Note: A PDF document for the Harmony Chart in this lesson can be found here.
There is quite a lot of information given by the phrase “in the key of …”. A key describes the notes used in the melody and, importantly, the chords that you can expect to play for the harmony. The following harmony chart will hopefully help you learn this information.
Now this chart can look like a crazy bingo card at first sight. Let’s try to crack the code, shall we?
Follow the left hand side to the key you want to work with. Once there, read left to right to get the notes in that key. For example the key of “C” would use the notes: C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. The key of “F”: F-G-A-Bb-C-D-E-F and so on.
Now when reading left to right notice some note names are uppercase and some lowercase. This describes the type of chord, major or minor, needed to keep all chord tones within the original seven note scale. It works simply like this: If the note name is uppercase, play a major chord. If lowercase, play a minor chord. The oddball of the bunch is the chord on the seventh note of the scale which is a diminished chord.
Give it a try for the key of C. The chords would be C – Dm – Em – F – G – A- Bdim – C
Keeping all the chords true to this chart won’t guarantee a great chord progression but all the chords will sound like they “fit” because every note of each chord is drawn from the original scale. We call this “diatonic”.
Roman numerals are used in music theory to name progressions and chord qualities. Uppercase again means major. Lowercase means minor. So a I-vi-IV-V progression in C would mean to play the chords built off the 1st-6th-4th and 5th notes of the key. Staying diatonic this would be: C-Am-F-G. The same progression in G would mean to play G-Em-C-D. Moving a progression from one key to another is called “transposing” and is an extremely useful function of this chart.
This chart also shows minor key progressions. Each major key has a “relative” minor key that starts on the major key’s 6th note. Because these relative keys share the same notes, they also share the same chords.
A final point about the chart numbering past the octave to ’13’. This can be useful when used as a reference in chord construction. That’s for another lesson!
If you have questions on how to use this chart please write me in the comments and I will be happy to answer!