Major Diatonic Chords V, vi, and vii

Continuing from the last lesson on chords I through IV, in this lesson we will learn the last three diatonic chords of the major scale: V, vi, and vii.

The V Chord

The V chord starts on the fifth degree of the key.

The V chord is always a dominant 7th chord, or a major triad.

Example: In the key of G, the fifth note is D. The V chord in the key of G would be D7, or D.

The V chord shape we will use is slightly different from the one you first learned. You will start on your fourth finger. To compare, play the dominant 7th shape you know starting on your second finger. Notice how the 5th of the V chord is simply in a different place.

 

Chord

Key

Example 7th

Example Triad

V

G

D7

D

There is only one dominant 7th chord in each key. In later lessons we will discuss why the V is the most important chord in the key. I always describe the V as the king of all chords.

The vi Chord

The vi chord starts on the sixth degree of the key.

The vi chord is always a minor 7th chord. Or, without a 7th, a minor triad.

Example: In the key of G the sixth note is E. The vi chord in the key of G is Em7, or Em.

 

Chord

Key

Example 7th

Example Triad

vi

G

Em7

Em

The “Upside-Down” vi Chord Shape

This shape may throw you off at first. Play them in the right order—Root, 3rd, 5th, and 7th. In the example, play the root E, then go to the 3rd—G in the lower octave. Then the 5th—B (you should recognize the root-lower 5th pattern). Finally, play the 7th—D. Then reverse. Watch the fretboard animation to get it right.

Why do we need to play it like this?

If you were to keep playing the notes ascending, you'd run out of strings to play the 7th. The solution is to play the notes sort of upside-down, or inverted. All you are doing is playing the lower octaves of the chord tones. As you get to know your fretboard better, you'll be playing lots of shapes like this. Think of this as a gentle introduction to many future possibilities.

Another reason to play it like this is bass players are more likely to need low notes than high ones.

The vii Chord

The vii chord starts on the seventh degree of the key.

The vii chord is always a half-diminished 7th chord. Without the 7th, you have a diminished triad.

Example: In the key of G the 7th note is F#. The vii chord in the key of G is a F# half-diminished 7th, or a F# diminished triad.

In this fingering, we drop to the low 7th in the key. Starting on your first finger, this shape should look like the one you already learned. Again, if we started on the high 7th, you'd run out of strings.

 

Chord

Key

Example 7th

Example Triad

vii

G

F#m7b5

F#°

Why is the vii Chord Diminished?

Of the seven diatonic chords, this is our only diminished triad or half-diminished 7th chord. The reason it is diminished is because its 5th must be flatted to fit the key. If you played a plain old 5th, it would be outside of the key and not diatonic.

All Seven Major Diatonic Chords

 

Watch the animation of all seven diatonic chords in the key of G major played in a row. (You can step through the notes one-by-one with the arrow button.)

Harmonic Analysis

Chord R 3

5

7

I Gmaj7

G

B

D

F#

ii

Am7

A

C

E

G

iii

Bm7

B

D

F#

A

IV

Cmaj7

C

E

G

B

V

D7

D

F#

A

C

vi

Em7

E

G

B

D

vii

F#m7b5

F#

A

C

E

Now What?

Before we can begin applying the diatonic chords, you need to have all seven diatonic chords memorized inside and out. These 7 chords will be an important anchor to your understanding of harmony. Remember that playing the bass is about rhythmically laying down the harmony.

In upcoming lessons we will start applying the diatonic chords to chord progressions and expanding on them.

Go to the exercises to start practicing your 7 diatonic chords of the major scale so we can start using them musically!

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