produced "A melodic minor" (so-called because it was a melodic improvement).
    However, the problem THEN was that the scale was getting dangerously close to A major - only the C is different. Moreover, the raised notes were only needed when resolving UP to the tonic (F#-G#-A). So, when descending, a melodic line would revert to natural minor (A-G-F...). Hence the convention of melodic minor being "ascending only" - or alternatively its descending version being identical to natural minor.
    (Remember this is a simplified guideline based on "common practice" - it's not a hard and fast rule. Many examples can be found in classical music - so I'm told - which don't follow the rule.)

    The traditional minor "key" can actually include a combination of all three scales. Normally most of the chords are harmonized from natural minor. Only the V and vii are derived from harmonic minor. (Sometimes in jazz the tonic chord is harmonized from melodic minor.)
    That gives a standard set of chords for A minor as Am, Bdim (Bm7b5), C, Dm, E (E7), F, G#dim7.
    Still, it's quite possible to use chords harmonized from melodic minor (such as Bm, D or Caug), or a V and bVII from natural minor (Em or G).

    However, the best way to look at the "minor key" is not that there are three distinct minor scales, but that it uses a scale in which the 6th and 7th steps may be altered at various points to improve the melodic or harmonic flow. So natural minor is the "default", if you like, but harmonic or melodic alterations (of the 6th and 7th degrees) are common, along with whatever chords need to be harmonized at those points. (IOW, if you decide you want a G# in your melody, then you need either an E major or G#dim chord.)

    If, OTOH, everything is derived from natural minor (no alterations), it's regarded as "Aeolian mode". A cadence such as G-Am, or Em-Am is called a "modal cadence". It's weaker than a "key" cadence (G#dim-Am or E-Am), but that's sometimes a desirable effect.
    Last edited by JonR; 01-01-2012 at 03:28 PM.

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    So what would be the point of making students learn everything diatonically like chord construction when no one *really*seems to follow it anyway? Like why teach the minor scales as three separate scales when it would be better to say that the minor key chord scale "is pretty much whatever sounds good" between the natural, harmonic and melodic. So, for clarity's sake, if I just decided to use the minor key chords diatonically based off of the major scale and ignored "common practice", would I be wrong?

    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    The "natural minor" scale has a b7 step, and therefore a minor v chord. Eg, Em in key of A minor. (A B C D E F G)
    Also, what do you mean by this? I don't understand. I see people write things like "bVII" and I don't know what they're talking about even thogh I studied this stuff and got an A in music theory I. Remember, i'm a FIRST YEAR music major, no offense. I appreciate your explanation, but may I respectfully ask that you scale back to using terms a beginner would be most likely familiar with. Sorry if I am coming off frustrated, but I am. I love music and want to learn theory, but I can't seem to wrap my head around why people teach it in such an ambiguous fashion. Shouldn't there be a standard way for communicating this stuff?
    Last edited by Broyale; 01-01-2012 at 04:01 PM.

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    He means that as a consequence of the structure of the natural minor scale (R 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 - A B C D E F G) with its b7 (G is a b7 relative to A), the chord built on the 5th degree (E G B) is a minor chord (Em).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Broyale View Post
    So what would be the point of making students learn everything diatonically like chord construction when no one *really*seems to follow it anyway? Like why teach the minor scales as three separate scales when it would be better to say that the minor key chord scale "is pretty much whatever sounds good" between the natural, harmonic and melodic. So, for clarity's sake, if I just decided to use the minor key chords diatonically based off of the major scale and ignored "common practice", would I be wrong?
    You'd be wrong to ignore "common practice", yes. That's what music theory is derived from . (It's essentially the same thing. The period which includes baroque and classical music is often known as the "common practice era", and is where all our conventional music theory derives from.)

    It so happens - unfortunately - that minor keys are more complicated than majors.
    It makes sense to learn the theory of chord construction from the major scale, because that is commonly not subject to alteration. (It is sometimes, but not as a matter of course in the way the minor scale is.)
    Major keys are also (slightly) more commonly used than minors, and are regarded as a kind of default, the foundation of theory.

