Circle of Fifths


Though necessary for any serious musician, memorizing all of the key signatures can be a daunting task. It is extremely important to be able to recognize which key a song is in simply by glancing at it’s key signature. Thankfully, there’s a system to it: the circle of fifths.

circle of 5ths, circle of fifths

 

As you travel around the circle in a clockwise direction, each key is separated by a perfect fifth interval. Each time you move from one key to the next, you add a sharp note to the key signature. The sharp note that is added is always a half step below the root of the key.

As you travel counter clockwise around the circle, each key is separated by a perfect fourth interval. Each time you move from one key to the next you add a flat note to the key signature. The flat note that is added is a perfect fourth from the root of the key.

One other note. The name of the keys are in the smaller circles. The outer group of circles are the major key names; the inner group are the minor key names.

For more information about me and the guitar lessons that I give in and around Baltimore, visit www.ewguitar.com.

Essential Chords in Five Keys


If you wanna play songs, you gotta learn chords. The more chords you know, the more songs you can play. Simple as that. But which chords should you learn? There’s so many chords out there, which ones are the most common?

We need to learn the chords that are part of the most commonly used keys in pop and rock guitar music. Those keys are C, G, D, A and E. Below, you’ll find five videos demonstrating all of the essential chords in each of those keys. If you learn these chords, you’re ready to play a ton of music!

***View the videos in full screen to get a better look. When possible, change the quality to 720p HD. Pause the video when you need to.

Key of C


Key of G


Key of D


Key of A


Key of E


For more information about me and the guitar lessons that I give in and around Baltimore, visit www.ewguitar.com.

Major keys – How To Build Them


Major keys are the cornerstone of most musical composition. Even seemingly unrelated keys, like minor keys, can be thought of as variations of the major key system. Knowing how to build a major key from scratch is an important first step to understanding music theory.

What the heck is a key?

Let’s begin by defining what a key is. The way I like to describe it to my students is a key is a collection of seven notes that sound particularly good together. Western music, that is music we’re accustomed to hearing in most parts of Europe, and the Americas, has 12 notes total, spread across many octaves. When we remove five of the less appealing notes and leave behind seven notes that sound lovely together, we have a key. Think of a key as a shortcut to the notes that are guaranteed to sound good together.

Where to begin?

The most important thing to know when building a key is which note you’d like to start with. You can start from any note. Whichever note you choose will be the namesake of the key. If you start on Bb, you’re building the key of Bb. Start on F#, you’re building the key of F#. For know, we’ll start with the key of C.

Knowing which notes to skip.

Okay, we have our starting point: C. What’s next? Right now, if we start on C and play every note we can until we arrive at another C an octave higher, we’ll play 12 notes, known as the chromatic scale:

C  C#  D  D#  E  F  F#  G  G#  A  A#  B  C

It won’t sound very musical. Take a listen:

To avoid that, we have to decide which five notes to skip.  That’s a tough call! How do we decide!? Luckily, the process isn’t arbitrary. All major keys have something in common: the five instances where we skip a note always occurs in the same place.

You see, all major scales follow a pattern of movements from one note to the next:

Whole Step – Whole Step – Half Step – Whole Step – Whole Step – Whole Step – Half Step

or

w w h w w w h for short.

If you’re not sure what whole steps or half steps are, check this article out.

Let’s build the key of C using the major key interval pattern.

C + w = D + w = E + h = F + w = G + w = A + w = B + h = C

Here’s another way to look at it:

C of major key

The dimmed notes are the five notes that we skipped. You see, every time we use a whole step, we’re skipping a note. That’s how we decide which notes don’t belong. We simply follow the major key interval pattern. Now that the less desirable notes have been removed, here’s what our major key sounds like:

Let’s try it with a different starting note. We’ll start with D, thus building the key of D.

D major key

To summarize, what we’ve done is start with a note from which we’d like to build a key. Then we write out the twelve notes chromatic scale, plus the octave of our key. Lastly, we use the major key interval pattern to eliminate five notes, leaving behind the seven notes that make up the key. That’s it!

For more information about me and the guitar lessons that I give in and around Baltimore, visit www.ewguitar.com.

Chord Theory: Basic Chord Stuctures Review


We’ve covered a lot of ground with our basic chords. Today, I’d like to summarize what we’ve covered in a comprehensive, easy-to-follow format. Here are links to detailed explanations of each of the chords that we’ll be reviewing in this article:

Chord Theory: Power Chords
Chord Theory: Major Chords
Chord Theory: Minor Chords
Chord Theory: Diminished Chords
Chord Theory: Suspended Chords
Chord Theory: Augmented Chords

Below is a chart showing the interval recipes and the fretboard intervals of the the six types of basic chord structures that we’ve covered so far:

I feel the need to point out that the chart depicts the chord tones for each chord on a single string. In order to play these chords, we’d need to move the chord tones to the nearest location on an unoccupied string. That’s where knowledge of the notes on the fretboard becomes imperative.

