Chords by Key
As with all Major key centers, there are 7 tones in the scale (key). A chord can be built from every tone in the scale, thus giving us 7 chords. Chords are built by selecting a root and adding every other tone until there are three tones [for triads]. A triad is a three tone chord built every other ‘note’. 7-type chords [each of the 7 chords can be a 7-type chord] are 4 tone chords, taking the every other note process one tone further, until there are 4 tones.
In a Major key, there are 3 Major triads [I IV V], 3 minor triads [ii iii vi], and 1 diminished triad [viio]. Upper case Roman Numeral means Major, lower case means minor, and lower case with a degree sign means diminished.
In a Major key, when chords include the 7’s, the I and IV become Major 7’s [IMaj7 IVMaj7], the V becomes a Dominant 7 [V7], the ii, iii, and vi become minor 7’s [iim7 iiim7 vim7], & the viio becomes a minor 7 flat 5 [viim7♭5 – also known as half diminished 7]. 7th chords are taking the EON principle until we have 4 tones.
The viio triad can be written as comparing to a minor triad and that would make it a minor flat 5. If it is a 7 chord, paralleled to minor 7, this could be called minor 7 flat 5. Minor 7 flat 5 is also called half-diminished 7 and that is indicated as the degree sign with a slash through it. We see the min7♭5 written more often than the degree sign with a slash. Just be aware that this type of chord has two ways to be written. They are the same thing.
Also: for beginners, I mostly use a V7 in place of the viio for playing the triadic chord scale. Once functional, and at a good point (understanding of triad anatomy), I re-introduce the viio. The viio is the 3-5-♭7 of the Dominant chord. They share the same function space. As teachers, we decide when to explain more complex things to students.
- Get all of the chords of each key in the hands. Take your time, figure out the angles and pressure needed for each chord, in each set.
- Play the triadic chord scale ascending [and descending]. Play chords as we do scales [alphabetically]. We can use any beat count and any motor hand technique [strumming, fingerpicking, or arpeggio picking].
- Play 7th chord scales after playing the triads with ease.
- Play progressions and/or songs that are in the key. We keep in mind that the voicings shown in on this page are but one way to play any particular type of chord. See the CAGED series for more options. Different styles favor certain voicings, and in a way, are defined by the types of chords that are used.
- As always, we write progressions. This process of arranging chords in our own order, and/or common sequences, is the genesis for writing our own songs. Start this process from the beginning. We aren’t limited to just the chords in a key for writing. Any chord can go to any chord. For understanding how other chords relate to a key center, check out Harmonic Map.
For all of the chord grids below, numbers in the dots are suggested fingerings. Empty strings are muted or not played [most likely muted, or add something, where possible].
A Flat Major
The key of Ab has 4 flats (B♭, E♭, A♭, and D♭). This is the opposite of A Major which has 3 sharps (F♯, C♯, G♯). What are sharped in A, are naturals in A flat. What are flats in A flat, are naturals in the key of A.
D Flat Major
The key of Db has 5 flats (Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, and Gb). This is the opposite of D which has 2 sharps (F# and C#). What are sharps in D, are naturals in D flat. What are flats in D flat, are naturals in the key of D.
Numbers in the dots are suggested fingerings. Empty strings are muted or not played [most likely muted!].
The G#m fingering is really the best solution for this chord using the G form, while keeping the chord in the position. We could also move F#m to the G#m (fret 4), rather than use a G form, but this puts us into a new zone, slightly outside the scale in ‘first position’.
For C#m, we’ve opted to make it C#m7 [5th-less], rather than a triad. The fingering for the triad isn’t super functional [shown left].
The low A [string 5] could also be eliminated in the D#o. This chord is used sparingly and finds its voice ‘inside’ a B7 chord.
Keep in mind that we can use fragments [smaller pieces] of any chord. F#m is a good one for fragments until we have our bar chords down.
E Flat Major
The key of Eb has 3 flats (Bb, Eb, and Ab). This is the opposite of E Major which has 4 sharps (F#, C#, G#, D#). What are sharped in E, are naturals in E flat. What are flats in E flat, are naturals in the key of E.
There are 6 sharps in the key of F sharp (F#). The sharps are F#, G#, A#, B, C#, D#, E# (everything but the B). Note that the key of F has only 1 flat (B-flat) – this is the ‘opposite’ of the key of F# (what is sharped in F# is natural in F).
Remember the total amount of sharps & flats for keys with the same core letter name (half step away) always equals 7. In this instance, we have 6 sharps (in F#) + 1 flat (in F) = 7.
We could say that the key signature of F# is 2 naturals: B and F (E# is F), Just a note here to say that we can think about tone groupings (keys) in different ways than the bloated circle of 5ths. Of course, the key of F# is the same tone set as the key of G flat (Gb). Is it possible that just by naming this key something different, it could possibly change its color or mood?
Always look for relationships between guitar chords: similarities and opposites. Example: the chord A minor is composed of the tones a, c, and e. If we want A# minor, sharp everything – a#, c#, e#. Same for D minor; D# minor is d#, f#, a#.
Another: G#m is g#, b, d#. Gm is g, b-flat, d. ‘Opposites.’