Maurice St-Jean

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The ABC's of Chords Chapter 1

The present document presumes you are already playing music chords, if not go to:
The ABC's Of Music Chords (Chapter 2)

The A B C's of Music Chords has been created in order to give you a short course on how you can easily increase your understanding of chords, as well as show you how to match them together in different ways, and how to add some progressions, substitutions, etc.

Subjects :

Basic Rules

Harmony Patterns

Diminished Chords


Remember this:

(a) The. tonic. (key tonic) = the root of the chord you are playing.
....The. tonic. can be applied to any chord.
....Ex .: .You are playing "under" C chord, the tonic is C.
(b) The. interval. = .the distance between notes following in the scale; plus, the lower interval note represents its major scale.
....Note .: .So, if we say we are playing in the scale of C, C = (I), note D becomes the second interval D = (II), E the third (III), F the fourth (IV ), etc.
(c) The .basic chords standard pattern .is:

I   IV   V   I

Comment .: .Presuming you are playing in C:

I = the tonic = C = you play C chord
IV = the fourth interval in C tonic = F = you play F chord
V= the fifth interval in C tonic = G = you play G chord

C   F   G   C

(d) The.basic harmony patterns .for chords are .:

Harmony Patterns
Tonic = C
I   VIm7   IIm7   V7   I = C   Am7   Dm7   G7   C   Listen to Harmony Pattern # 1
I   #Idim   """   ""   " = C   C#dim   """   ""   C   Listen to Harmony Pattern # 2
I   bIIIdim   """   ""   " = C   Ebdim   """   ""   C   Listen to Harmony Pattern # 3
I   VI7   """   ""   " = C   A7   """   ""   C   Listen to Harmony Pattern # 4
I   II7   """   ""   " = C   D7   """   ""   C   Listen to Harmony Pattern # 5
I   I7   IV   IVm   I = C   C7   F   Fm   C   Listen to Harmony Pattern # 6

Note: (a) Harmony pattern #5 includes a "passing by" chromatic: .Em7 / Ebm7 / Dm7.  See: Phase 2 (dd)
.... . . ((b) (In harmony pattern #4 you can also play these passing-by chromatic chords...)
. ..... ..(c) You can play (transpose) these patterns in any key scale.

.........That means that for F as tonic, the harmony chords patterns would be:

Tonic = F
Harmony Patterns
Tonic = F
1 F   Dm7   Gm7   C7   F
2 F   F#dim   """"   """"   "
3 F   Abdim   """"   """"   "
4 F   G7   """"   """"   "
5 F   F7   Bb   Bbm   F

(e) In a .major scale:
............... (We saw that the first note is the tonic).
............... The second note, the third, the sixth and the seventh notes are said to be. major notes.
In other words, in
C as tonic: D , E ,A , B, are said to be. major notes. .Hiding behind each note is a major chord, that if played a half-tone lower ("note played smaller") becomes a. minor chord.
While, the fourth and fifth note are said to be
.true notes. .In C tonic:. F , G, are true notes. .Hiding behind each one is a music chord,which if played a half-tone lower ("note played smaller") becomes a diminished (Fdim or Gdim); if the chord is played a half tone higher ("note played bigger"), it becomes an augmented (+) chord: (F+ or G+).
(Note .: .To learn about scales go to:. The ABC's Of Music Chords (Chapter 2) )

We call the. dominant 7 .(for the chord to be 7th) .the chord that corresponds to the tonic with the seventh note.. (minor interval or one half-tone down): .for C the dominant 7 is C7 and is played with the notes:. C, E, G + Bb; (the seventh note of C scale being B, one half-tone down = Bb).
The dominant 7 may be substituted by the following: .IIIdim ; IIImin7(b5) ; Vb7.
3. The dominant 7 may be substituted by another dominant 7:. having the interval of the fifth note higher diminished: (instead of a C7 we would play a Gb7; instead of a G7 we would play a Db7 etc.)
4. A dominant 7 that is followed by a "fourth true note" higher, can be played with a 9 minor: that means that in C as tonic, if a C7 is followed by a F, or a Fm, or a F7, this C7 can be replaced by a C7b9 .
Now let's look at the chords:

  C7 dominant substituted by:     C   C7   F   Listen to this progression  
f) 2.   IIIdim     "   Edim   "   Listen to this progression  
    IIImin7b5     "   Emin(b5)   "   Listen to this progression  
    bV7     "   Gb7   "   Listen to this progression  
f) 3.   a fifth higher diminished     "   Eb7   "   Listen to this progression  
f) 4.   dominant 7 following a fourth true note...     "   C7(b9)   "   (C,E,G,Bb,Db) sound near of Edim  