    The rule "whatever sounds good" is THE central one in all music, and music theory is simply based on what most people have agreed sounds good, in most music, for most of recent history. We have to start somewhere!
    IOW, whatever YOU think sounds good is going to be based on the music you've heard and liked throughout your life. Most of that will have followed (to a large extent) the rules of traditional music theory. Even if you have unusual tastes yourself (which is fine!), as a music student you need to know what the "average" person thinks sounds good; you need to study the basics, even if they do seem a little illogical sometimes. (The history tends to reveal how the rules have evolved to where they are; the history always makes sense of things that appear to be odd on the face of it, or from a modern perspective.)
    Quote Originally Posted by Broyale View Post
    Also, what do you mean by this? I don't understand. I see people write things like "bVII" and I don't know what they're talking about even thogh I studied this stuff and got an A in music theory I. Remember, i'm a FIRST YEAR music major, no offense. I appreciate your explanation, but may I respectfully ask that you scale back to using terms a beginner would be most likely familiar with. Sorry if I am coming off frustrated, but I am.
    No problem.
    When I say "bVII", the reference scale I'm using is the major scale, numbered 1 2 3 4 5 6 7. In half-steps that works out as follows:
    Code:
    |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  | 
    1     2     3  4     5     6     7  1
    That's major 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th, and perfect 4th and 5th.
    So when a scale has a 7th degree that's a half-step below that one, it's called "b7", or - especially if we're talking about a chord on that step "bVII".
    (strictly speaking, the lowered 7th degree is a "minor 7th", but that can be confused with a chord type .)

    Roman numerals are used for chords, and caps mean major chords, and lower case is minor chords. (Sometimes a minor chord is caps with a small "m", eg "IIm" instead of "ii".)
    Quote Originally Posted by Broyale View Post
    I love music and want to learn theory, but I can't seem to wrap my head around why people teach it in such an ambiguous fashion. Shouldn't there be a standard way for communicating this stuff?
    In a college, absolutely!
    There are a couple of problems here. One is that many music theory terms are used in more than one sense, ie with two (correct) definitions. The definitions are always related, but can be different enough to cause confusion if the context is not clear enough.
    An additional problem is that the same thing can have two (or sometimes more) different names. There are international differences - eg US "half-step" = UK "semitone". And (perhaps less forgiveably) people may have personal preferences for different terms. For example, that 7th interval in the major scale is called a "major 7th" (11 half-steps); reduce it by a semitone (half-step) and it becomes a "minor 7th" (10 half-steps). But "minor 7th" as I said, is also a name for a chord type; so many people prefer to call the note a "b7" ("flat 7").
    That in itself becomes confusing , because the note in question may be natural not flat. Eg, a "b7" in key of G major would be F natural (lowered from F#).

    Believe me I understand your frustration. I'm a teacher who has spent many years hacking through the jungle of alternate terminologies, trying to find a clear route. The best way (IMO) really is the traditional (classical) way, even if a lot of it seems arcane or irrelevant. If one uses any other system, then one has to define one terms at the outset and then use them consistently.

    Please feel free to ask for further clarification (I know you've posted this question elsewhere, so good luck with that).

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    Quote Originally Posted by walternewton View Post
    He means that as a consequence of the structure of the natural minor scale (R 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 - A B C D E F G) with its b7 (G is a b7 relative to A), the chord built on the 5th degree (E G B) is a minor chord (Em).
    Okay, now we're making sense.
    But why would someone make the 5th degree of the natural minor scale a major chord and/or the 7th degree a dom7 chord?

    My professor told us the natural minor scale is built like this:

    i7 iihalfdim III7 iv7 Vdom7 VI7 VII7


    On the other hand, my textbook says this:

    i7 iihalfdim III7 iv7 Vdom7 VI7 vii*7


    MusictheoryDOTnet says this:

    i7 iihalfdim III7 iv7 v7 VI7 V7


    ...so which is it, exactly? And why the variance between them. I guess I get the historical context, but i'm more concerned about its application in the present time. Also, why isn't the diatonic version taught as THE version of the natural minor scale to learn to alleviate confusion?

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    I would say that diatonically, by definition, it is a minor chord (minor seventh if you're considering 4 note chords, E G B D).

    However as Jon notes composers may have preferred the stronger resolution of the V-i to the v-i, which you get by raising the 7th degree from a b7 (G) to a 7 (G#) - resulting in a E (E G# B) or E7 (E G# B D) chords - I personally would say that strictly speaking at this point you have left the territory of "natural minor", but again as Jon says in practice "minor" is a broader term.
    Last edited by walternewton; 01-01-2012 at 06:30 PM.

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    So now that I clearly understand the historical context as to why composers choose not to use the aeolian mode, i'm still stuck as to what the common, standard, widely used and consistantly accepted as law, minor key chord scale actually is. Because, frankly, I don't want to learn something that isn't going to be correct across the board later on in my education and then have to spend more mornings like this correcting my theory knowledge because an instructor's failure to explain his adherence to historical preference over diatonic logic.


