~ major 6th ~ Six (vi) ~

~ Aeolian mode ~ submediant ~

~ diatonic relative minor ~

'... half the tamale and more ...'

~ a true and super poignant color of our minor tonality ...'

 

 

In a nutshell. Six is the home of so much mucho coolness in our American theory it's hard to know where to begin really. Thankfully there's a couple of cliche ideas that are pure major 6th and totally Americana that counts off this discussion for us.

Cliche country lick features Six. This first idea finds the major 6th interval as a key note to create the jaunty major pentatonic color, at the heart of many classic Americana melodies. Hollywood 'Western' music scores are loaded with this lick. Classic and old timey yet essential to know the theory of. Here we build the same interval lick off of the One / Four and Five chords. One idea diatonically filtered through the changes. Ex. 1.

Hollywood scores

Remember this quotable lick? From the cowboy songs such as "Happy Trails" of the 1950's is where I think I originally remember it from.

wiki ~ "Happy Trails"

A first evolution. On down the trail a ways with pretty much the same pitches, we take a simple one finger barre chord, add in a new beat and the core of it all rock and roll evolves. Ask your bass player to thump on 'C.' Example 1a.

Got this lick under your fingers? Do learn it here if need be. Fairly easy and loads of fun there's a ton of tunes that love this sort of motor.

Wanna jump ...? As in ... ? Rockabilly style? Here's two chord voicings that will work the magic. The second has a b7 in the bass, so 3rd inversion in theory, so is a bit more V7 and pairs right up with Two in Two / Five motions. Example 1b.

rockabilly vid ?

V7

Theory overview. In theory, we can first locate Six from the root of the major scale; we get the major 6th interval, a loop of pitches that creates the natural minor group of pitches. Relative of Ionian major, Six becomes the the tonic pitch of our minor tonality; pitches, arpeggios and chords. The Aeolian mode is built upon Six, which brings along its history of melodies.

A core America musical color. The major 6th interval becomes a key color of our early Americana melodies. Dig the jauntiness following line. Have this one under your fingers? Probably from the fourth grade played on a kazoo like wind instrument. Example 2.

"Shortnin'." Starting with an interval leap of a major sixth, the above melody just might be the classic capture of the major pentatonic scale's five pitches creating the optimism often associated with the American dream.

Able to get this line to swing? In one sense the swing is built right in. And if we can capture the swing with the easy ones, then just a matter of practice to add swing wherever comes along. In C major. Example 2a.

As a sequence. The interval of a 6th makes for a nice melodic sequence. In this next idea we simply sound the pitches of the G major scale in ascending diatonic sixth's. The scale shape above the staff contains all of the pitches of the lick. One of five core shapes, this on centers a lot of melodies for guitar. Example 3.

core five shapes

Not an easy task is it? These interval type studies are the calisthenics for pro leaning players. Grist for the mill. In improv, just the leap itself gives an artist room to move. Example 3a.

Six as a colortone. We can add the interval of a 6th to a major triad and create a very cool and essential chordal color. Often associated with the early days when country music was first beginning to be mixed with rock'n roll into what was to become 'rockabilly.' In any of our musical styles or genres that include the adjective 'jump' in their description, chances are the tonic 6 chord is in the neighborhood.

In this next idea, we create a pentatonic sequence and close out the line with a tonic 6 chord. Maybe put a bit of your Tele twang on this one. Example 4.

From this last idea we might get the sense that these tonic 6 chords are good choices for the last hold of an arrangement. Nowadays they are probably a bit towards cliche, but who cares ... they surely work the magic in ending songs on a bright and joyous chord :)

Tonic 6th chords. We might as well jump ahead a bit in the theory so as to be able to include the 6/9 chord right here. Simply a one pitch enhancement to our tonic 6th chord, we keep the six and add a pitch that is a major 9th above the root of our chord to make 6/9. In doing this we stack fourths thus a 'quartile' build creating just a very happening and joyous chord for the all who know of it and find cool spots to work its magic.

Just a suggestion but if ever you need a closing chord for an arrangement, that's tight, bright and light, for any of the country / bluegrass / rockabilly towards a jazz direction, 6/9 just might become a go to chord for you. Learn this essential cliche riff to close out a song capped with the 6/9 colortone coolness. Example 4a.

This last idea is surely '12 key' worthy. Endless endless variations among players. Note the easy fingering? Explore on your own to find this lick on other string sets. Go ahead and get lost. Then find your way back. Take the wayback if necessary. Add it to your shedding list for warming up. Ever take the "A Train?"

wiki ~ "Take The A Train"

The 'flip side' of Six / relative minor. Using the same grouping of pitches, we create another American classic melody. This comes from the flip side of the major pentatonic group as we build its relative minor from its sixth degree.

