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What Chords Are In What Key, And Why?, date: november 11, 2004
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What Chords Are In What Key, And Why?
author: SilentDeftone date: 11/11/2004 category: chords
What chords are in what key, and why? This lesson assumes basic
knowledge of the Circle of 5ths.
Part 1: Basic Triads
Each diatonic SCALE has 7 different notes, which gives way to 7
possible triads for each key in music. A triad is the 1st, 3rd, and 5th
notes of a SCALE played simultaneously to form a chord.
All chords are formed based on their respective major diatonic SCALE . A C chord is built on a C major scale, a D
chord is built on a D major scale, etc.
There are 7 chords for each key, which correspond to the 7 notes in each key's scale. Some chords can be in more
than one key - for example, a D major chord can be in the keys D, A, or G.
I'll use the key of C as an example:
The key of C includes the notes C D E F G A B C. Each note of the scale corresponds to a scale degree as shown:
Note: C D E F G A B C
Degree: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1
You can form 7 basic chords (triads) from the notes in the key of C. Each different note is the root of a different chord.
There are 3 combinations of the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes that will be covered in this lesson. There are 3 more, but
they are not included.
Major triad: 1 3 5
Minor triad: 1 b3 5
Diminished triad: 1 b3 b5
Your first chord will be a C chord, because C is the first scale degree. Now, since this is a C chord, it will be based on
the C major diatonic scale. Take scale degrees 1 3 5 as shown below:
..Note: C D E F G A B C
Degree: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1
........*...*...*
This gives you notes C, E, and G. Since all 3 of those notes are in the key of C, you do not have to modify them to
FIT , and you have a major triad (1 3 5). So your first chord is C major.
The second chord will be a D chord, because D is the 2nd scale degree. It's based on the D scale, which is D E F# G A
B C# D. Now, take 1 3 5 of this scale:
..Note: D E F# G A B C# D
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Degree: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1
........*...*....*
This gives notes D F# A. This presents a problem - F# is not in the key of C! In order to keep this chord in key, we
have to flat the F# (lower it by 1/2 step) down to F natural. This gives D F A, which is scale degrees 1 b3 5 of the D
major scale. 1 b3 5 is the formula for a minor triad. Therefore, your second chord is D minor.
The seventh chord will be a B chord, because B is the 7th scale degree. It's based on the B scale, which is B C# D# E
F# G# A# B. Now, take 1 3 5 of this scale:
..Note: B C# D# E F# G# A# B
Degree: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1
........*....*....*
This gives notes B D# F#. D# (3) and F# (5) are not in the key of C, and must be flatted to D (b3) and F (b5),
respectively. This gives us scale degrees 1 b3 b5, which is the formula for a diminished triad.
Based on these examples, you can figure out the rest of the chords. However, they always follow a pattern:
1 - major
2 - minor
3 - minor
4 - major
5 - major
6 - minor
7 - diminished
By applying this pattern, you can quickly figure out that the chords in the key of C are:
Cmaj
Dmin
Emin
Fmaj
Gmaj
Amin
Bdim
All the notes contained in the above chords will be in the key of C.
This pattern works for any of the keys in the Circle of 5ths. It does not, however, cover any scales that are not the
major scale (such as the harmonic minor scale, for example. That has its own pattern of chords).
Part 2: Extended chords.
Okay, so you've got the basic triads down? Great! Now on to extended chords. First, you must learn the formulas for
the 4 types of 7th chords.
......Major 7th: 1 3 5 7 - Abbreviation: maj7
......Minor 7th: 1 b3 5 b7 - Abbreviation: min7
...Dominant 7th: 1 3 5 b7 - Abbreviation: 7, dom7
Minor/Major 7th: 1 b3 5 7 - Abbreviation: min/maj7
Now, let's return to our first chord. We know it's a major chord from Part 1. We can now figure out what type of 7th
chord it is using the same method.
..Note: C D E F G A B C
Degree: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1
........*...*...*...*
Your notes are C E G B, all in the key of C. No changes are needed to the notes, and so this is a maj7 chord.
Our second chord was a minor chord in Part 1. Let's take it to the next level, a 7th chord.
..Note: D E F# G A B C# D
Degree: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1
........*...*....*...*
The notes are D F# A C#. F# (3rd) and C# (7th) are not in the key of C, and must be flatted on down to F natural
10/8/2014 What Chords Are In What Key, And Why? | Guitar Lessons @ Ultimate-Guitar.Com
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+ Counterpoint Explained: Contrapuntal Motion
GUITAR Techniques
11/11/2004
(b3rd) and C natural (b7th). Therefore, your scale degrees for this chord are 1 b3 5 b7. This gives us a min7 chord.
Our 5th chord is a G chord - let's find the 7th.
..Note: G A B C D E F# G
Degree: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1
........*...*...*...*
Our notes are G B D F#. F# (7th) must be flatted to an F natural (b7). Our scale degrees are 1 3 5 b7, which is the
formula for a dominant 7th chord. Our 5th chord is G7!
The seventh chord is a Bdim chord as shown in Part 1. Extending this chord, we find that it is a min7(b5) chord.
..Note: B C# D# E F# G# A# B
Degree: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1
........*....*....*.....*
This gives notes B D# F# A#. The D#, F#, and A# are all flatted 1/2 step to give degrees 1 b3 b5 b7. This is the
formula for a min7(b5) chord, also known as a half diminished chord.
Using the same method you can figure out the other chords. They also follow a pattern. That pattern goes as follows:
1 - maj7
2 - min7
3 - min7
4 - maj7
5 - dom7
6 - min7
7 - min7(b5)
And, as you may have guessed by now, the chords in the key of C are:
Cmaj7
Dmin7
Emin7
Fmaj7
G7 OR Gdom7 (they are the same chord)
Amin7
Bmin7(b5)
That's all for now. Feel free to PM me if you have questions, or visit the Musician Talk forum!
More SilentDeftone lessons:
comments policy 174 comments posted
Omg. Great lesson, it's very easy to comprehend and very applicable indeed. Nice JOB dude! =)
posted on Nov 11, 2004 08:47 am # +4 ronnie_sjr
gret article SilentDeftone, its easy to understand and has great info. too bad lessons dont make the front page, im sure many people
would like to READ this.
m

