Fitting Other Chords Into Keys
As you learned in my page on chords in major keys,
every piece of music you play is in a key. In each key
there are a number of chords which fit into the scale, and that is what
I am going to describe here. I discussed how major/minor/diminished chords
fit into major keys and minor keys
on other pages, and now I will extend that discussion to all types of chords:
slash chords, suspended (sus2, sus4) chords, chords with added notes, etc.
I suggest you jump back to the page on intervals frequently
during these lessons to refresh your memory.
As you've learned on my previous pages, the chords in a key fit because they
contain the same notes as that scale. For example, let's again take the example of
the key of A major. The C# minor chord fits into the key of A because its three
notes (C#-E-G#) are all contained in the A major scale. Look at this on the diagram below:
In order to determine whether a chord fits into a key, you have to determine
the notes of the key and the notes in the chord. Follow the train of thought below
to do this:
Below I will discuss several examples of this thought process. Always
remember the five steps shown above, and you will always know whether your chord
is in a certain key. The thought process is even the same for minor keys,
though in that case there are many more options of chords that fit and it gets a lot more
complex. Here are the examples. Take time to think through them,
and once you get this, you'll be a master of keys.
- Determine what key you are playing in.
- Determine the notes of that key by looking at the appropriate scale
(A major scale when playing in the key of A).
- Determine the pattern of notes present in the type of chord you are dealing with
(in the case of a major chord, that's 1-3-5).
- Determine the actual notes in the chord you are playing by translating the pattern
identified above into real notes (C major chord: 1-3-5 of C is C-E-G).
- Check to see whether the notes present in the chord are present in the key.
- If all notes in the chord are also present in the key,
then that chord is in the key.
- If one or more of the notes in the chord are not present in the key,
then that chord is not in the key.
What happens if we try to play a C#sus4 chord in the key of A? You recall
from my lessons on suspended chords that a sus4 chord contains
the notes 1-4-5. If you properly calculate the intervals, the 1-4-5 of C# translate into
C#-F#-G#, which are all contained in the A major scale.
Therefore, C#sus4 fits into the key of A.
Now, let's consider a C#sus2 chord. You recall that a sus2 chord contains the notes 1-2-5.
If you properly calculate the intervals, the 1-2-5 of C# translate into
C#-D#-G#. C# and G# are contained in the A major scale, but D# is not.
As a second example I will consider seventh chords. Let's first consider an E7 chord.
As you learned in my lesson on seventh chords, seventh chords
contain 1-3-5-m7, which in the case of E translates as E-G#-B-D. As you can see,
all these notes appear in the A major scale, so E7 fits into the key of A. Now let's
consider Emaj7, which contains 1-3-5-7. For E, this translates into E-G#-B-D#.
Obviously, D# is not contained in the A major scale, so Emaj7
does not fit into the key of A.
Next I will consider An A7 chord. The 1-3-5-m7 of A are A-C#-E-G. Since G is not present
in the A major scale, A7 does not fit into the A major scale. But now think about Amaj7.
The 1-3-5-7 of A are A-C#-E-G#. All these notes are present in the A major scale, so
Amaj7 fits into the A major scale.
This concludes my pages on keys, which I hope were an extremely useful set of lessons.
There is a lot of information contained in these pages, but if you sit down with them and
study them you'll eventually get it, and once you do you'll feel like a new musician!
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© 1997 Daniel E. Smith.