Tag Archives: chord build up

An introduction to chord progression

A guest appearance of our friends at Hobby Help.

Do you play the piano (or the guitar) and know a bunch of chords but have no idea how to use them to actually write a song? I am going to teach you how to put chords together so that you understand a bit more about how the music actually works.

The tonic/step I

When learning about chord progressions, it’s helpful to do it in a way that makes it easy to transpose the chords to any key. To make everything as easy as possible, I’m going to use the key of C major as an example.

The first and most important chord in a key is called the tonic. You find it on the first step of the scale, so in the key of C major, the tonic is the chord C. Easy, right?

Most songs begin and end with the tonic. It’s a chord that makes the music sound resting, like we’ve just come home from a long journey.

The subdominant/step IV

The next chord we need to know more about is the subdominant. It’s found on the fourth step of the scale, so in the key of C major, that is the chord F major. At this point, it can be helpful if you go to your piano (or guitar) and look at the keys (or strings). Now play a C first, then shift to F, and see what it sounds like.

The dominant/step V

The subdominant is called that because it’s just below the dominant, which is the chord found on the fifth step of the scale. This means that the dominant of C major is G. This chord often gets a 7 added as well, G7.

The dominant has a very special relationship with the tonic. It desperately wants to go to it! Especially if you play a G7, you’ll hear how good it sounds to go back to C again. Try it out!

The submediant/step VI

You could easily compose a song using only the three chords we’ve already had a look at, but it’s fun to throw in a submediant as well! The submediant is found on the sixth step of the scale, which is A in the key of C major. The submediant is kind of the tonic’s sad cousin. They have two notes in common, in this case C and E. However, while the tonic sounds happy and is a major chord (in a major key, that is), the submediant is a minor chord, A minor.


Try playing C, Am, F, G7. This is a very classic chord progression. But it’s perfectly possible to change the order and still end up with a good-sounding progression. When you’ve done this in the key of C major, try moving everything to another major key! As long as you move all notes at the same intervals, it works!

Now it’s time to complete this short tutorial by watching a video that will show you exactly how useful knowing these four types of chords can be! Enjoy!

This guest article is written by Naomi, a professional music teacher and experienced pianist. You can find more of her helpful articles and advice at Hobby Help.

More on chord theory in the article Basic Chord Build Up.

How to learn basic chord build up

This article is about the basic theory of chords and how to read chord charts.

So let’s talk about chords. A chord is a combination of notes forming a magical harmony, which lies at the basis of Western popular music. Ever asked yourself why we call an E-major an E-major, or why the note B is so important? Maybe it sounds a lot like difficult mumbo jumbo at the moment, but believe me, at the end of this article you’ll be going: well, is that all there is to it?!

Basic chord build up

Before we get started, go and grab your guitar. It’s going to make things a lot easier to explain and you’ll learn faster, if you put theory straight into practice. But if you’re reading this during working hours with no axe in sight, no worries. Just try to picture the guitar neck in your hand and you’ll be fine. All set? Let’s get this party started.

All good things come in threes, or so they say. This definitely applies to the theory of chords. The most frequently encountered chords are triads, so called because they consist of three distinct notes: the root note, and intervals of a third and a fifth above the root note.

Changing major into minor

Let’s start with that E-chord we mentioned earlier. Does our E have an uplifting vibe or does it sound a bit down; major or minor? That’s all up to the moody third. To help yourself understand this better, grab your guitar and position your fingers on the open E-major chord as shown on the chord chart below. Give it a ring. Oh yeah, that’s an E-major alright.

If correctly positioned, the lower E-string is open, this is your root note. Your middle finger is on the second fret of the A-string, right next to the ring finger on D. Your index is holding down the G-string on the first fret. Now that’s the moody third.

The moody third

Why do we call it moody? Release the G-string with your index finger. Now that’s a G-note. Give the whole chord a firm strike. Sounds a bit down, doesn’t it? You just changed your E-major to an E-minor by switching between thirds. Feeling a bit confused? Don’t worry. For now it’s important to remember that the difference between a major chord and a minor chord is just one fret away. Or better put: one blue note.

So, why do we call a third a third? Good question. Here’s an extremely simplified answer. Forget the guitar for a minute and picture a piano keyboard instead. The octave, or the distance from one E to the other, is exactly eight whole notes; eight white keys. If the root note E is our first key, then the second is an F followed by the third, a G.

The octave

If you want to sharpen that G hit the adjacent black key. Unlike the white ones, a black key is half-tone. There are no black keys on the guitar neck, that’s why you switched from major third to minor third by going up or down a fret. Similar to what you would do on a piano keyboard. Makes sense, right?

To add a little bit more body to our E-chord we use the octave. As explained above, this is the same note played eight tones higher or lower. In this case your ring finger is holding down a higher E. If your guitar is tuned in E, striking the chord will sound very powerful. You’re hearing three different octaves: the open lower and open upper E-string, plus the E-note under your ring finger.

The fifth is your muscle

So let’s talk about that middle finger holding down the B-note on the second fret of the A-string. This is what we call the fifth. The root note combined with the fifth creates a solid sound. Adding a fifth is like adding some muscle to the chord. The combination of these two notes is also known as the power chord.

In short: a basic chord consists of a root note, an octave, a third and a fifth. That’s all there is to it. And here comes the fun part: you can apply these rules for any chord. Let’s put this knowledge into practice. Move your E-major one note up, which is one fret down the guitar neck. Your fingers are still in the same position, placed on different frets. Check out the chord chart below.

Going down the guitar neck

Yes, this is an F-major. Because you moved up a note all the strings open in E-major are now covered by your index finger. Remember, that’s one key on the piano keyboard and one fret on your guitar neck. If you move this position one fret down the guitar neck and strike the strings, the chord you’re hearing is a sharp F-major. Another fret down you’ll hear a G-major. And so on.

Every time you release your middle finger (a.k.a. the moody third) you change the chord into a minor. It’s as easy as that. The only thing you have to do is practice your grip. Yeah, I know, it hurts like hell. For now. But if you go down that guitar neck in this position once a day, by the end of the week your fingers will get used to it.