Saturday, May 29, 2010


If you're a beginning guitar or piano student, this post might be of some value in putting together what you've learned. Today we're going to investigate the chord triads. In simple terms, these are the three chords that go together when you're playing a simple, three chord song.

If you remember our 1-4-5 positions from the post regarding Major and Minor chords, this might sound a bit familiar. A similar principle applies in the triads. What follows is going to be a generalization, and will not hold true in all songs. But there are a ton of songs where this system will work for you.

So let's get started. When you're playing a song in the key of C (position 1), many songs will use the 1-4-5 positions for the changes. In this case, we're talking about full steps rather than half steps (no sharps or flats are counted). If C is the first position, the fourth position would be F and the fifth position would be G. Let's look at an example.

In the old Hank Williams song, Your Cheatin' Heart, let's say you're starting out in C. There are some 7th chords in here, but we're going to skip those for now for simplicity. We'll cover those in a different post at some point in the future. You don't need them for this lesson. So, starting in C, the first change will be to the F chord, the second change goes to G, and then back to C. (1-4-5). See below:

(C) Your cheatin' heart will make you (F) weep.

You'll cry and (G) cry and try to (C) sleep.

But sleep won't come the whole night (F) through

Your cheating (G) heart will tell on (C) you.

And there you have the 1-4-5 chord progression. Just as a reminder, when you're talking chord progression, you're going in whole steps, not half steps, like you are when you make the chords using the 1-4-5 note positions.

The whole purpose of this lesson is not to teach you how to play an old Hank Williams song (although there's nothing wrong with that if you want to learn it). The idea is to instill that 1-4-5 concept so that you'll automatically know the chord changes, regardless of what key the song starts in. For example. Let's say the singer wants to move that particular song up one step and you need to play it in D. And, drat the luck, you can't your capo. Using the 1-4-5 progression, you'll know that if D is the first position, the fourth position is going to be G and the fifth will be A. (D,E,F,G,A) Make sense? If that's unclear, leave a comment and I'll try to clarify it a bit more.

Next time we're going to continue with the second part of this song and talk about the "off chord."

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Transpose, I suppose

Many times, a song isn't written in the right key for a singer and requires transposing. If you're a guitar player, you can always use a capo to get the song in the right key for your singer, or for yourself in order to make it a more familiar progression. However, bass players and keyboard players sometimes have a hard time with capos.

So here's a little chart I created that you can use to transpose the song into the key you need it to be in. I just put this together, so there may be a few glitches. If you find any, let me know and I'll fix it.

Here's how it works. The top row is the root key of your song. Let's say for instance the song is in the key of C and you want to transpose it to G. It's easy breezy. If the song is a typical 1-4-5 progression with a minor in the 6 position, we have 1=C, 4=F, 5=G and the minor will be A. (We're not counting the half-steps when they're sharps.)

Obviously, if the 1 position (root key) is changing from C to G, those are the only two rows you need to use. Now, go down the C column until you get to F and look across that row and see what we find in the G column. That shows the corresponding chord to be a C. Do the same with the 5 position and you'll find a D in the G column. Now, for the minor. In the key of C, it's an A-minor. When we transpose to G, it becomes an E-minor. See? I told you it was easy.

Try it out and see how it works for you. Click on the chart and it will give you a large example. You can print it out for reference if you'd like. Let me know if you find any issues. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Playing for Change - Helping Humanity

This is fabulous and I wanted to spread the love. This video was produced by musicians from all over the world to raise money for building schools in underprivileged areas.

It's the most creative thing I've seen in a long time. The sound is fabulous and the musicians each contribute to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Please spread the word and pass this blog address along to other fellow musicians.

Enjoy. You won't be disappointed.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Five good friends...

Hey, check out five old friends playing a song. Leave a comment on the YouTube site. Say something nice about the keyboard player.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry - The Real Deal

Since we've been talking about Hank Williams, I wanted to include this chord progression for you. A lot of musicians play it differently, but this is the way it's REALLY supposed to be played. So pay attention.

We're going to play it in C. If you want to transpose it to a different chord, that's fine. I'm only going to include one verse here, because they're all the same. Here we go...

Did you (C) hear that (Em) lonesome (Am) whip-poor-(G) will?

He (C) sounds too (Em) blue to (Gm) cry. (C7)

The (F) midnight (Fm) train is (C) whining (Am) low

And I'm so (C) lonesome (G) I could (C) cry.

The secret to giving this song the haunting sound it's supposed to have lies in the change to the Gm and the C7. It makes all the difference in the world.

Give it a try and see what you think. As always, feel free to leave your comments. I love reading them. If you have any questions, ask away.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The 7th Chords

Another chord family that you'll find helpful in making your music sound more pleasing is the 7th chords. These can be used in blues songs rather than the major chord to give it a signature "bluesey" sound. But they can also be utilized as a transition chord in rock and country.

They're most often used as a 7th of the major chord just prior to a change to the next chord. For example, if we go back to "Your Cheatin' Heart" we could alert the rest of the players that a change was about to occur by adding a C7 at the appropriate beat. Here's how it would look, starting at the beginning...

(C) Your cheatin' heart will (C7) make you (F) weep.
You'll cry and (G) cry and try to (C) sleep.
But sleep won't come the (C7) whole night (F) through.
Your cheatin' (G) heart will tell on (C) you.

That's a fairly simple explanation and example, but if you'll play around with it a little, you'll probably find a lot more opportunities to use those 7th chords.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, leave them below by clicking on that "comment" thing.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Pesky "Off Chord"

Last time I mentioned we were going to talk about what is commonly referred to as the "off chord." I'm not certain if all musicians call it that. Music teachers probably have a "real" name for it, but the musicians I hang around with, who are professionals in the music business, have always referred to it as the "off chord." And if you're playing a gig, don't be afraid to ask, "What's the off chord?" because I guarantee you they'll know what you're asking. So what the heck is it?

In many songs, at the bridge or chorus, you will find a change that doesn't fit your typical 1-4-5 chord progression that's going on in the rest of the song. And if you're just starting out, it's easy to get confused and have no idea where to go. But after you read this, it will all become crystal clear, and in the future you'll know exactly what chord to use. Just think of the number 2 position. Remember that, because that's the key (no pun intended) to the off chord.

For example, if you're playing a song in the key of C (the 1st position), the number 2 position (the off chord) would be D. We're only counting whole steps here, not sharps and flats. If your song is in G, the off chord would be A.

Now let's mix it up a bit. What if your root chord is E? Since there's no note between E and F, you're going to have to move up to F# for the off chord. Make sense? The secret is to just move up two half steps in every case. If you're in the key of Bb, you skip the B major and go to C for the off chord.

Let's go back to our Hank Williams song and see where that pesky off chord comes in. It starts out in the key of C, and it's a 1-4-5 progression. The previous post has the progression for the verses. So, let's go to the bridge...

(C) When tears come (F) down

Like fallin' (C) rain

You'll toss a- (D) round

And call my (G) name.

And there you have it. It's as simple as that. (And you thought this was going to be hard.) So now you should be able to figure out the off chord way ahead of time without ever having played the song before by simply remembering to go up two half steps from your root chord.

As always, any questions, leave a comment.