Guitar Chords - Songs in C
Easy Music Theory for guitar
Most songs for guitar follow a fairly predictable course when you look at the guitar chords and scales that are used - and once you understand a little bit of theory it makes learning guitar so much easier. All the chords and scales are shown in the diagram below. m = minor, all the numbers refer to the interval, or distance from the starting note.
Let's start with the key of C.
- The notes in the major scale are: C D E F G A B C (shown in the first chord diagram)
- Every note can have a chord built on it, leading to
- C Dm Em F G Am Bm7b5 C (all the chords in the key of C)
- Now let's number both the scale notes and the chords, 1 to 8
- Note and chord 1 and 8 are the same, an octave apart, so there are only 7 notes and 7 chords to learn.
- Most songs are constructed with chords 1, 4 and 5 (I, IV and V)
- In this key that means C, F, and G
- G7 is often used instead of G, because it has a stronger pull back to the 1 chord
- F maj7 can be used instead of F, as it is easier to play and usually sounds nicer.
- The relative minor chord is chord 6 (vi) - which is Am
- To improvise over chords in C, just use Am pentatonic, which is called the relative minor scale. You could also use the C major scale, which is very similar but with two more notes.
- Am pentatonic scale is shown in the diagram. Think of it as a boxed pattern, between frets 5 and 8. To play this scale in other keys you can just move it up and down the neck like a template. The notes can be played in any order and will fit all the chords in the key of C (aka The Harmonised scale in C)
2 - Chord songs
Yes, there are songs, and successful songs at that, that only use two chords, the 1 chord and the 5 chord. Just using C and G7 (I and V) you can play
How Much is That Doggie in the Window (3/4 time) - more fun with barking noises
Just Want to Dance the Night Away (4/4 time) - more fun with a horn section
- You could solo over these chords using Am pentatonic.
3 - Chord songs
There are dozens of these - but good examples would be La Bamba, and Twist and Shout by The Beatles, which is basically the same song.
- Now we are using C, F, and G7, or I IV and V in the key of C
4 - Chord Songs
Just by adding the relative minor chord, chord vi or Am, we can play many more songs.
- Stand By Me is a good example
- Chords are C Am F G7 C
- As we are still in the same key, the Am pentatonic scale is still working fine.
- Country songs, such as many Hank Williams songs, and 50s and 60s songs in general will often use C, F, and G7 and add a D7 to the mix - strictly speaking, this departs from the key of C, but it's only a temporary change of key which adds some interest and variety.
- An example of this is Hey Good Lookin', Your Cheatin' Heart, You Win Again. All great Hank Williams songs.
6 - chord songs
Now if we add chords ii and iii (Dm and Em) we can play songs such as Like A Rolling Stone, a Dylan song that has been voted the best ever rock song.
- The chord sequence for this song starts with chords 1 - 5 in the key of C
- C Dm Em F G7 (repeat)
- We are still in the key of C, and we can use the Am pentatonic scale for solos and the melody line
- The chorus of this song is based around the I IV V sequence again, C,F and G7.
Key of C: scales and chords
There are major and minor keys, but the good news is - all the distances or intervals and all the scale patterns are exactly the same as the ones we've described here, they just start at a different fret. Here are a few examples:
Key of D, just move all the chords up 2 frets (because C to D is a two fret distance) Relative minor chord is now Bm. 1, 4, and 5 chords are now D, G, A7. Major scale and minor pentatonic scale exactly the same pattern, moved up 2 frets.
- Relative minor of C is Am. if you look at the notes in each chord, they are almost the same, and only the bass note has changed between C and Am7.
- For the key of Am, all the chords are the same as C, just starting at a different point in the sequence.
- So the chords are: Am, Bm7b5, C, Dm, Em, F, G7, Am
- In practice, the Em chord is usually changed to E7 - same reason, it is now a dominant 7th or 5 chord leading back to the home chord, Am.
- The Am pentatonic scale is the best scale to fit an Am chord, and also all the chords in the key of Am.
Songs in A minor
- Rhiannon is very easy (Fleetwood Mac) and just uses Am, Fmaj7 and C
- Angie (Rolling Stones) is also in this key
- Remember, the chords are basically the same as the chords in the key of C, except E7 is usually used in place of Em
- Best scale is still Am pentatonic, but you can also put the missing 2 notes of the C scale back in the mix
- The 2 notes are B and F - both notes which can clash a little with some of the chords
- When an E7 appears, safest thing is to play a G sharp note to make a better fit with the chord, but only on the E7 chord.
Other keys, relative minor chords
Relative minor (vi)
F ♯ m
C ♯ m
In the real world of playing songs, you will find this chord progression is very, very common. So a good practice tip is to learn the I to vi chords in all the common keys shown above, and it will really pay dividends when you are learning songs. Also, learn the ii V I chord sequence in these keys for the same reason. In the key of C this would be Dm G7 C.
Need help with music theory?
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It's worth noting that all this theory will work on piano or keyboard equally well.