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  • Writer's pictureTom Glasson

Which chords to chose to write music

Music is usually written in a 'key'. This is the combination of notes used in the music, every lettered note is included in every key, 'C, D, E, F, G, A and B' and the key tells us which of them are sharp or flat.

For example;

The key of C Major is - C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C

The key of D Major is - D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#, D

The key of F Major is - F, G, A, Bb, C, D, E, F

Starting with the first letter, we give these notes numbers, which are called degrees of the scale. The first letter is 1 - so C in the key of C or F in the key of F. The second is 2, third is 3 and so on.

To learn more about key signatures, check out the lesson here.

Now we know the key and the notes used in the key, we can work out which chords are used in a key signature.

There is a formula which shows the order of the chords in every major key,

  1. Major

  2. Minor

  3. Minor

  4. Major

  5. Major

  6. Minor

  7. Diminished

So in C Major,

  1. C Major

  2. D Minor

  3. E Minor

  4. F Major

  5. G Major

  6. A Minor

  7. B Diminished

This lesson is about which chords appear in the key, but to learn how chords are constructed, and what makes a major or minor chord in more detail, check out this lesson.

So which chords do you choose?

Well, like everything in music, it is entirely up to you, but there are some tips which can help you along.

Each note in the key appears in more than one of the chords. For example, again in C Major. The note 'C' appears in three chords:

  • C Major (C, E, G)

  • F Major (F, A, C)

  • A Minor (A, C, E)

So if you are choosing a chord to go with a C, for example if there was a C in the melody, then you could use any of these chords. They will all sound different and change the feel of the C.

C with a C major chord sounds very strong, because it's the root (first note) of the chord.

C with an A minor chord sounds very different because it's a minor chord and the C is the minor third (which is the second note in the chord - check this article for more).

You could also chose a chord without a C in it, such as D minor. This sounds different again because the C is the 7th of the chord and makes a chord called D minor 7. Check out the video above for examples of how these sound.

Ultimately the choice of which chords you want to use depends on what you want the music to sound like, but now you have a starting point and which chords are available in the key - you can of course use chords that are not in the key, but that is more advanced and unusual.

If you are writing music or a song, then start with choosing the key, then write down the chords in that key using the formula, and go nuts, try out different options and see what you like.

Chord formula:

  1. Major

  2. Minor

  3. Minor

  4. Major

  5. Major

  6. Minor

  7. Diminished

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