The purpose of this chart is to help you visualize the differences between each of the chord types and aid your memorization of the interval recipes. With regular review, you’ll memorize them in no time! Good luck!

For more information about me and the guitar lessons that I give in and around Baltimore, visit www.ewguitar.com.

Chord Theory: Augmented Chords


This week, we’ll continue our study of chord theory with an explanation of augmented chords. This article assumes that you’ve read the articles below, so read them if you haven’t already.

One Step at a Time
Intervals: your tape measure for music
Chord Theory: Triads
Chord Theory: Power Chords
Chord Theory: Major Chords
Chord Theory: Minor Chords
Chord Theory: Diminished Chords
Chord Theory: Suspended Chords

Augmented chords have an unbalanced, suspenseful sound due to their non-diatonic, atonal construction. So far, we’ve been discussing major, minor, diminished and suspended chords. All of those chords are diatonic because they appear naturally in the major scale, or diatonic, system. Augmented chords are atonal because they aren’t diatonic; they do not appear in any major key. Let’s find out why.

The augmented chord has an unusual recipe: major third + major third:

Root + major third = Third
Third + major third = Augmented (or sharp) Fifth

I often compare an augmented to chord to a diminished chord to help me remember the recipes of each. A diminished chord has a recipe of minor third + minor third, whereas an augmented chord has a recipe of major third + major third. They are almost like opposites.

As you can see from the recipe, an augmented chord can be thought of as a major chord with sharpened fifth. Many musicians think about the augmented chord this way.

Alright, let’s build an augmented chord on the fretboard. We’re going to create a C augmented chord and relate it to the C major chord. First, let me remind you that a C major chord has the notes C, E and G in it. If I’m correct that an augmented chord is like a major chord with a sharpened fifth, then a C augmented chord should have the notes C, E and G♯. Let’s look at a C major chord first:

Notice the perfect fifth between the root and the fifth of the C major chord. Now, let’s create a C augmented chord:

Take note of how the fifth is now sharpened, or augmented, because of the major third + major third recipe. All we need to do now is move our C, E and G♯ to separate strings so we can play them simultaneously. I’ll use my knowledge of the fretboard to find suitable places for them:

Augmented chords are rare in popular music, but they can be very effective as substitutions for the V chord. If you’re looking to set your audience off balance for a moment, the augmented chord is the way to go. It’s atonal sound resolves nicely.

Now about that atonal sound. I mentioned at the beginning of the article that augmented chords don’t appear naturally in the major, or diatonic, system. The reason is that the augmented fifth found in the augmented chord never appears in any key. The major key interval pattern (whole step – whole step – half step – whole step – whole step – whole step – half step) doesn’t produce an augmented fifth, therefore an augmented chord will sound atonal, or outside the key.

This article covers the last of the triads. I’ll let you digest all of the information that I’ve given you over the last six weeks. When I resume, we’ll investigate seventh chords.

Next week, I’ll summarize all of the material we’ve covered up to now.

For more information about me and the guitar lessons that I give in and around Baltimore, visit www.ewguitar.com.

Chord Theory: Suspended Chords


This week, we’ll continue our study of chord theory with an explanation of suspended chords. This article assumes that you’ve read the articles below, so read them if you haven’t already.

One Step at a Time
Intervals: your tape measure for music
Chord Theory: Triads
Chord Theory: Power Chords
Chord Theory: Major Chords
Chord Theory: Minor Chords
Chord Theory: Diminished Chords

Alright, are you ready? Okay, let’s go. Suspended chords, or “sus” chords for short, are chords that don’t have a third, but rather a second or fourth in its place of the third. The absence of the third leaves the sus chord sounding ethereal and ambiguous. They are great replacements for major or minor chords.

There are two varieties of suspended chords: suspended two (sus2) or suspended four (sus4). Let’s look at a sus2 chord first.

In  a sus2 chord, the third of a major or minor chord is replaced with a note that is a major second away from the root. Consequently, the recipe for a sus2 chord is:

Root + major second interval = Second
Second + perfect fourth interval = Fifth

We’re left with a triad that doesn’t have a third, but rather a second. A sus2’s triad contains a root, a second and a fifth. Notice that the fifth has remained a perfect fifth away from the root as it is in minor and major chords. The recipe for a sus2 is major second + perfect fourth.

