http://ozvalveamps.org/related2.htm | 16/4/04 | Last update: 02:28 24/4/07
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Related chords in common keys

Major Keys

I

Major

II

Minor

III

Minor

IV

Major

V

Major

VI

Minor

bVII

Major

A B C# D E F# G
Bb C D Eb F G Ab
B C# D# E F# G# A
C D E F G A Bb
D E F# G A B C
E F# G# A B C# D
F G A Bb C D Eb
G A B C D E F
Minor Keys

I

Minor

II

Minor

III

Major

IV

Minor

V

Major

VI

Major

bVII

Major

A B C D E F G
Bb C Db Eb F Gb Ab
B C# D E F# G A
C D Eb F G Ab Bb
D E F G A Bb C
E F# G A B C D
F G Ab Bb C Db Eb
G A Bb C D Eb F

How to use the tables

The I (or 1) column shows the key, known as the “Tonic” chord.

In any key the next most important chords are the IV (4) “sub-Dominant”, and V (5) “Dominant” chords.

These three chords in different arrangements form the basis of most popular, blues, rock and folk songs and are sometimes called “1,4,5” or “three-chord-trick” songs.

Two other chords frequently used are the flat-VII (7) “Leading” or seventh chord, and the VI (6)(minor) “Relative Minor” chord. (This “seventh” should not be confused with the Major Seventh.)

If you are stuck trying to create a song, then reading across from your chosen key will suggest other chords in the same key.

If you are trying to work out a song from a recording, once you identify one chord, the rest should fall out of the table.

But how do you work out that first chord?

Here is the method I have evolved.

1. Tuning

Firstly, your guitar and the source must be in tune. The guitar notes must not “fall into the cracks” of the source notes a partial semitone off.

If the source is a CD recorded after about 1980 and you use a modern guitar tuner then you are probably already in tune, but if your source is a tape or your guitar is out of tune, then you first need to match tuning.

Match tuning

Doodle on the top (treble) E-string trying to find a note that most nearly fits pitch (sounds least out-of-tune) most of the time.

If you can't tell if it's high or low, try pushing or bending the string upwards to sharpen it and listen if it sounds better or worse. Better means tune up, worse means tune down.

You should not need to move more than half a semitone up or down, so take it easy and you won't bust a string.

2. Finding a chord

Once in tune, I follow the chord changes with a simple bass line on the bottom (bass) E-string.

Suppose you identify the note on the fifth fret as part of the song. When that part comes around, try playing a barré (bar) chord at that position.

Try the E-shape (A) and the A-shape (D). If one of these match up, this is where the tables come in.

Often the starting chord, and frequently the ending chord, are the key chords for the song.

First try the IV and V chords for A, then the IV and V chords for D.

Let's say you find that D doesn't fit but E does, and the song has a repeating chord pattern that goes;

E - A - ? - ?

going around and around.

Looking at the key of E you see the V chord is B, and trying that you find it fits like;

E - A - ? - B

The key is now obviously E, but the unknown chord is followed by a B, and a seventh chord is almost always followed by the key chord, which this isn't.

Country music in particular makes regular use of the Relative Minor chord.

So try the VI (6) Relative Minor chord, in this case C#m C-sharp minor, and you find that it fits.

Apart from the “middle-8” bars which are generally a simplified form of the rest of the song, you now have (In search of) The Holy Grail by Hunters and Collectors.

|   E   /   A   /   |   C#m   /   B   /   |


Once you get the hang of working songs out a useful exercise is putting on a CD or the radio and trying to work out each song on the fly.


Further reading: Understanding Music Theory, Robin Yeatman, ISBN No: 0-646-09741-5, Essential Music Publishing, PO Box 150, Surrey Hills, Vic, 3127, Australia.

At under $20A this book is a steal. It's the clearest, most concise, accessable and sensible introduction to music theory I've ever seen. -rr

Thanks to music teachers Helen Knight and Peter Mullany for their helpful suggestions.

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