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How to determine guitar chords from notes in a song...

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#1 Yoshi



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Posted 29 December 2012 - 02:48 AM

I have been trying out how to find guitar chords from key signatures and notes in the music. Is there any relationship between them, or do I just have to depend on my hearing to determine which chord goes well with which note and where in the melody? For example - I have a piece of sheet music w/key signature but no chords written - how do I figure out which chords I should use and where/when should I use them?

#2 BenBob



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Posted 29 December 2012 - 04:06 AM

If you do the exercises, L&M will explain how to create chords and read the treble clef. Piano music often has a bass clef too. Just like how the treble clef lines are E G B D F and the spaces are F A C E, the bass clef is G B D F A for lines and A C E G for the spaces.

By knowing how chords are built and reading the notes from both clefs, you can figure out what chord is being played at that point in the music. The chord is often whatever the bass note is, although you will often see "slash" chords too, where a specific bass note is used instead of the root of the chord.

A warning though... piano music often has various voices moving which create new chords on each beat. You don't have to do that on the guitar. Try to feel where there are serious changes in the harmony and figure out the chord at those points.

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Posted 29 December 2012 - 12:05 PM

The song's key determines the basic triad chords given in Roman numerals (caps for major, lower case for minor):
I, ii, iii, IV, V, and vi. A song usually begins with an I chord and ends with IV7 - I. The chord progression of a song includes inverting chords because of a method called "voice leading," which is the realm of music majors and Hindu mystics who dwell on lonely mountain tops and shun contact with the rest of the world. In a word, I haven't the slightest idea. Lotsa luck.
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#4 V7#5b9



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Posted 29 December 2012 - 04:40 PM

You’re asking how to harmonize a melody. That involves music composition and goes way beyond the scope of a single post. Just to give you an idea, when harmonizing a melody there is no single correct chord progression that will work. Almost all melodies can be harmonized in a number of ways.

Many melodies imply a certain harmonic structure and you can find those chords that work best, by using a number of techniques:
  • Try to fit one or more common chord progressions to the melody.
  • Use the melodic outline (deconstruct the melody by removing the embellishing tones).
  • Look for chord tones in the melody.
  • Determine the harmonic rhythm (when and how often to change chords).

This is just the tip of the iceberg and doesn’t explain much, but with solid music theory under your belt you can tackle music composition.

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#5 naccoachbob



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Posted 29 December 2012 - 06:14 PM

This might be a good question to pose to Steve in one of his Tuesday night live sessions. I'd like to know as well.

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#6 w.d. womack

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Posted 29 December 2012 - 11:23 PM

I think that maybe the answer to this question is almost as long as this course. Not trying to be funny here, but it seems that takes in a lot of theory. It could also account for all the different arrangements of the same song that one hears from time to time. Even when sticking to the same key, one could come up with many arrangements and to hold them to the simplest you would have to stick to the given notes of the melody and try to play to just them, still a lot of variables.

#7 BenBob



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Posted 29 December 2012 - 11:48 PM

One addition, probably not exactly answering the OP, but probably useful to some people:

There are six major/minor triads which contain a given note. When arranging or composing, those chords are always harmonic options. I remember it this way: "1 maj/min, 4 maj/min, relative minor, down a half major."

So let's say the melody note is a D. Regardless of the key the song is in, think of the D major scale (D E F# G A B C#) and number the notes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

The chords that contain the note D are:
D (1 major)
Dm (1 minor)
G (4 major)
Gm (4 minor)
Bm (relative minor, or 6 minor)
Bb ("down a half major" - i.e. down 1 fret from the relative minor, but made major.)

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#8 Yoshi



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Posted 30 December 2012 - 01:07 AM

I still feel like I'm feeling my way through the mist/still new to music. I really appreciate input - thank you for all your support!

#9 Kent


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Posted 30 December 2012 - 02:23 AM

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Posted 30 December 2012 - 01:00 PM

I still maintain that composing music is for mystics visiting earth from Heaven. As I understand one story (probably untrue, but WTH), Al Jolson bet Gus Kahn that he couldn't write a song that began with one note that repeated itself a number of measures: Gus came up with "Carolina in the Morning?" Remember "Nothing could be fina than to be in Carolina in the morning...." This be's genius. Keep dem chords and letters comin. Lotsa luck.
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#11 Gary Less

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Posted 01 January 2013 - 03:03 PM

Hi Yoshi , this is a great book with some good exercises in http://www.amazon.co...Y/dp/063406651X good luck

#12 Yoshi



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Posted 03 January 2013 - 12:34 AM

Thanks, I'll check it out. I appreciate it!

#13 triple-oh



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Posted 04 January 2013 - 08:55 PM

Give Carole King a call. (517) 673-5566. 




edit, I know! I know! I am sorry thats Burger King.  Lets see B B King, Stephen King, hold on, its here someplace.

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#14 V7#5b9



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Posted 05 January 2013 - 12:29 AM

Thanks to Eracer_Team who started the “Words of Wisdom from Steve K...” thread, I found an answer that had been given in a slightly different context, but fits very well here. That’s what Steve had to say about putting chords to songs. By the way, the link to the original post does not work any more.

