There are many songwriters and musicians who can’t read a note of music, yet they can create amazing music. How do they do it? The basics of chord theory can help anyone better understand, write, and perform music.
First, here are a few reason why you should bother learning chord theory.
- They will give you a simpler path of finding the chord that you hear in your head. (Many times finding that next chord is as easy as trying out the three or four most common chord changes if you know chords.)
- They will give you more ideas for new and interesting chord progressions. (Understanding and playing with the circle of fifths has led to many wonderful chord progressions like the Eagles’ “Hotel California”.)
- Once you know the rules, you get to break them. (Knowing how people expect a progression to proceed and then fooling them is one of the most powerful weapons that a songwriter can wield.)
Every scale or different key is a series of notes and chords that are similar to all the others. The difference is that they start on a different note. In this article we will focus on one key “C”. Later on we will see how we can apply what we talk about here to any key and even move from one key to the other. Place your cursor on the keyboard to see where the notes in the C scale lies on the piano.
Since the scale is relative it is commonly referred to in roman numerals as shown here. Later you will see how as we move to other keys the roman numerals will apply to different note values, but will relatively stay the same to each other. The roman numerals are lower or upper case to represent if the chord based off of a certain note is Major (upper case) or minor (lower case)
Chords – The most common chords are made up of three notes (a triad). They usually skip a note in the scale between each note found in a chord.
I – C Major
ii – D Minor
The next chord in the scale is the ii chord (or D minor). This is a minor chord as seen by the lower case ii. It consists of the 2nd, 4th, and 6th notes of the scale.
iii – E Minor
The next chord in the scale is the iii chord (or E minor). This is a minor chord as seen by the loser case iii. It consists of the 3rd, 5th, and 7th notes of the scale.
IV – F Major
The next chord in the scale is the IV chord (or F Major). This is a Major chord as seen by the upper case IV. It consists of the 4th, 6th, and 1st notes of the scale.
V – G Major
The next chord in the scale is the V chord (or G Major). This is a Major chord as seen by the upper case V. It consists of the 5th, 7th, and 2nd notes of the scale.
vi – A minor
The next chord in the scale is the vi chord (or A minor). This is a minor chord as seen by the loser case vi. It consists of the 6th, 1st, and 3rd notes of the scale.
vii – B diminished
The next chord in the scale is the vii chord (or B diminished). This is a minor and diminished chord as seen by the lower case vii This chord is unlike the others since the chord does not form a perfect fifth. This creates or more unstable sound. It consists of the 7th, 2nd, and 4th notes of the scale.
The Full Scale
Now if we look again at the full scale of notes, we can see how there is a chord rooted in each note of the scale. Each root employs the notes that are a third above and a fifth above it to create a triad. The audio track below will play through all seven chords of the scale sequentially from 1 to 7 (I – vii).
Stay tuned for more articles going further into chord theory as well as examples of the chord progressions often used in popular music.