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Using the diatonic scale

This month, I'd like to look at using the diatonic scale as a reference.

The diatonic scale generates seven chords. Some songs have only one, two or, most often, three chords.

A good place to begin might be a three chord song. Most of you know them from "Happy Birthday To You" and almost every fast rock and roll tune ever written. The blues can have just three chords, but sometimes more.

Three chord tunes almost invariably have a "root chord," which then moves to the 4 chord, then to the 5 chord and back to the 1 or root chord. In "La Bamba" and "Twist and Shout," this becomes a pattern of 1, 4, 5, 4 played over and over. In country music there are usually two or four measures of each change. In the blues, all the chords are usually dominant. This is obviously not a diatonic progression, is it? Well - yes and no.

What you will find is the chords are still 1, 4 and 5 chords but the major scale sounds terrible against them. If they're all seventh chords, the scale predicts where the chords will fall to some extent but the scale is not a good device to create the appropriate harmony.

With proper study, the diatonic scale can serve as a launching point to get to virtually any type of music and aid in selecting the proper choice of notes for improvisation, harmonization and composition. In other words to find out what scale might go with what chord, as beginning musicians are always struggling to determine. When I personally started playing guitar, it was by ear or a friend showing me the riffs and chord progressions. The problem was I didn't know the theory for the songs I was playing. Years later, when I first started studying music theory it opened up a whole new world of possibilities, especially with improvisation and songwriting.

Tip of the month

Do not leave your instrument, any instrument, in direct sunlight or near a heat source.

Johnny Charron is the owner of Rockin' Johnnys, 103 Lake St., Suite 1, Rouses Point. His column will appear each month in the North Countryman. Charron has been a musician since the age of 14 and has been teaching others for 15 years. He can be contacted by e-mail at johncharron@yahoo.com or by phone at 297-ROCK (7625).

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