Posted 19 January 2010 - 12:37 PM

Putting Chords to Songs



Let me just chime in as well.

Lots of songwriters can come up with the melody but need someone to help them with the chords.

( I live in Nashville. I wish I had a nickel every time I was asked to help a singer figure out the chords to their song. Or, instead of the nickel, maybe credit in the songwriting credits. But alas, I digress. )

While there are limitless possibilities of combinations that chords can take. The truth is that most songs follow along pretty predictable paths.

On pg. 83 in the Learn & Master Guitar Lesson book there is a section on the Harmonized Major Scale. Take a minute to read that and try to understand the concept.

In every key, the pattern of major and minor chords is the same.

Here are the four chords that you need to know (in roman numerals)...

The I (one) chord - This is going to be your home base - the tonal center of your song. Generally this is the chord that will be the first chord and the last chord of a song.

The IV (four) chord - This is going to be a secondary home base. It even shares some of the chord tones as the I chord.

The V (five) chord - This is an important chord that usually preceeds or resolves to the I chord. Chances are if there is a I chord, then there is a V chord right before it--especially at the end of a song.

The vi (six) chord - This is the only one of these four chords that is minor. It works along with the IV chord as another option to go to.

If you know these four chords in a few keys then you probably could play most songs you hear on the radio. These four chords probably represent 80% of the chords in any contemporary song.

If we were in C, these chords would be C (I), F (IV), G (V), Am (vi).

Common progressions you see all the time are...




So, back to your original question about putting chords to your song.

As you are singing through your song, figure out what key you are in. Chances are you will begin and end on the I chord. When you come across a part where the chord changes in your mind, then go through the 4 main chords and see if one of them fits what's in your mind's ear.

This should get you most of the chords in your song. But if you still have a few blanks left to be filled in, then try some of the other chords outlined on page 83 that fit into that key.

Here are a couple of rules...

V chords want to resolve to I chords. You probably aren't going to want to leave a V chord without resolving it.

ii (two minor) chords like to be paired with a V to resolve to a I. i.e. ii-V-I.

Anyway, I hope this helps.

If you still can't figure out the chords, then make friends with a guitar or piano player, and offer to feed him if he spends a few minutes working on your song.

The old food bribe works every time with toddlers and musicians. Just a trick of the trade.

Let me know how it turns out.

- Steve Krenz

Thanks again to Eracer_Team for pulling some real pearls from the ocean.

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Posted 05 January 2013 - 01:40 AM

Writing music is so difficult that, a composer seemingly has to be born with the “gift.” I recall a pre-Beatles period of pop music when it seemed as though the music of every popular song was written by Hoagie Carmichael with words by Johnny Mercer (my favorite was “Skylark), and I guess it would have continued if Johnny hadn’t hooked up with Judy Garland. Regardless, without the “gift” many budding composers go to schools to learn how to write songs. One of the things the schools teach is that happy songs are written in major keys, and sad songs in minor keys. If you look at the saccharin songs of the era 50’s thru 70’s, I suppose it’s true.

But as the barkers on TV ads say, “But wait…!” Here, I think it’s time to tell a tale to illustrate why this probably happened, and the tale has nothing to do with music. It seems that a CEO of a successful company instituted a requirement that all his store managers had to pass rigid psychological tests to ascertain that they met certain criteria in order to be promoted. Then one day, the chairman of the board asked him how he knew those criteria were correct. The CEO told the chairman that he’d have all his successful managers tested and find out what they had in common. The testing was done, and the results came back and verified that all successful managers indeed met these criteria. “That proves my point,” the CEO announced. “Not so fast,” the chairman countered, “If you made it a requirement for all managers to meet these criteria, all the tests prove is that they have met them. It proves nothing else.”

What’s my point? Well, if all the music students were taught that sad songs are written in minor keys and happy songs in major keys, doesn’t it follow that when one of these students sits down to write a happy song, he writes it in a major key; and sad songs in minor keys. And like the case of the CEO’s managers, it proves nothing except that composers who believe that sad songs are in minor keys and happy songs in major keys wrote those songs like that because they were just doing what they’d been taught. Lotsa luck.
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#16 Mflander



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Posted 05 January 2013 - 03:05 AM

Some great value in this thread. I learned a few things!

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#17 Yoshi



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Posted 15 January 2013 - 12:54 AM

I haven't come back to this topic for a while - thank you very much for your input, I'm learning so much from each person's input!

#18 novograblenof



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Posted 15 January 2013 - 01:01 AM

Hello Yoshi
Another good source for information is this site- ...
look under chord progressions in the lessons tab. It has helped me a lot.
Good luck

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#19 Wyndell



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Posted 15 January 2013 - 04:12 PM

Interesting thread, I tried to learn something but my eyes kinda glazed and I got tired head :D



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#20 Aussiechick



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Posted 16 March 2014 - 01:47 AM

It's been great reading all your posts as I've been trying to put chords to some Hetty Kate songs. I fed another guitarist and he worked out the keys for me but now I'm struggling with the bridge chords. Thanks to Steve's post I realised that two of the songs went to the third chord, so I think I'll follow this path and get back to you.


Any more input on finding the bridge chords in a song would be greatly appreciated. Is there a mathematical equation for this?

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