    So, please, what is the correct form of the minor chord scale? I've been stuck on this all morning and I just wanna get on to working on chord progressions.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Broyale View Post
    Okay, now we're making sense.
    But why would someone make the 5th degree of the natural minor scale a major chord and/or the 7th degree a dom7 chord?

    My professor told us the natural minor scale is built like this:

    i7 iihalfdim III7 iv7 Vdom7 VI7 VII7


    On the other hand, my textbook says this:

    i7 iihalfdim III7 iv7 Vdom7 VI7 vii*7
    IMO, the latter is more correct. But really you should ask your professor why he is disagreeing with your textbook. Or - seeing as the truth may be flexible - in what circumstances one or the other may be right.
    Quote Originally Posted by Broyale View Post
    MusictheoryDOTnet says this:

    i7 iihalfdim III7 iv7 v7 VI7 V7
    That's natural minor, aka aeolian mode. The site goes on to discuss the triads from harmonic and melodic minor.
    Quote Originally Posted by Broyale View Post
    ...so which is it, exactly? And why the variance between them. I guess I get the historical context, but i'm more concerned about its application in the present time.
    Its application in the present time is as I explained earlier. The traditional minor key (natural minor, with occasional harmonic or melodic minor alterations) occurs in some songs, in most styles of music (incuding pop and rock).
    Pure natural minor occurs in other songs.
    Eg, "Hotel California" is an example of a song using traditional minor key rules: chords from all 3 minor scales (key of B minor, with chords from B harmonic and melodic minor as well as B natural minor);
    "Losing My Religion" is an example of a song using only natural minor (A natural minor, or A aeolian mode).
    IOW, you just need to appreciate how the various choices sound, and it would be your decision as a composer to choose the scale (or scales) you want.
    Quote Originally Posted by Broyale View Post
    Also, why isn't the diatonic version taught as THE version of the natural minor scale to learn to alleviate confusion?
    As Walter used the term, the "diatonic" version IS natural minor.
    The "natural minor" scale is the same notes as the relative major scale. That's part of the problem with using it, in fact. The major key is a stronger tonal sound than the relative (natural) minor. If you use the notes ABCDEFG, and chords harmonized from them, at random - it will probably sound like the key of C major. To make Am sound like the home chord, you EITHER need to hammer home the Am quite often; OR you need to introduce that raised G# to make a "leading tone" to A.
    IOW, using the harmonic minor alteration gives the Am chord a suitable tonic weight, and allows you to be more flexible with other chords.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Broyale View Post
    So now that I clearly understand the historical context as to why composers choose not to use the aeolian mode, i'm still stuck as to what the common, standard, widely used and consistantly accepted as law, minor key chord scale actually is. Because, frankly, I don't want to learn something that isn't going to be correct across the board later on in my education and then have to spend more mornings like this correcting my theory knowledge because an instructor's failure to explain his adherence to historical preference over diatonic logic.


    So, please, what is the correct form of the minor chord scale? I've been stuck on this all morning and I just wanna get on to working on chord progressions.
    There is no one "correct" form, this is the point. Or rather, the "correct form" includes the variability of the 6th and 7th degrees.
    You can talk about "correct forms" of each of the three minor scales - and work with chords from any of them. But the "minor key" can (and usually does) include all three.
    As I mentioned before, it's common to use V and vii from harmonic minor, and i, ii, III, iv and VI from natural minor. But that's only a common scenario, not a universal or "correct" one.

    Look at some minor key songs, and see what chords they use. You'll find a variety. (And you'll also find common modulations to the relative major, so watch out for that - it can be hard to spot the join .)

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    "sighs"
    So how do I even begin to approach minor chords in a key, since my previous approach is now invalid? My original plan for today was to practice some minor chord progressions on the guitar according to key, but i'm not confident I can do that with this gaping theoretical black hole now. Furthermore, how do I reconcile the "common" minor chord scale version with the one I learned to get an A in Theory I?

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    Both the unsharpened and unsharpened sixth and seventh notes of the minor scale are considered 'diatonic' (as, sometimes is the sharpened third - see Tierce de Picardie).

    As others have said, academically, there are various forms of the minor scale:
    Natural; according to key signature.
    Harmonic; with seventh degree raised one semitone.
    Melodic (ascending); with sixth and seventh both raised one semitone.
    (descending, the melodic minor is the same as the natural minor).

    There is no one "correct" version; all are equally correct.

