22.Primary Chords

Chord Relationships 

In the previous chapter we know how the pitches of the scale and the chords built upon them can be named with Roman numerals. In this chapter we are going to take a closer look at the “I”, “IV”, and “V” chords. We call these three chords primary chords.  

The primary chords are the chords most frequently used in music. There are two reasons for this. The first is their ability to harmonize with the pitches of the scale. Using only the primary chords, a composer or songwriter is able to create harmonies that will blend with any pitch of the scale. This is because every pitch of the scale can be found in the primary chords. 

(Lowest pitch in the “I” chord, highest pitch in the “IV” chord). 

(Highest pitch in the “V” chord). 

(Middle pitch in the “I” chord). 

(Lowest pitch in the “IV” chord). 

(Highest pitch in the “I” chord, lowest pitch in the “V” chord). 

(Middle pitch in the “IV” chord). 

B (Middle pitch in the “V” chord). 

The second reason the primary chords are the chords most frequently used in music is their strong relationship to the root of the scale (or key). Let’s explain this by looking at each of the primary chords in turn. 

The “I” chord has the strongest relationship to the rest of the scale because it is built upon the root of the scale. In fact, the root of the “I” chord and the root of the scale are the same pitch.  

The “V” chord is the chord with the second strongest relationship to the root of the scale. We know that the first and fifth pitches of the scale (a 5th) have a very strong relationship to one another (I.e., a 5th is a very consonant interval). Therefore, the chords built on these pitches of the scale will also have a strong relationship to one another. 

The “IV” chord is the chord with the third strongest relationship to the root of the scale. We know that the 1st and 4th pitches of the scale (a 4th) have a strong relationship to one another (I.e., a 4th is a consonant interval). Therefore, the chords built on these pitches of the scale will also have a strong relationship to one another.  

Note: Everything regarding primary chords and chord relationships mentioned above, also applies to the primary chords in minor keys. While the primary chords of the major scale are all major chords, the primary chords of the minor scale are all minor.

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