Analyze music (discovering their key, the harmonic progression or alterations), improvising on them or compose new has never been easier!
One of the instruments that I developed and included in my text “Viaggio tra le note: i segreti della teoria e dell’armonia musicale” (A journey between the notes: the secrets of music theory and harmony” is the solar wheel.
Before I describe it, I must explain what lies behind its curious name. When I imagined it, my goal was to shed light on the understanding of music and light, which as we all know, comes from the sun. The sun has always provided light and warmth and symbolically represents an instrument of knowledge. Therefore, I wanted to reference the sun in its name, shape (with the tips to symbolize the rays) and substance (for the light of knowledge this instrument wants to emanate to all readers). I firmly believe that the solar wheel can be a reliable companion for facilitating the understanding of harmony, execution, composition, improvisation, and basically the ability to make music together.
Musically, the crux of the wheel is represented by the well-known circle of fifths (C, G, D, etc.).
Added to this is a smaller inner circle that represents the sequence of minor chords built on the vi degree (considering the notes of the circle of fifths as tonic and present immediately above). It is precisely on the VI degree that you build the natural minor or relative minor scale. For this reason we can also consider this inner circle as the succession of the “relative minors”. Therefore, under C we will have the A- chord while under G we’ll have the E- chord etc.
The outer points (the ones that symbolize the sun’s rays) represent the VII degree, considering the note right below as the tonic of the scale of reference.
Isolating three rays from the wheel will get a figure very similar to a diamond. Each diamond contains a myriad of information.
The Roman numerals denote the harmonic progression of chords created on the scale. The upper case ones (I, IV, V) represent major chords while the lower case ones (ii, iii, vi) are minor chords. The degree with the small circle instead represents the VII degree on which, in the major scale harmonization, a half-diminished chord is built. For example, let’s consider C as tonic.
Looking at the wheel, to the left of the tonic we’ll have its IV degree (whereby an F major chord will be created), while to the right we’ll have the V degree (whereby a G7 chord will be created). And perfectly under it we’ll have the vi degree (with the A- chord), while to the left we’ll have the ii degree (D- chord) and to the right the iii degree (E- chord). Above the tonic we’ll have the VII degree, with the half-diminished B chord. The abbreviations in bold represent both the name of the specific chords and the notes which make up the major scale of reference.
Within the diamond’s perimeter we’ll therefore also have the name of all the notes that make up the C major scale. In our case: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, or if we consider the degrees I, ii, iii, IV, V, vi, VII.
This instrument will also be useful for composing songs and improvising. In fact, if I’m writing a song in C, I can already identify the chords to develop my harmony on, and thus also easily find more interesting solutions for my melody.
Similarly if I’m improvising, I can see if the song has harmonic progressions that are closely related to the key, or if it modulates in unrelated chords.
If the song only has chords belonging to progression built by harmonizing the major scale, it will be easy to improvise using C major throughout the song. Even if the chords change, my notes will sound perfectly fine. If, for example, there is chord which is unrelated to the key of reference, I’ll have to be careful and choose to play a simple triad or modal scale on that specific chord. Remember that while there’s a close relationship between a chord and a scale in the modal system, in the tonal system this relationship is established between a series of chords and a scale.