My StudyBass

Diatonic, That's It?

So far we have explored the diatonic chords of the major scale and minor scale. A lot of music lives strictly within one of these two systems—a major key or a minor key. But, is that it? Does all music fit neatly into these systems? No. There is more. A lot of this “more” part, however, is just an extension or combination of these two major and minor scale diatonic chord systems. It's more ways to use and understand what you have already learned.


Complexity is often the combination of many simple things. A brick is simple; a brick building is more complex. All domains of knowledge, skill and art have their basic building blocks.

Through your journey of learning music you will constantly return to learning the “basics” of music. Each time you do, you will have a better understanding of why they are important and how to use them.

Intro to Harmonic Complexity

This lesson block is an introduction to how music based on the diatonic chords of major and minor scales is commonly expanded, embellished and made more interesting.

If the lessons in this lesson block confuse or overwhelm you, don't worry. You can come back to to the specifics later.

The essential takeaway of this lesson block is to simply realize there are common ways of adding to or expanding the basic diatonic chord system. If you can learn and remember the deeper, more specific concepts, that's great. If the specifics go over your head, that's OK, too.

None of this is going to disappear, and you will learn it when you are ready. Go through the lessons anyway and get what you can from them. Just exposing yourself to these familiar sounds will be an important first step.

The Difficulty of Analysis

A big part of your understanding of music will come from breaking down and analyzing your favorite music. You will want to break down the chords, how the notes relate to the chords, the rhythms and many other aspects of the music.

In the beginning, analyzing and understanding music is difficult. As you work to understand and analyze your favorite music, you will make many mistakes and wrong assumptions. You will see something you think you recognize as one thing, only to find out later it was something else.

For instance, you may see a chord progression using the chords C, F, and G and immediately identify it as I-IV-V in the key of C. Later, however, you learn this progression can also occur in the key of G and might be analyzed differently. (We'll get to how that's possible in later lessons.)

These inevitable mistakes are part of the learning process: expect it; enjoy it.

Get the Basic Idea

What I want you to learn at a minimum here is that, while understanding major and minor diatonic chords will take you far, there is more. There are some special situations you will encounter.

A lot of music is diatonic—sticking to the seven basic chords with no notes outside of the key; it is simple and straightforward. Even more music is, however, mostly diatonic with a few twists added for color, depth and interest.

In the next few lessons I will explain some common chords and harmonic structures you will find mixed in with the major and minor key diatonic chords you've been learning.

Again, don't feel stressed or worried if you don't understand everything in this lesson block. Get what you can from it and move along.