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The Troubadour Watch has many uses, but the most important is finding the primary chords that sound right in a given musical key. For a given key (major or minor), there are 3 major triad chords, 3 minor triad chords, and 1 diminished triad that are "diatonic" to the key. These diatonic chords each have three notes and each of those 3 notes will also be part of the key. We can also extend these basic 3-note triad chords to their 4-note cousins, which are called "seventh chords". The Troubadour Watch makes it trivial to determine which chords to use in a key.
Whether you are using a major key or a minor key, the notes and chords of that key will align on the Troubadour Watch from 11 o'clock to 5 o'clock. You will notice that this aligns with the two arcs of Roman numerals along the dial. The notes from 11 o'clock to 5 o'clock are in the key and diatonic. Notes that are outside of this arc are said to be non-diatonic... that is, not in the key.
The Troubadour Watch has 3 main sections outside of basic timekeeping and the date.
- Bidirectional Circle of Fifths Bezel
- Major Arc
- Minor Arc
The outer bezel rotates bidirectionally and is engraved with musical notes in an circle-of-fifths layout. Clockwise, each note is a 5th scale degree from the prior note. Counter-clockwise, each note is a 4th scale degree from the prior note. The bezel shows natural and flat notes. The flat notes can be converted to the enharmonic sharp notes easily.
The major arc is the outer Roman numeral arc on the dial. This arc will align with the bezel to show the notes, chords, and scale degrees of the major key. Capitalized Roman numerals indicate a major chord. Lowercase Roman numerals indicate a minor chord. For instance, if you rotate C to the 12 o'clock position, you will see the following chords for the key of C Major.
|Scale Degree||Chord (triad)|
|vi||A minor (the relative minor)|
The minor arc is the inner Roman numeral arc on the dial. This arc will align with the bezel to show the notes, chords, and scale degrees of the minor key. Capitalized Roman numerals indicate a major chord. Lowercase Roman numerals indicate a minor chord. For instance, if you rotate A to the 3 o'clock position, you will see the following chords for the key of A minor. Note that the V chord can be played as either the strong V or weak v in a minor key. The strong V is commonly used and has a non-diatonic note that creates more tension. The weak v is diatonic. Likewise the vii° is non-diatonic but creates more tension than the VII chord, but vii° is less common.
|Scale Degree||Chord (triad)|
|III ( also known as ♭III )||C major (the relative major)|
|V or v||E Major or E minor|
|VI ( also known as ♭VI )||F Major|
|VII ( also known as ♭VII )||G Major|
|vii°||G# (shown as A♭) Diminished|
Relative "Church Modes" can be determined by using the acronym LIMDAPL (located on the back of your watch).
Starting at 11 o'clock and going counter clockwise around the diatonic arc.
|I||Ionian (Major)||12 o'clock|
|A||Aeolian (Natural Minor)||3 o'clock|
With C at 12 o'clock, you can see that F lydian, D dorian, and A aeolian all consist of the same notes and diatonic chords. That is, the capitalization of the Major Arc will still determine if a chord is major or minor in the other modes. Since the orientation is the circle of fifths, A is the fifth in D dorian. E is the second in D dorian, etc. The same pattern is used across all modes relative to the tonic. The Troubadour watch just shows the scale degrees for Major and Minor.
For instance, the song "Change" by Blind Melon is in A Mixolydian. So, rotate the note "A" to 1 o'clock. The other chords used are D major (the IV), and G major (the ♭VII).
Traditional music theory shows chords as having three different functions
- Tonic Function has little to no tension
- SubDominant Function has medium tension
- Dominant Function has high tension and wants to resolve back to the tonic
On the back of the watch, you will see the numbers
136 42 75
These are the chords related to the chord functions
Tonic Function = 1,3, and 6 chords have low tension
Subdominant Function = 4 and 2 chords have medium tension
Dominant Function = 7 and 5 chords have high tension
Back to our example in C Major at the 12 o'clock position:
|Scale Degree||Chord (triad)||Chord Function|
|I||C major||Tonic (low tension)|
|ii||D minor||Subdominant (medium tension)|
|iii||E minor||Tonic (low tension)|
|IV||F major||Subdominant (medium tension)|
|V||G Major||Dominant (high tension)|
|vi||A minor (the relative minor)||Tonic (low tension)|
|vii°||B diminished||Dominant (high tension)|
The same numerical categories apply to minor keys.
Triad chords that we have used thus far are derived from their respective scales. The C major triad consists of the 1, 3, and 5 scale degrees from the C major scale. The F minor triad consists of the 1, 3, and 5 scale degrees from the F minor scale. We can extend these basic triads to "7th chords" by including the 7th scale degree from the respective scales. This is know as a "7th Chord". There are three types of 7th scale degrees: the major 7, the minor (♭7), and a diminished (♭♭7). So which scale degree to add to the chord? Along the arc, only the 11 and 12 o'clock chords will use a major 7th scale degree. The rest use a minor 7th. The odd-ball vii° chord at 8 o'clock will use a diminished 7th scale degree to form a "fully diminished" 7th chord.
Let's look at A minor as an example.
|Scale Degree||Triad||O'clock||7th Scale Degree||7th Chord|
|V or v||E or Em||4 o'clock||
|E7 or Em7|
Note the G7 chord at 1 o'clock is a dominant 7th chord. It uses a major triad and a ♭7. That dominant chord is diatonic to the key (A minor or C major). You can think of it as being pulled from the mixolydian scale. The E7 (strong V) shown here, however, is non-diatonic because the G# third is not in the key of A minor.
Where are the sharps #?
In the modern equal-temperament system in use today, each flat has an "enharmonic" sharp note that has the same pitch. Using the correct name will not change the sound or fingering of the chord, but it's worth knowing the correct name. If you have a flat touching at the 11 o'clock position, the flats along the arc are true flats. Otherwise, interpret the flats along the arc as their enharmonic sharp equivalents. If F is touching the 5 o'clock position, interpret that F as an E#.
Some can visualize the treble clef in their head or know their alphabet backwards. Others may prefer the following mnemonics.