One question I am asked a lot by beginning guitarists is: Which chords fit together? I think that is a great question and deserves time to be answered thoroughly. Typically the person asking me knows a set of chords and has played a few songs but cannot see how some chords sound nice together and some just do not.

To give you an answer the ultimate arbiter should be your ear, but many students feel they lack skills in this regard and search for some guidance. There is one aspect that can give you this guidance, but is often disregarded or outright dreaded by guitarists: Music theory.

Music theory can give you exactly this guidance and help you out when you are looking for a solution within a lot of option. If you are still with me so far let’s look into the preliminaries. What do you need to know:

1. Preliminary: Know how to build a major key.

To build a major key you start at the root of the key. This is the first note. You then proceed up the neck by two frets. This is the second note in the key. You go on in this pattern:

  • Third note: Another two frets up.
  • Fourth note: One fret up.
  • Fifth note: Two frets up.
  • Sixth note: Two frets up.
  • Seventh note: Two frets up.

Here is an example you can follow along with this fretboard diagram:

guitar instructor in Hildesheim

We start at G on the third fret, lowest (6.) string. This note is our root note and the key we are building now is called G major. We go two frets toward the body of the guitar. This is the 5th fret and the diagram points this out as an A. This is the second note. The next note is the B on the 7th fret, followed by the C on the 8th fret. We take another big step landing at the 10th fret where we find the D. The second to last note is the E on the 12th fret. The last note is  an F# on the 14th fret. If you are wondering why it’s an F# and not a Gb follow this rule: Typical keys should have all seven letters present.

So in total the G major key is consists of these different notes: G A B C D E F#

2. Preliminary: Which note gets which chord

Each note in the scale is connected with a chord stemming from it. This distribution follows a pattern. In a major key the chord connected to the first note is always a major chord. This is usually written in shorthand with Roman numerals. Large case indicates major chords and small case indicates minor chords.

guitar instructor in Hildesheim, Germany

After looking thorugh this table you might wonder what the diminished chord is and does. But for most popular music the diminished chord does not play a major role and can be ignored for now.

Now that you know how to build a major key and which chords are in it you can start putting this together. All those chords will sound fine if you play them together. Now comes the fun part: In what order will you play them?

Have fun!

About The Author:

This article was written by Rene Kerkdyk. He is a guitar instructor in Hildesheim, Germany. Contact him if you live close by and want to get better at playing the guitar.