Using the exact same pitches in creating both melodies, a new center pitch is chosen and we then respace our pitches accordingly. The intervals between each of the pitches? Yep. Intervals determine all. Know this melody yet? Learn it now if need be. Example 5.

"The Rising Sun." The above classic early American melody is created exclusively from the pitches of the minor pentatonic grouping of pitches. For we guitar players of the popular American styles that include any of the blues / rock colors, these two groups; major and minor pentatonic, are by far and away the mainstays for creating our melodic lines. That the same pitches can create both the major and minor pentatonic colors, it should come as no surprise that they also come from the same scale shapes.

A first shape. Both of the above melodies can come from the same scale shape. Learning these shapes can get the pitches quickly under our fingers for playing lines, both established melodies and our improvised ones. The following shape is the one I learned first.

It fits nicely under the fingers, works with the open strings, moves up and down the fingerboard oh so sweetly, loves to accommodate additional pitches and depending on your strings, holds lots of cool and essential string bends for finding the blue hue. Learn it here and now if need be. Example 6.

Shedding this shape. In shedding this shape perhaps keep in mind a couple of things. The circles are the root pitches of the C major and the A minor pentatonic groups. Move this shape intact up and down the fingerboard for the other key centers, easily finding the tonic pitches on the 1st and 6th strings.

And while it falls neatly into the four finger / four fret fingering solution, not at all uncommon for blues players to rely on using three fingers. The pinky idle. This might be due to the strength needed for bending. So whatever consistently gets you the sounds you dig is probably going to be the best fingerings for you.

~ stgc / do rote learn this bit of theory ~

Evolving the pentatonic into full Americana. We can easily evolve the pentatonic pitches and scale shape by adding in pitches to include the tritone color. In doing so we move into the diatonic realm and all of its magics.

We evolve this two ways, each addition a bit different for major and minor. A one pitch tritone into minor to make the blues scale. A two pitch tritone interval into the major to make diatonic Six, creating the relative major / minor group of pitches. Example 7.

scale degrees
root / 1
.
3
4
#4
5
b7
8
A minor scale
A
.
C
D
D# / Eb
E
G
A
scale degrees
root / 1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
A minor scale
A
B
C
D
E
F
G
A

Cool with this? This last idea is the basic evolutionary theory of a rather large part of what we Americano guitar-amigos do. Simply mixing ideas from each of the two groups together, melodies with blue notes and chords created from the seven pitch diatonic major scale. We motor this weave with 2 and 4 to make some pure Americana musics.

Aeolian mode / seven pitches makes for a functioning key center. Again using of the interval of a major 6th, we locate the root pitch of our seven pitch relative minor group. This major / minor pairing lives at the core of our music theory and these two positions, tonic's One and Six, are the twin anchors of this dual magic all from the same pitches. Examine the pitches in C major. Ex. 8.

scale degrees
root / 1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
major 6th
C
major 6th interval
A
.
.
C major scale
C
D
E
F
G
A
B
C
A minor scale
A
B
C
D
E
F
G
A

An Aeolian melody; "Voices from The River." This next melody is one of mine, developed from a wisp of an idea from a friend who grew up on the mighty Yukon River here in Alaska, who learned it from her grandmother. Example 8a.

wiki ~ Yukon River

In theory, why so important? Only our relative major / minor grouping of pitches holds the diatonic ability to fully create the One / Four / Five chord progression with each grouping of the three chords being purely all major or all minor triads. Termed here in Essentials the 'diatonic 3 and 3', these six chords form the basis for most of our Americana songs through our whole spectrum of musical styles.

This purity and consistency of musical color provides a perfect starting point for any degree of diatonic or non-diatonic development. Examine and memorize if necessary the following barre chords. Example 8a.

Where in the music? Just about everywhere. The One / Four / Five chord progression is historically among the most widely used in supporting our melodies. Nearly all children's songs, folk, bluegrass and country are One / Four / Five based, whereby each of the chords are all major or all minor. And the blues, even while altering the diatonic chord colors is essentially a One / Four / Five chord progression. Variations to this diatonic perfection of the pitches? Endless.

So thus empowered, we simply use these organic, diatonic origins in creating so much of the music we love. We find ourselves again and again simply weaving the above six chords into progressions that support the ups and downs of the stories we are telling. For instrumental artists, we tell our stories through melody.

All of our American songs are based in either the major or minor tonality. As we stylistically morph from children's songs and folk, through blues, rock and pop towards jazz, this weave evolves from this pure, seven pitch diatonic core by adding in additional pitches from our full compliment of 12.

The diatonic chord built on Six. As we might discern from the above discussions the Six chord is a major player in the American songbook. Diatonically a minor triad, the Six chord finds it's way into all of the American styles somewhere at some point.