    However, all of these note variations are considered equally diatonic.
    In A minor for example, the following are all diatonic:
    A B C D E F F# G G# A

    Therefore, the subdominant triad for example could be minor or major. You will encounter both, neither is more correct than the other.

    The advice I would give would be to stick to the harmonic minor, but then modify the sixth or seventh degrees as necessary to avoid ungainly augmented intervals:

    Whenever you have the sixth degree ascending to the seventh degree, sharpen both (and follow with the tonic).
    Whenever you have the seventh degree falling to the sixth degree, don't sharpen either (and follow with the dominant).

    So, F#-G#-A and G-F-E.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JumpingJack View Post
    Both the unsharpened and unsharpened sixth and seventh notes of the minor scale are considered 'diatonic' (as, sometimes is the sharpened third - see Tierce de Picardie).

    As others have said, academically, there are various forms of the minor scale:
    Natural; according to key signature.
    Harmonic; with seventh degree raised one semitone.
    Melodic (ascending); with sixth and seventh both raised one semitone.
    (descending, the melodic minor is the same as the natural minor).

    There is no one "correct" version; all are equally correct.

    However, all of these note variations are considered equally diatonic.
    In A minor for example, the following are all diatonic:
    A B C D E F F# G G# A

    Therefore, the subdominant triad for example could be minor or major. You will encounter both, neither is more correct than the other.

    The advice I would give would be to stick to the harmonic minor, but then modify the sixth or seventh degrees as necessary to avoid ungainly augmented intervals:

    Whenever you have the sixth degree ascending to the seventh degree, sharpen both (and follow with the tonic).
    Whenever you have the seventh degree falling to the sixth degree, don't sharpen either (and follow with the dominant).

    So, F#-G#-A and G-F-E.
    I don't get what you're saying. You're saying to build my minor chord scale from the harmonic minor instead of the natural minor, then readjust the sixth and seventh degree to make it fit into the harmonic minor chord scale?
    So if I were to build a minor chord scale from c minor, I would use c harmonic minor instead?
    I spent two years learning to build the minor chord scale from the natural minor scale, and up until this morning, I thought that's what was the right way, so forgive me if your explanation isn't quite clear to me yet. Could you please clarify how to build a minor chord scale (but not the harmonic minor chord scale) with the harmonic minor scale.

    i7 iihalfdim7 III7 iv7 Vdom7 VI7 vii*7
    Last edited by Broyale; 01-01-2012 at 10:32 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Broyale View Post
    So how do I even begin to approach minor chords in a key, since my previous approach is now invalid? My original plan for today was to practice some minor chord progressions on the guitar according to key
    Experiment freely with "all of the above" - and realize that discovering how the various options SOUND is more important than trying to nail down a particular set of "correct" chords (because there isn't one).

    (Learning/playing actual minor key songs and studying how they're put together can't hurt either...)

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    Quote Originally Posted by walternewton View Post
    Experiment freely with "all of the above" - and realize that discovering how the various options SOUND is more important than trying to nail down a particular set of "correct" chords (because there isn't one).

    (Learning/playing actual minor key songs and studying how they're put together can't hurt either...)
    I understand that, and perhaps if I didn't have the pressure of having to learn it for a grade I wouldn't be opposed to "experimentation" for experimentation's sake, but at test time, I don't think "all of the above" is gonna be an accepted answer. I'm trying to build my music foundation the right way and right now, minor key chord construction isn't clear to me. I don't know how long you've studied music, but i'm sure you've hit brick walls in your learning where the material was either presented with a lack of clarity or flat out taught incorrectly or inconsistently. My professor taught me one version of the minor key chord scale, my textbook has another version, I could go with my professor's version, or the book for that matter, but then again, i'm faced with this nagging inconsistency because if I have to take an examination to transfer to a four year Uni, i'm not entirely sure they're gonna be as lax with the definition of minor chord scales as its been presented to me thus far. If I was just relying on this knowledge to play songs, I wouldn't be pressing the matter as hard as I am now. I am a first year theory major so I believe its more important for me to have a clear understanding of what is correct versus what is "common" at this stage and right now the subject of minor key chords is wrapped up in a cover of ambiguity that i'm not at all comfortable with, considering the two years i've studied this stuff without this issue ever coming up.

    From what i've gathered, the "minor key chord scales" are generally made up of chords diatonic to the natural minor with two chords (the 5 and the 7) either coming from the harmonic minor scale or the melodic minor scale because of the variability of the 6 and 7 degrees of the natural minor scale.
    Whichever type of 5 or 7 chord you use is left to the discretion of the professor, composer, whathaveyou, am I correct in this mode of thinking?

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