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Basic Triads in Major Keys

22 July, 2019 - 10:18
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Any chord might show up in any key, but some chords are much more likely than others. The most likely chords to show up in a key are the chords that use only the notes in that key (no accidentals ). So these chords have both names and numbers that tell how they fit into the key. (We'll just discuss basic triads for the moment, not seventh chords or other addednote or altered chords.) The chords are numbered using Roman numerals from I to vii.

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Figure 5.31 Chords in the keys of C major and D major
To find all the basic chords in a key, build a simple triad (in the key) on each note of the scale. You'll find that although the chords change from one key to the next, the pattern of major and minor chords is always the same. 

Exercise 5.13

Write and name the chords in G major and in B flat major. (Hint: Determine the Key Signature first. Make certain that each chord begins on a note in the major scale and contains only notes in the key signature.) If you need some staff paper, you can print this PDF file.

You can find all the basic triads that are possible in a key by building one triad, in the key, on each note of the scale (each scale degree). One easy way to name all these chords is just to number them: the chord that starts on the first note of the scale is "I", the chord that starts on the next scale degree is "ii", and so on. Roman numerals are used to number the chords. Capital

Roman numerals are used for major chords and small Roman numerals for minor chords. The Augmented and Diminished Chords is in small Roman numerals followed by a small circle. Because major scales always follow the same pattern, the pattern of major and minor chords is also the same in any major key. The chords built on the first, fourth, and fifth degrees of the scale are always major chords (I, IV, and V). The chords built on the second, third, and sixth degrees of the scale are always minor chords (ii, iii, and vi). The chord built on the seventh degree of the scale is a diminished chord.

Note: Notice that IV in the key of B flat is an E flat major chord, not an E major chord, and vii in the key of G is F sharp diminished, not F diminished. If you can't name the scale notes in a key, you may find it difficult to predict whether a chord should be based on a sharp, flat, or natural note. This is only one reason (out of many) why it is a good idea to memorize all the scales. (See Major Keys and Scales.) However, if you don't plan on memorizing all the scales at this time, you'll find it useful to memorize at least the most important chords (start with I, IV, and V) in your favorite keys.