In this next example, we evolve our C major scale into its arpeggio, respell it as its relative minor, A natural minor, and then extract the pitches of our Six chord. Included in the example are some of the diatonic color tones commonly associated with Six. Example 9.

scale degrees
root / 1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
C major scale
C
D
E
F
G
A
B
C
arpeggio degrees
root / 1
3
5
7
9
11
13
15
A minor arpeggio
A
C
E
G
B
D
F
A
A minor triad
A
C
E
.
.
.
.

In this next example, we evolve our C major scale into its arpeggio, respell it as its relative minor, A natural minor, and then extract the pitches of our Six chord. Included in the example are some of the diatonic color tones commonly associated with Six. Example 9.

~ stgc voice narrative / rote learn ~

Diatonic Six evolves / non-diatonic alteration. Throughout the literature, the Six chord is mostly diatonic as a minor triad and often with an added seventh or ninth. With a bit of blues influence, Six often morphs towards becoming a dominant 7th or Five chord type. Once this transition is made, a few new options open up.

the literature

One common option is evolve Six from its diatonic minor chord into a dominant seventh or Five chord type. In this next idea we'll run the very common One / Six / Two / Five chord progression, first diatonically then with evolving the Six chord from a minor chord to dominant 7th, all in C major. Example 10.

The crucial pitch. Notice the C# in the third measure just above? In evolving our Six chord from minor into a dominant / Five chord type, we must raise the third of the chord by half step. Examine the pitches. Ex. 10a.

arpeggio degrees
root / 1
3
5
7
A minor
A
C
E
.
A 7
A
C#
E
G

A C#, are we still in C major? Yes we are, we just borrowed the pitch C# from the key of D major. Really. Yep. Why D major? Well, A7 is the diatonic dominant 7th / Five chord in D major yes? It sure is. So we in theory simply say we borrowed the pitch from D major. Is this common? It is, depending on musical style of course. In some blues and of course jazz, written out or not this evolution of Six happens quite often.

Why is this an evolution? Simply in that by morphing into V7 we gain a tritone interval within the chord. With this addition many new opportunities arise for the creative musician. Dominant harmony, and its ability to direct harmonic motion, is probably our most malleable component in morphing between the styles.

With dominant harmony, we'll eventually add a ninth colortone. Here we're into blues and of course funk. Once we're cool with that we can flat the nine for yet another new color.

While mostly a jazz color, theorywise our V7b9 chord has a fully diminished 7th chord in its upper structure. This new color in theory launches a new dimension to our palettes. Examine the pitches. Example 11.

arpeggio degrees
root / 1
3
5
7
9
A 7
A
C#
E
G
.
A 9
A
C#
E
G
B
A 7b9
A
C#
E
G
Bb
C# diminished 7th
.
C#
E
G
Bb

For jazz players it's game on. For once we get to this level of understanding and hearing the V7b9 / fully diminished 7th chords in the music, our options expand dramatically. Why? Well we can view the four pitches of the fully diminished 7th chord as four different leading tones to four different major and minor key centers.

We might not ever really modulate to those keys, but we might find something cool and borrow it that makes our sound unique. Once the implication is in place that we might, then all of the possibilities of those keys now may come to bear on what we've got right in front of us.

Couldn't they without the theory? Of course, but with the theory knowledge it becomes a structural evolution, thus an organically based development from what has come before to build the new upon.

If you not aspiring to the jazz world all of this might just be mumbo jumbo, as we used to say. But if you are, then this potential game changer becomes one of a few portals to reach the highest of our theoretical evolution to date. Of course we still have to hear it, shed through the possibilities and above all make good art.

For those inclined and those in the know, this b9 transition helps us, at least in theory, to get our arms completely around the resource as we know it today. Which depending on many, many things ... can be a very, very cool place to hang out :)

Review and onward. The crucial theory here is probably based on the relationship between the major / minor aspect of our musical system. That we can locate our relative minor on the major sixth above our relative major root pitch sets just about everything in motion for this duality is simply everywhere in our American musical styles.

Locating the Aeolian mode / natural minor from Six, we locate the center of the natural minor environment. Motion to the diatonic Six chord and its morphing to a dominant chord is also all over the American sounds we love. As a catalyst to the upper reaches of our present theoretical evolution, the Six chord creates part of the portal to get there.

"I'd love to knock an audience cold with one note, but what do you do for the rest of the evening?"
Eric Clapton
1
#1
b2
2
b3
3
4
#4
b5
5
#5
b6
6
b7
7
8
b9
9
#9
-10
10
11
#11
12
b13
13
b14
14
15
#15
Footnotes:
(2)Aebersold, Jamey and Slone, Ken. The Charlie Parker Omnibook. New York: Atlantic Music Corp., 1978.

Russell, George. The Lydian Chromatic Concept Of Tonal Organization. USA Concept Publishing Company, Cambridge, Mass. 1982