27 May 2013


John Burns, an old buddy of mine, who is brilliant on both banjo and cello, drew my attention to The Dragon Chord. For the technically-minded, it's based on the third note of a scale, and is the basic minor triad. So, in the key of C, it is E minor.

The first chord above is C major [C E G].

The following chord is E minor [E G B].

Once you have been alerted to this and its subtle effect (bright start followed by a slight switch to the sad or nostalgic), you notice that tunes often begin in that way - on the major chord, to be followed by the Dragon Chord.

How did it get that name? Think of the tune 'Puff, the Magic Dragon' played in the key of C.

'Puff, the Magic...' is on the C chord; but as soon as you begin the word 'DRAGon', you are on E minor. Get it?

Now think of 'When You're Smiling'. It begins, 'When you're smiling, when you're' - all on the C chord; but when you hit the second 'smiling', it's the Dragon! You can hear it, can't you?

Or try the start of 'Home in Pasadena'. 'I want to be in Pasa-' is on the chord of C; but the moment you sing '-dena', it's the DRAGON!

Or 'In Apple Blossom Time': 'I'll be seeing you in.....'. As soon as you reach 'apple', you are on the dragon chord.

And in 'I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter', it comes with the word '...letter'.

For further examples, try 'I Wonder What's Become of Sally', 'The White Cliffs of Dover', 'Daddy's Little Girl', 'Happy Days and Lonely Nights', 'You Belong To Me' and 'You Always Hurt The One You Love'.

Footnote: Stan Cummings (banjo, Sacramento) has sent me the following useful additional point:

Current harmonization of this progression, C-Em, is frequently shown as C-Cmaj7.
If you add the C note to the Em chord (EGB) it is a Cmaj7 chord.   As a tenor banjo player, I 
frequently play whichever is handy or sounds better to my ear.  Of course, this works in any key.