So, I learnt a thing about music last night. I learnt what a major chord is.
This may seem paltry to those of you with any musical training, but it’s something that I genuinely never understood before. I had that moment of insight where it suddenly became clear, and it’s now a piece of knowledge in my head that I never had before.
I’ve known for a long time how to play a C major chord on a piano. Someone showed me that way back when I was a kid. You find C – that’s a white key immediately to the left of a pair of black keys. Then you find E, which is two white keys to the right. Then you find G, which is another two white keys to the right. Play C-E-G simultaneously, and that’s a C major chord.
I’d got it into my head that these “major chord” things therefore involved the same finger pattern on the keyboard. So, for example, if you just shift one white key to the right, you end up on D-F-A. And that should be “D major”. Right?
It turns out that’s wrong!!!
What you really need to do is count all the keys between the notes, the white and the black ones. Going back to C major, the keys are: C, C#, D, D#, E. You need to count 4 keys from C to get to E. (C# is 1, D is 2, D# is 3, E is 4.) And then to go from E to G, you need to go: F is 1 (because there is no E# black key), F# is 2, G is 3. 3 keys.
So a major chord is a note, plus the note 4 keys above it, plus the note 3 keys above that.
So if you start at D, you go: D# is 1, E is 2, F is 3, F# is 4. Then G is 1, G# is 2, A is 3.
Which means that D major is in fact D-F#-A, and not D-F-A as I’d always assumed!
I was genuinely delighted when I realised this. And now, I can actually figure out the correct major chords starting at any note I want! I honestly feel like going to a piano and figuring them all out and playing them. It’s one tiny piece of knowledge and understanding that has opened up a way for me to expand my horizons beyond a rote-learnt single chord, into a larger field of chords that I can just calculate correctly, on-the-spot, any time I need them.
And you know, in hindsight, it actually makes sense. I know that a piano is conventionally tuned so that the tone interval between each successive key – regardless of whether they’re black or white – is equal. So the interval from E to F is the same as the interval from F to F#, called a semitone. So in a major chord the intervals are always 4 semitones, and 3 semitones. I had never made that realisation before.
As I said, this may seem trivial to anyone who knows any music theory, but to me this is a revelation, like a blindfold being lifted from my eyes. I was, and still am, genuinely excited. Music theory has always seemed completely opaque to me. No longer! (I know there’s a lot more to be learnt, but I gotta start somewhere.)