Now, let’s look at a sus4 chord, which really is the exact opposite of a sus2 chord. Remove the third from a major or minor chord and replace it with a note that is a perfect fourth away from the root. The recipe for a sus4 chord is:

Root + perfect fourth interval = Fourth
Fourth + major second interval = Fifth

We’re left with a triad that doesn’t have a third, but rather a fourth. A sus4’s triad contains a root, a fourth and a fifth. Notice again how the fifth is a perfect fifth away from the root. The sus4 recipe is perfect fourth + major second.

Let’s build an A sus2 and an A sus4 chord to see the chord in action. Since a sus chord can be thought of an altered major or minor chord, let’s build an A major and an A minor chord first. As you can see below, the third for the minor triad is C♯; the third for the major triad is C:

Now, we’re going to create an A sus2 by flattening the third in the minor triad. We’re also going to create an A sus4 by sharpening the third in the major triad. Be doing so, we’ll recreate the recipes that we discussed above. Thinking of sus chords as altered major and minor chords is a mental shortcut:

Here’s what we’re left with. See how our shortcut left us with the correct recipes for each of the sus chords?:

As you can see, the recipes that I discussed above hold true. The A sus2 triad follows the major second + perfect fourth recipe. The A sus4 triad follows the perfect fourth + major second recipe.

Now we’re going to create a playable A minor chord and compare it to the playable A sus2 chord:

Now, to get from a minor chord to a sus2 chord, we have to flatten the third of the minor chord:

Here is our final A sus2 chord:

Alright, let’s follow a similar procedure to find the A sus4 chord. Let’s start with a playable A major chord:

Now, to get from a major chord to a sus4 chord, we have to sharpen the third of the major chord:

Here is our final A sus4 chord:

So we covered a lot of ground, so here’s a summary of what you need to know:

  • A sus2 chord has a major second + perfect fourth interval recipe.
  • A sus4 chord has a perfect fourth + major second interval recipe.
  • The fifth of either of the two sus chords is the same as the fifth of a major or minor chord of the same root.
  • A sus2 chord can be found easily by flattening the third of a minor chord.
  • A sus4 chord can be found easily by sharpening the third of a major chord.
  • Both of the sus chords varieties are adequate replacements for both major and minor chords.
  • Sus chords have an eery, ambiguous sound that is often associated with a sense of longing or anticipation.

Next up: augmented chords.

For more information about me and the guitar lessons that I give in and around Baltimore, visit www.ewguitar.com.

Chord Theory: Diminished Chords


Next, we’ll continue our study of chord theory with an explanation of diminished chords. This article assumes that you’ve read the articles below, so read them if you haven’t already.

One Step at a Time
Intervals: your tape measure for music
Chord Theory: Triads
Chord Theory: Power Chords
Chord Theory: Major Chords
Chord Theory: Minor Chords

Are your eyes bleeding yet? No? Good, here’s to more read. Time to dissect the diminished chord. This chord lives up to its name because it is used much less often then major and minor chords. Although it is fun to think that the diminished chord’s name was chosen because of its popularity, the fact is that it is named after the diminished 5th interval in its structure.

A minor chord and a diminished chord have a very similar structure so we’ll use a B minor chord as a point of reference to study a B diminished chord. Using the recipe for a minor chord (minor third + major third) a B minor chord uses the notes B, D and F♯:

Notice that the B minor chord has a perfect fifth between its root and fifth. Okay, now that we’ve established the B minor chord, let’s see how a diminished chord is different. A diminished chord has a diminished fifth instead of a perfect fifth. Consequently, we have to flatten the fifth of a minor chord to create a diminished chord:

As you can see B diminished chord has the notes B, D and F. By flattening the fifth, we have shortened the distance between the third and the fifth of the triad. The recipe for a diminished chord is:

Root + minor third interval = Third
Third + minor third interval = Diminished (or flat) Fifth

I’ll use my knowledge of the fretboard to map out all of the Bs, Ds and Fs that I can easily reach with my fingers.

Diminished chords are highly dissonant and have a very unstable quality about them because of the presence of the diminished fifth. They are rarely used in pop music, but when they are used they usually act as a passing chord to quickly approach another, more consonant chord. They can also be used in a secondary dominant role, but often times it is better to use a dominant seventh chord instead.

Diminished chords truly are the red-headed step-child of musical harmony. Use that information to your advantage. If you want to add some unique, harmonic interest to your songwriting, use a diminished chord. It’ll get some attention.

Next: suspended chords.

For more information about me and the guitar lessons that I give in and around Baltimore, visit www.ewguitar.com.