Steel Trappings

Haumana: A Student's Journey Through Hawaiian Music and Steel Guitara

Chord Structures

July 28, 2017 • Steve TylkaEducation and Training

I'd like to continue our discussion on chord structure in this article. The most common chord found in popular music is a triad. A triad contains three notes; root, third, and the fifth. The root of a chord always refers to the letter name of the chord. The terms "third" and "fifth" refer to the intervals above the root. In a G Major triad we would see G, B, and D as the root, third, and fifth. As you may have discovered for yourself, a major triad contains a major third, while a minor triad contains a minor third which uses Bb in place of the B found in the G Major triad. Once we have familiarized ourselves with triads, we can expand our knowledge of chords and their usage. A staple in many Hawaiian compositions is the dominant seventh chord. A dominant seventh chord includes the major triad and a minor seventh. In the key of G we see a G dominant seventh chord as: G-B-D-F. Like the lowered third in a minor triad, we lower the seventh scale degree (F#) by one half step to F. A dominant seventh chord is often notated using the root name and the number seven: G7.

Having briefly discussed dominant seventh chords, I feel it is important to discuss chord extensions. A chord extension refers to any note added above the fifth scale degree of the triad. Each extension indicates to the player that there is a note added to the triad. It is common to be caught off guard by chord extensions, but they are not as tricky as they appear. Sticking with the key of G we use the notes G-A-B-C-D-E-F#-G to spell out the major scale. The root, G, is repeated at the end of the scale to offer resolution and signify completion of the scale when played on its own. Each note is assigned a roman numeral signifying its place in order of the scale; I-ii-iii-IV-V-vi-vii. Note that in my example I omitted the second G, which would be considered the Eighth note of the scale. In order to figure out an extended chord, one would continue counting up scale degrees, considering the root is also the eighth note of the scale. So, we would add an A note on top of a G major triad to make a G9 chord, adding a C note makes a G11 chord and so on.

I hope this article helps you understand chords a little better. I'm certain there are a few steel players that had or have questions regarding chord structure. I intend to bring more information on this topic to our readers in the future. Hopefully my writing will help our newer players as well as help our more seasoned players as well. As always, I hope this article finds you well and in good health! I'd like to thank Addison Ching and Alan Akaka for everything they do within the steel guitar community. Mahalo, gentlemen!

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