Fiddlewidget for String Teachers

Activity 4-The Dominant and Sub-Dominant Chords

Time required: 15-20 minutes


1.Printed copies of the major scale of the example tune (G major in my example). Whatever was used in Activity 3 would work here.

2. The chromatic-capable instrument that was used in the first part of this activity.

You have already introduced these briefly in Activity 3. So let's review and expand on that.

We're looking for the 4 and 5 chords, so ask the students to name the 4 and 5 chords in the key of G (Just start at G and count up the major scale; G=1, A=2, B=3, C=4, D=5, etc).

OK, so we've identified C as the 4 chord. What are the notes in it? One correct way to answer that is the 1,3 and 5 notes in the key of C. Write out the C scale, and pick them out: 1=c, 3=e and 5=g, so the C chord is made up of the notes c, e and g.

Now find the notes of the 5 chord (in the key of G) in the same manner; first count up to 5 in the G scale, landing on the d note, then work out the D scale and find the 1-3-5 notes in that key. That gives us the D major chord or triad; d, f# and a.

Now, I'm usually doing this in a Fiddlewidget class or workshop; my students can then set their Fiddlewidgets to the key of G and read the 1-3-5 notes highlighted in colors red-blue and yellow, respectively. Then they can move them to the C and see that the colors are now magically repositioned to show the C chord, and repeat that for the D, or the A, or anything else. And it maps these chords onto the neck of the instrument, and shows them ALL, anywhere up the neck.

At that point, everyone wants to take their widget and their guitar or banjo and disappear for awhile. But before I let them do that, I show them one more trick.

Instead of moving the Fiddlewidget to show the C chord, and again to show the D, they can leave it right where it is, set to the key of G. This is the next point to make, to show students how to find the notes in the 4 and 5 chords in terms of the root major scale.

In the key of G, it turns out that the 4 chord, the 1-3-5 in the key of C, is the 4-6-1 in the key of G. And the 5 chord, the 1-3-5 in the key of D, is also the 5-2-7 in the key of G!

Let students take another look now at the G major scale, and based on the next bit of information Once you get that concept down, you're pretty much free to go off and explore some music. If you can play the 1,4 and 5 chords in a given key, you can play a thousand songs.

A Fiddlewidget will show you these chords, map them onto a diagram of the fingerboard, and tell you via the colors whether a note is the 1, the 3 or the 5 of the chord by that name.

Now you can end the activity and let everyone go off with their guitars and have some fun. But first, assess:

    1. can they name the 1,4 and 5 chords in a given key?

    2. can they name the notes in each of these chords?

    3. can they write the scale degrees of the 1,4, and 5 chords in terms of the root (1) scale?

Next: Navigation tricks.

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