More about chords

by adminKFS on · Leave a comment

My last post about using the melodies of tunes as guides to finding chords generated a lot of feedback. The questions I heard most were ‘How do I learn what notes are in the chords?’ and ‘How do I know what chords are in what key?’

A good place to start learning chords is to work within a particular key – maybe a key that you know a lot of tunes in or are learning tunes in. If you are not sure how to find the chords within a key, I’ll give you a start here with how to find the chords in a major key.

For the chords we are concerned with here, they all come from the notes in the scale. Let’s use A major as an example:

If we stack the notes vertically in thirds, we get our triads in the key. You’ll notice that I assigned each note in the scale a roman numeral. This is why you hear musicians talk about the ‘one chord’ or ‘five chord’, etc. They are referring to it’s place within a key. In A major, the one chord is A major. It’s the chord built from the first note in the scale. The five chord is E major. It’s the chord built from the fifth note in the scale. Thinking of chords in this way allows you to easily transpose.

The pattern of the quality of the chords is always the same for major keys.

I is major
ii is minor
iii is minor

For tunes in a major key, the chords we are most concerned with are the I, the IV, the V and the ii. So in A major, this is A, D, E and B minor. No matter what instrument you play, a good place to start learning these chords is to play the arpeggios. That way, you really begin to understand what the chord tones are for each chord. Once you begin to get those under your fingers, you will soon see these arpeggios in the tunes. Some tunes are more arpeggiated then others but they all contain them in some form.

You can do this for any major key:

  • Write out the scale
  • Stack the notes vertically in thirds (make sure you include all sharps and flats)
  • Play the arpeggios of the I, IV, V and ii chords.

Hope this post gives you a start in learning chords!