Which chords to use? Part Two

In 'Which chords go well together? Part One' I showed you how to take any major scale and easily convert it into seven chords that work well together, whatever order they are played in.

In this tutorial I explain the underlying musical theory.

By using this system, you can easily work out a set of seven chords for any key that you wish to play in. By familiarising yourself with the resulting pattern, you will improve your ability to work out how to play songs that you hear.

If you're new to song writing, this could be a good place to start.

Within my post "How to work out scales" I showed you how to establish the major scale for any particular key. I also mentioned that chords can be built up from the notes of a scale - giving a series of chords which relate to a key and sound harmonious when played together. The process through which these chords are derived is called "harmonising".

Harmonising the major scale

Below is the C major scale, written in musical notation. The notes are written on a stave, which has five lines separated by four spaces. Each line/space represents a note-value (indicated on the far right of the diagram). 

To harmonise the scale we take a note (eg C) and add the third note from it (eg E). We then add the third note from that (eg G). This gives us three notes (the minimum required for a chord) which when played together form a chord (eg C major).

We then repeat this process with each of the notes from the scale. This gives us a group of chords, built on each note of the scale; using only notes from the scale.

Here is the harmonised C major scale, written in musical notation.

This is what the resulting chords sound like:

NOTE: Play any combination of these chords and you can be said to be playing in the key of C major.
The resulting chords are (from left to right):

    C major
    D minor
    E minor
    F major
    G major
    A minor
    B diminished (You can try substituting this with a B minor or B7 if you prefer)
    C major (an octave higher than the first C major)

If this is all new to you then it may seem a little confusing, however you need only remember this pattern:
Major, minor, minor, Major, Major, minor, diminished

So what does that do for you?

Well, take any major scale and add this pattern and the result is a set of seven chords that compliment each other; whichever order they are played in.

For example, take the G major scale - G, A, B, C, D, E, F# . Add the pattern above and you have your seven chords:

    G major
    A minor
    B minor
    C major
    D major
    E minor
    F# diminished (Try substituting F# minor or F#7 if you prefer)

Furthermore, this can help you to work out how to play songs. If a song is in the key of G major, it is likely to have a C major in it (for instance); a D major is also almost guaranteed. The first ( I ), fourth ( IV ), and fifth ( V ) are grouped together and referred to as the primary chords. They can be regarded as the building blocks of modern Western music: The Blues began exclusively as simple progressions consisting of only the I, IV and V. The second ( II ), third ( III ), and sixth ( VI ) are referred to as the secondary chords.

Want to learn more?
  • Try harmonising a major scale to four notes for a more jazzy sound
  • Harmonise different types of scales and see which chords result
  • Teach someone how to harmonise the major scale
  • Checkout my 'Modes - What are they?' and 'Modes - Where are they?' tutorials

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