Piano Chords Scales:
The Relationship

If you really want to understand piano chords scales need to be a consideration. You see, they are not two separate topics. Does this surprise you? Perhaps... perhaps not.

But nothing can replace an understanding of the relationship between chords and scales, especially if you aspire to explore your potential in the area of piano improvisation. Just a brief example:

Let say that you looking to create an interesting sounding run with your right hand over a Cmaj7 chord in your left hand. Well, let's take a look at a C Major scale here:


We have eight degrees of the scale, the 8th being a repeat of the 1st. Now, if we just take a look at the 1st degree, 3rd degree, 5th degree, and 7th degree... or, in short, the 1,3,5,7 we have the notes in a Cmaj7 chord:


That's certainly easy to see. It's also easy to recognize that the notes in this chord make up half of the C Major scale (more than half when you consider the 8 being the same as the 1). You might go so far as to say that the Cmaj7 forms the most essential half of the scale, since it begins on the 1st degree.

So, let's get back to that run we were thinking of creating. Does it stand to reason that the notes in the C Major scale would serve as good choices? You bet! Now, when you play that Cmaj7 in the left hand, the notes that are likely to sound "more harmonious" will be that 1, 3, 5, and 7 (C, E, G, B), since they are in the chord itself.

However, let's not discount that 2,4 and 6 (we already know the 8 is the same as 1). The 2 and the 6 sound quite good, even when held for long duration over the Cmaj7.

Actually, that 2 is often referred to as the 9th (continuing up the scale to the "D" past 8 would bring you to the same note), which is considered a very colorful tone to be played over a Major 7th chord (often referred to as a "tension"). The 6 sounds nice, too. If you go ahead and play that 4 (the "F") you may form a a different opinion.

However, this 4 (as well as the 2 and 6) are great "connecting notes." That's right! Go ahead and play that Cmaj7 in your left hand and play from any chord tone (either the C,E,G, or B) and play to another chord tone using the scale tone in between them as a "connector" - like this:






Actually, playing up and/or down the entire C Major scale over the Cmaj7 chord works for this very same reason. Holding the chord tones for longer duration certainly makes sense when you want to create a "relaxing" feeling in your music (for example at the end of your run)...

In other words, you could play a run starting on "C"... then go up a part of the scale and end on "B"...

The possibilities are endless. So, it's easy to see that when mastering piano chords scales should absolutely be an important consideration of yours!

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