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finding good chords


Li10

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I read the chords for the verse of "The Tourist" by Radiohead yesterday. I thought, they sound awesome. Then I thought about how they came up with it. Did they just pick chords at random and see if they sounded decent together? No, the progression is just too perfect to be made up of random chords.

 

so, I'm thinking, is there some sort of theory to help me find chords that go well together? Like if the root notes are the same or something.... or if you memorise the notes within each chord. there's gotta be something.

 

Thanks, from resident all-round musical noob Li10.

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I read the chords for the verse of "The Tourist" by Radiohead yesterday. I thought, they sound awesome. Then I thought about how they came up with it. Did they just pick chords at random and see if they sounded decent together? No, the progression is just too perfect to be made up of random chords.


so, I'm thinking, is there some sort of theory to help me find chords that go well together? Like if the root notes are the same or something.... or if you memorise the notes within each chord. there's gotta be something.


Thanks, from resident all-round musical noob Li10.

 

 

 

Its structured, by key signature. certain chords go with each other. If you dig into the theory its all mapped out. If you dont .. if you learn enough songs you will just have an instinct on what chords to use and what you can do with them..... rat

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You're in luck!

 

There is, indeed, such a theory, typically called Harmonic Theory or just plain Harmony (it's part of the larger topic often referred to as Music Theory) and you should be able to find "bonehead theory" classes in the music departments of many community colleges (typically a class offered for non-majors -- but really targetted to remedial theory for musicians who were simply taught to "play what's on the page" without knowing why -- a surprisingly widespread phenom.)

 

You can also find a number of tutorials and online workbooks for harmony and other music theory on the web (though harmonic theory raises its elegant head in many fields, like electronic engineering, so you may have to do a little extra weeding out of results). Any good online tutorial will have an audio component, so you can hear examples of different intervals and chords -- as well as graphic representations which will hopefully make the relationships more clear.

 

 

But -- high tech and formal education completely aside:

 

When I was first starting out (watch out for that brontosaurus, bro', he almost squashed your hollow log guitar!) one of my buddies who was the craziest, most psychedelic guitarist in my HS (and now teaches grad level chemistry, I think, back east) sat me down at his mom's piano and gave me the most primal harmony lesson -- and one of the most useful and easy to grasp:

 

He had me play a basic C major chord (C, E, and G)... since the key of C major is all the white keys and none of the black (in its plain vanilla form) it was easy to visualize.

 

keyboard.gif

 

 

[i started to give a "brief" tutorial lesson from here but it got out of hand quickly. I'm going to just give a smidge here.]

 

From there he had me move up the keyboard, moving all my fingers up the keys a white key at a time, keeping one white key in between.

 

These, he explained, were the triads in the key of C major and, if one were to count them up, he would see that the chords so formed turn out to be:

 

C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am, Bdim, and back up to C

 

And he proceeded to show me that much of western pop music is built around the root chord (one or I, in Roman Numeral notation -- C in the key of C major), four chord (four or IV -- F in the key of C), the five chord (V -- G in C major)and six (the relative minor: VIm or vi -- Am in the key of C) in any give major key.

 

For instance, the classic "fifties progression" (as its sometimes called) of C, Am, F, G, underlies the verses or choruses of jillions of songs. In Roman Numeral Notation, we would call that I, vi, IV, V (lower case is often used as a visual shorthand for minor, you'll also see VIm).

 

In a basic blues, we would often build our 12 bar progresion around the I, IV, and V (one, four, and five chords respectively. C, F, G in C. E, A, and B in the key of E -- G, C, and D in G , etc).

 

 

Now... Why all the numbers?

 

Simply because in any given key, the musical/mathematical relationships between notes and intervals will remain the same -- even as the note names (A through G #, inclusive) will change. It's a HUGE PAIN trying to remember, all the different sharp and flat letter names across 12 keys. - (AND let's not forget that we can also call a G# an Ab [A flat] because of the rather arbitary nomenclature that evolved in western music -- so the complexity and confusion when using the letter names of notes and chords just gets more confusing.)

 

But since the relationships of chords and intervals within those keys is consistent (in much the same way that a guitar capo allows us to quickly "transpose" a song from one key to another) we find it's much easier to talk about those relationships in terms of numbers.

 

So we often tend to talk about chords and harmony in terms of the relationships rather than absolute note values.

 

When we talk about a chord progression of I, VIm, IV or V we could be talking about C, Am, F, and G in the key of C major or we could just as easily be referring to the relationship between E, F#m, A, and B in the key of E major.

 

[There is also so-called Nashville Notation which uses conventional Arabic numbers (1,2,3... 9) instead of Roman Numerals. The conventions are a little different so I'll let you look them up, yourself.]

 

 

Anyhow... I'm afraid this may already be much more confusing than I'd hoped so I'll just cut out here and point you toward this Wikipedia article:

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_theory

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Get a good chord book

 

Emphasis on good...

 

In another current thread on chords, you might have seen me refer to a book from the late 60s or early 70s called "Chord Chemistry"... it was a fat book of chords... fat chords, skinny chords, easy chords, unplayable chords... and there WAS some kind of organizational scheme that I never figured out.

 

In a later -- substantially rewritten and organized -- version of Chord Chemistry the author admitted that even he was sometimes confused by his organizational principles in the first edition...

 

At any rate, while he had a pretty amazing collection of chords in the first edition -- the lack of a usable organizational scheme and lack of comprehensible context really limited its usefulness. (I'm sure the new version is much better and pretty cool. The first version was treated a little like an esoteric text by many guitarists who were reaching to escape the confines of conventional rock playing.)

 

 

And, really, that takes us back to theory -- the organizing principles that will allow you as a guitarist or writer to find and use the right chords in a given context.

 

The "problem" with guitar is that it makes it relatively easy to learn a bunch of usable chords -- but because of the peculiarities of the typical note layout (in standard tuning) the internal structure of the chords and their interrelatedness is sometimes obscured. The piano helps a little by laying all the notes out sequentially -- but (at least for me) the fact that the keys are laid out dedicated to one key (C-major) tended to obscure that as well.

 

I finally addressed that by simply focusing most of my clumsy keyboard training on a couple of keys: C major and its related minor, A minor -- which both use only the white keys in their basic forms. And that actually helped a lot -- since if I found myself reaching for a black key, I knew I was reaching outside the key (which is not a bad thing... in the right context... our pop and orchestral music often plays fast and loose with keys and scales, sometimes shifting constantly (we've all marvelled, no doubt, at songs that go straight from a major inversion of a given chord to the minor -- but there can be much more subtle shifts within a given piece of music as well as outright key changes).

 

Anyhow... I need more coffee.

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Chords are best explored on the piano because you just lay your hands on them.

 

Try stacking triads -- polychords (combine a C triad and a G triad and you get a beautiful major 9th chord). Try playing successive triads over the same root (the theme to The Who's Quadrophenia is 8 different triads over an F).

 

Listen to Steely Dan to learn about using extended "jazz" harmony in a rock genre. Explore adding a 9th to any chord you can think of. 6ths too, but not as much. Minor 7th b5 chords are neato.

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