posted on Nov 11, 2004 03:45 pm # +3 jof1029
Great lesson SD, great one.
posted on Nov 11, 2004 04:02 pm # +1 The_Strat_Man
very good. seems complicated though. or is it just dumb me. once you know the above, where does that get you; what are you able to do
with this knowledge, if i were to remember it, how does it apply .....keep up the good work, great explanations, good TEACHING ....just
a dumb learner....thanks....
posted on Nov 12, 2004 12:33 am # -1 sailsingle4u
It means that all those chords sound good played simultaneously or in order with the C chord or C major SCALE
posted on May 21, 2013 08:32 am # pibws001
10/8/2014 What Chords Are In What Key, And Why? | Guitar Lessons @ Ultimate-Guitar.Com
http://www.ultimate-guitar.com/lessons/chords/what_chords_are_in_what_key_and_why.html 4/6
My English is not that bad (i think), but I can't use this because of some words. Is there a possibility to convert this text into a Dutch text?
Hope so!
posted on Nov 12, 2004 08:24 am # Scartissue
kopieer het in google translate...
posted on Dec 21, 2013 08:34 am # jensackermans
Qoute from sailsingle4u: once you know this knowledge you can apply it to your own playing, you just know which chords to play to sound
more melodic and diatonic
posted on Nov 12, 2004 01:28 pm # Spanner
It can help you figure out backing chords, or determine the key of a song based on the backing chords.
I think you can convert it using babelfish.altavista.com perhaps.
m

posted on Nov 12, 2004 09:28 pm # SilentDeftone
they should put a lessons thing on the front page
posted on Nov 19, 2004 09:38 pm # +2 timmEH
Yeah I'm lost.
posted on Nov 25, 2004 09:15 pm # -1 Dardencia
it'd be cool if you posted a lesson on effective ways to use out of key chords : )
posted on Nov 26, 2004 11:13 pm # isaluteu
Dard:
Diatonics can be kind of difficult to understand without actually seeing them written in music, and even then it takes some time to get a
good handle on what's going on. The really confusing points are chord 'formulas', how chords are built out of a scale, and a few other
points I won't bring up because they weren't in the original topic.
Basically, your major/minor unaltered chords are built by taking every other note of a major scale, starting at any given note. (ie. A-C#-E,
for A major, this can be continued until you use all 7 notes in a scale, yielding some variation of a 13th... but that's a little complex).
Understanding the chord formulas is the next step, for instance the 'formula' for a minor chord is 1-b3-5. These are alterations compared
to that chord's OWN major scale, often that's not made clear. For instance, the scale A major is A B C# D# E F# G#, if you take the 1st,
3rd and 5th you have A-C#-E, Amaj. Applying the minor formula to that, you would flat the 3rd, changing the C# to a natural C. Giving,
A-C-E, Amin. It's pretty easy to see that that fits the Cmaj scale that Def demonstrated with.
Let us know if it was something else that was confusing you.
Overall Silent, great post 5*
-- C
posted on Nov 27, 2004 01:50 pm # +1 Corwinoid
Thanks Corwinoid! I tried to make this as comprehensive as possible. Although perhaps I should have included a Circle of 5ths section, I
think that is another lesson in itself.
isaluteu:
it'd be cool if you posted a lesson on effective ways to use out of key chords : )
http://www.ultimate-guitar.com/columns/m...
ml
Credit to Raindog for that one
m

