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Telling The Chords In A Key

In this guitar lesson we are going to go over how to tell which guitar chords are in a given key. This can be really handy if you want to start learning songs by ear or even writing your own songs. In order to do this you need to know your key signatures. If you do not know how to find out the key signature of a given key, check out the lesson on How Key Signatures Work. We will be in the key of D major for this lesson.

Let’s start off by finding out which chords are in the key of D major. The D major scale is spelled 1D, 2E, 3F#, 4G, 5A, 6B, 7C#. In every major key there is a chord to go with each note of the major scale. Some of the chords are major, some are minor and one is diminished. There is a formula to find out which notes of the scale have major chords that go with them and which notes have minor chords that go with them. All you have to do is remember that the 1st 4th and 5th notes of the major scale have major chords to go with them and the 2nd 3rd and 6th notes of the major scale have minor chords that go with them. The 7th note of a major scale has what we call a diminished chord to go with it.

Here are the chords in the key of D major for an example.

1. D major

2. E minor

3. F# minor

4. G major

5. A major

6. B minor

7. C# diminished.

This formula always works for every major key. The hardest part of being able to know what chords are in certain keys is memorizing key signatures. Let’s write out the key of A just to solidify this concept for you. The A major scale is spelled 1A, 2B, 3C#, 4D, 5E, 6F#, 7G#. The 1st 4th and 5th of a major scale will be major chords, the 2nd 3rd and 6th will be minor chords, and the 7th will be diminished. With that in mind, here are the chords in the key of A major.

1. A major

2. B minor

3. C# minor

4. D major

5. E major

6. F# minor

7. G# diminished.

If you know what chords are in a certain key you will have a big advantage when you are trying to figure out or write a song. Of course there are other chords that will work that are not necessarily in the key that you are working in, but knowing which chords are in a key is a good place to start. Learning your key signatures takes quite a bit of effort for most musicians, but it is absolutely necessary if you want to be able to tell which chords are in a given key. There is no substitution for hard work and memorization.

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