Western Music Theory: How to apply it practically

Doing a compositional exercise in Reason tonight, thought I’d go through some things and try to explain them. This is pretty basic stuff, so a lot of you are probably already familiar with how it’s done.
I’ve started a new thread so I can post more about this topic at a later time.

I started with the E natural minor scale (the natural minor scale is also known as the Aeolian mode, one of the 7 different diatonic modes). I then mapped out the diatonic triads, AKA the basic triad chords which can be created with the notes in the scale (only these notes, no other ones). The process of finding out which chords these are, is fairly simple. You start with the first note, then pick every second note of the scale going upwards. You then do the same starting from the second note, then the third, etc.

E natural minor scale

By following this simple formula, you get the following 7 triads. These are the diatonic chords (in root position) of E natural minor AKA E Aeolian. I’ve numbered them below, and also added the Roman numerals used.

    1. ( i. ) E minor (E / G / B)
    1. ( iiᵒ) F-sharp diminished (F# / A / C)
    1. ( III.) G major (G / B / D)
    1. ( vi.) A minor (A / C / E)
    1. ( v.) B minor (B / D / F#)
    1. ( VI.) C major (C / E / G)
    1. ( VII.) D major (D / F# / A)

But why the Roman numerals, you may ask?
Because then, you can write, or read, chord progressions without the need to specify a key, which is useful if you want to transpose things, but keep the harmonic progression the same. You can also write chord progressions which borrow chords from other modes, and a whole lot more stuff.
Of course, the prerequisite for this is that you understand the underlying structure of how the chords in a scale/mode are created, which I have explained above. You can of course also make your own scales, and find the chords for them, following this formula; the 7 diatonic modes are just the basics.

Personally, I don’t know all the chords in all the scales by heart, but I know enough to be able to figure them out if I spend time on it. I hope my explanation here can help you guys with this too.

Here’s a link to a website which lists more chords related to E natural minor, and a whole lot of other scales. It is great as a reference, but I recommend trying the above formula for yourself, if you want to to gain a deeper understanding of the concept.


I’ll add some basic info about chord inversions here too, because why not.

Inversions of chords basically means that you take the bottom note of a chord, and put it an octave above, or take the top note and move it down an octave. In a practical sense, this is useful if you want to make chord progressions easier to play on a real instrument, by reducing the distance your hands has to move to get to the next chord. The transitions then also generally sound smoother.

This is definitely also useful when creating melodies to go along with chord progressions, or in reverse, if you want to harmonize (write chords to) a melody you, or someone else, has already made. This is how a lot of jazz musicians re-harmonize melodies with new chords; you “look at” the melody, and then try to find alternative chords to it that includes the notes of that melody.

Here are the inversions for the first 4 triad chords in E natural minor / Aeolian.

E natural minor diatonic inversions

I’ve just finished a short example tune.


This is why I came to the dubstep forum!

Here’s a short video from a channel I like, explaining the concept of modal interchange AKA borrowing chords from other modes.

I’ve been meaning to make a big post like this about polyrhythms. Good stuff


Feel free to post here if you have some good tips.

Great theory breakdown of Willow Smith’s song “Symptom of Life”, pop in 7/4. Lots of interesting stuff going on here.

Here’s the full song.

1 BigUp

i wish i could get my head around music theory but i really just dont get it. my brain just wont absorb the information it instantly gets stressed. but i guess i use alot off “jazz” chords because its easier i just stick too the root note and other keys in the scale and use my ears to determine if its ok or not. i have a bad habit of making something minor sounding but the melody sounds major so i guess thats called something lol.

1 BigUp

This is where ur going wrong imo

This is a totally legit way of going about this. If you know what a scale is, that’s a great start. I’ve explained how to find the main triads of E minor in the first post in this thread. You can find all the triads of any (diatonic) scale / mode using that method.

From there, you can try to find the inversions of these chords, there are 3 of each, as explained in the second post. Inversions makes it easier to move to other chords, either within the same key, or something completely different. The most important thing here is voice leading; making the voices / notes in one chord move smoothly to the next (if that’s what you want). I recommend trying this out by writing a simple melody that you like, then add one harmony to complement it, then maybe a second. You can get a long way by just using 2 harmonies for the melody, and 1 for the bass. Can get real jazzy. Less is more, or whatever.

Intervals is also something you can practice with ear training, like how a minor or major 3rd “sounds”. Then maybe the 4th, the perfect 5th (this is how you make power chords on guitar), or diminished 5th (one half-step below, this is called the tritone, because you stack minor 3rds), augmented 5th (one half-step above a perfect 5th), major & minor 7ths, etc.

I guess you could describe this as “polytonal”, since you’re using several scales at the same time (min+maj). It usually sounds very dissonant, for obvious reasons.

i use e minor alot i know fifths of a key, and inversions. so if i wrote a melody in e minor and stuck too the notes in the scale how comes it can sound major?

1 BigUp

oh btw i ment i dont stick too the root note only for bass for the chord’s. with bass i will do some variation with third or fifths etc

“Then maybe the 4th, the perfect 5th (this is how you make power chords on guitar), or diminished 5th (one half-step below, this is called the tritone, because you stack minor 3rds), augmented 5th (one half-step above a perfect 5th), major & minor 7ths, etc.”

this bit lost me tbh

1 BigUp

so i write some notes that sound good on there own then do this and skip and note in the scale lol i dont know if this is insulting but then i makes sure some of the notes stay consistent through the chords so thats voices?

then melody i do octave above then just do something untill sounds good too me for example did this in 20 seconds so would that be bad practise

whoops just realised it e Phrygian

so this is something i did quickly definitely e minor natural this time. just very quick

so i think this sound major sometimes so scales only refer to melodies? im confused so if i do minor music i cant do major chords? sound stupid but

this what this example sounds like

Minor and major are parallel, just depends on where you start in the scale. C major and A minor all use the same notes. Same goes for all scales, every major scale has a minor parallel. All the diatonic modes are just the major scale, but you change where you start in it.

What you need to catch from this is that it’s all intervals. You can teach yourself to hear them.

since this reply ive done some research and its slowly coming together still have alot more too learn i wont stop till i understand that video you posted lol

1 BigUp

Watch this instead.

1 BigUp

ah mate this made me have a eureka moment. explains why i thought i was more creative years ago when i didnt know anything about chords and didnt really use them i would just focus on the melody. mix was terrible but i was more creative

1 BigUp

That’s dope. Voice leading is everything my dude. You can make up any chord, no need to know what it’s called. If you want to make interesting harmonic progressions, at least. Dubstep keeps it real simple, but these concepts are still useful.

1 BigUp