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What Chords Should I Learn?


So I have a friend that is learning to play the uke. I particularly like the baritone uke because the chords are fingered the same as the guitar. But that is for another blog.

One of the problems I have teaching people is that I want them to learn a bit of theory as they are learning chording instruments. So I came up with this chart that is kind of interesting.



C       V/V V I IV  
D   V/V V I IV      
E V I IV          
F         V/V V I IV
G     V/V V I IV    
A V/V V I IV        
Chords B E A D G C F Bb

Hmmm so if you learn these 8 major chords, you can frequently play the same song in 6 keys. Wow! That isn’t so tough.

What, how do you make heads or tails of this? Geesh, I was just getting to that. This chart shows the grouping of the most commonly used chords for each key and their relationship. If you look at the first row, which is for C, you will see that the main chord are G, C, and F. Additionally, D is used relatively commonly. I might make a chart for bluegrass which tends to use the flatted VII chord quite a bit too.

What?! What use is that? Are you trying to be difficult? Look, the three main chords in a key are the I, IV, and V. In the key of C that would be C, F, and G respectively. If you play each of those chords in that order you will hear how each sounds. You might want to play I, IV V, and I. That way it will feel finished.

Now once you start hearing the sound of a I, a IV, and a V, you are ready to transpose to any of the keys above. Say you’ve been playing a song in C. But that is too low. Let’s go to E. You look at the chart and see that I, IV, and V for E are E, A, and B respectively. Now you play. When you hear I you play E. When you hear IV you play A. And when you hear V you play B. Believe it or not, this is how most people transpose by ear, even though they don’t realize it.

What? You don’t want to play in E, you want to play in G!!! You are trying to be difficult aren’t you? Okay so look at the chart. I, IV and V for G are G, C and D. You can do the rest. I have faith in you, even if you are a pain in the butt!

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