posted on Nov 28, 2004 02:29 pm # +2 SilentDeftone
5 stars SD.
posted on Dec 04, 2004 05:41 pm # The_Strat_Man
^i read that one a while ago, but it is now deleted. :\
posted on Dec 04, 2004 05:57 pm # isaluteu
great article, one of the best i've seen in a while
posted on Dec 05, 2004 06:58 pm # RelientK0289
10/8/2014 What Chords Are In What Key, And Why? | Guitar Lessons @ Ultimate-Guitar.Com
http://www.ultimate-guitar.com/lessons/chords/what_chords_are_in_what_key_and_why.html 5/6
This is a great artical, and i think that it's the best ever...
posted on Dec 06, 2004 04:21 pm # NeSiAngUrL
your site is awesome, because you have all the tabs to ll the songs i wanted....thank you so much...
posted on Dec 06, 2004 04:24 pm # NeSiAngUrL
I've got a question. It sounds like Dylan, in "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright", uses the following progression for the first half of each verse
(a dash indicates an additional measure of the same chord, without a change in phrase):
E B C#m - A E - E B C#m F#7 B
Clearly, he's in the key of E. However, he doesn't use an F#m7, he uses an F#7, and it doesn't sound dissonant. Is this because it
resolves to the B?
Thanks
posted on Dec 08, 2004 11:24 am # zensufi
isaluteu:
^i read that one a while ago, but it is now deleted. :\
[POSTED: 04 December 2004 - 17:57]|
No it's not.
E B C#m - A E - E B C#m F#7 B
Clearly, he's in the key of E. However, he doesn't use an F#m7, he uses an F#7, and it doesn't sound dissonant. Is this because it
resolves to the B?
Ah, interesting question! That's what's known as a secondary dominant chord.
Secondary Dominants
Basically, the V7 chord leads very strongly to the I chord, because the V7 chord contains the 7th tone of the I chord's major scale. The 3rd
in the V7 chord is the same as the 7th in the I chord.
7ths almost ALWAYS resolve up to the root note. This is called tone leading, I believe.
Anyways, on to your question. In the key of Bmaj, the V chord is an F# chord - and since V7 chords resolve well to I chords, your F#7
chord resolves extremely well to B. When writing this chord, you'd write it as V/V instead of II7, because it's the V chord of the V chord.
Also, it works relatively well because the temporary key change is minimal. An F#7 chord is different from an F#m7 chord only in the
chord's third. An F#7 has A#, while F#m7 has A natural. Take a look at your key - E. E has 4 sharps: F# C# G# D#. The next key over,
B, has 5 sharps: F# C# G# D# A#. Therefore you're only changing one note, it's not a large change at all. Hardly noticeable if you don't
analyze the song, eh?
I hope that was clear enough, I assumed you knew some theory!
m

posted on Dec 09, 2004 03:50 pm # +1 SilentDeftone
great lesson sd.5* no question.
posted on Dec 20, 2004 10:58 am # slash_620
nice lesson. beginner player here. helped clear up some things for me. thanks
posted on Jan 07, 2005 03:30 pm # thagovna10
question:
ok so understand these 2 patterns, so how can i find out whats in key using, alll.. the other scales that arent major scale, ie natural minor,
etcetc and all those patterns is there a simple formula or do i just have to memorize every pattern?
posted on Jan 14, 2005 02:34 am # alexcjalali
Simply use their scale when deriving the chords.
The key of Dm includes the notes D E F G A Bb C D.
Each note of the scale corresponds to a scale degree as shown:
..Note: D E F G A Bb C D
Degree: 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 1
Then just use the same method. You'll find that if you start on say the Aeolian mode your chords will go as follows: m7 m7b5 maj7 m7 m7
maj7 dom7, the exact same order as a major scale except with a different starting chord. Those chords would be shown as i ii III iv v VI
VII, by the way.
m

posted on Jan 15, 2005 11:15 am # SilentDeftone
10/8/2014 What Chords Are In What Key, And Why? | Guitar Lessons @ Ultimate-Guitar.Com
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