Now before going any further, let's talk about the. diminished chords. There are 3 chords (as there are only three diminished scales: Cdim, Ddim and Edim) that can make all 21 diminished chords: Cdim ; Ddim ; and Edim; like this:
....)Note: (Diminished chords are basically done with three notes (to follow the 1-3-5 "standard fingering pattern": .see (Part II & III)). Hereinafter the fourth note that can be played too (and is the dominant = 7), is shown in parenthesis, to make it easier to understand the playing diminished chords)

C dim   =   C   Eb   F#   (A)               =   B# dim but the name of each note change
Eb dim   =       Eb   F#   A   (C)           =   D# dim """ """ """ """ """ """ """ """ """
F# dim   =           F#   A   C   (Eb)       =   Gb dim """ """ """ """ """ """ """ """ ""'
A dim   =               A   C   Eb   (F#)          
D dim   =   D   F   Ab   (B)                      
F dim   =       F   Ab   B   (D)           =   E# dim """ """ """ """ """ """ """ """ """
Ab dim   =           Ab   B   D   (F)       =   G# dim """ """ """ """ """ """ """ """ """
B dim   =               B   D   F   (Ab)   =   Cb dim """ """ """ """ """ """ """ """ """
E dim   =   E   G   Bb   (Db)               =   Fb dim """ """ """ """ """ """ """ """ """
G dim   =       G   Bb   Db   (E)                  
Bb dim   =           Bb   Db   E   (G)       =   A# dim """ """ """ """ """ """ """ """ """
Db dim   =               Db   E   G   (E)   =   C# dim """ """ """ """ """ """ """ """ """

Note: You see that the name of a diminished chord is coming from the first ("bottom and/or "lower"") note played...


In connection with the previous rules, remember this:

(aa) The IIm7 & V7 can be repeated:
........That means that with a C as tonic, you can repeat Dm7/G7/Dm7/G7 ....
........Please respect the tempo and measure while doing so...

(bb) The I (tonic) can be substituted by its IIIm or VImin.
That means that in a
C as tonic, C can be substituted by an Em or Am
........................or if a F is tonic, F can be substituted by an Am or Dm
........That means that in the progression of :


Tonic = C
I   IV   V   I
C   F   G   C

.......we can have:

Am7   F   G   C
Em7   F   G   C

.......or inversement:

C   F   G   Am
C   F   G   Em

.......or you can replace the C with Am / F / G /Am / or .Em/ F / G / Em; or if we push that by taking each chord as being "itself" a tonic, in this pattern could replace the F by .Am/Dm and the G by .Bm/Em... (Try some combinations yourself....) Note: .We can also try to add a 7 to the substitution and instead of a C being substituted by an Em, we could try Em7 or Am7)

In sheet music, whatever the style, the chords progressions (even in a classical sheet music, the chords are written in all or in part in the melody) are:

(1) Done with one of the standard or harmonic chords patterns.


(2) Built in such a way that the chord preceding or behind the one coming is equal to the fifth interval of the one following, no matter what type, such as major, minor, sharp, flat, augmented or diminished. (You have to remember the rules of substitutions, chromatic "passing-by" etc.. As in the key of C, instead of C we could have "a behind substitution of" Em or "a substitution of" G .)


(3) Following one of the rules written here.

Chromatic "passing-by" chords: .To "modulate" your playing you can, if appropriate, do a .chromatic note. Plus, you can do the same with one or more .chromatic chords. that each will be named a chromatic "passing by" chord.

(ee) Between I and I we can insert "a I passing by" diminished = C / Cdim / C; Em / Ebdim / C
..Between I and IIm7 we can insert "a I passing by" diminished = C / Cdim / Dm7; C / C#dim / Dm7
. ....or also good is a Em/ Edim/ Dm7.

Note: .Em here is a substitution of C.. PPlus, we can reverse these patterns and play: .F / Cdim / C; F / C#dim / C; F / Fdim / C; F / F#dim / C!


Let's put into practice what has been written here by looking at one of the favorite chord progressions that can be used while playing:

  C   Dm7   G7       Dm7   G7   (C)    
a substitution   "   "   Em7       "   "   "    
a chromatic down   "   "   "   Ebm7   "   "   "    
Result:   C   Dm7   Em7   Ebm7   Dm7   G7   (C)      
same with Ddim (a) +(ee)   C   Dm7   Em7   Ebm7   Dm7   Ddim   (C)      

(ff) Generally, we can move from one key tone to another by playing a chromatic chord one half-tone up. But, if this key shift represents more than one half-tone up, the best chords modulation is to pass from the first key scale to the other, by using the two following chords, taking note of the beat and taking for granted that the next scale chord will be the new tonic: .IImin7 of this new tonic + V7.
....Ex: you are playing in C and you want to switch to G, you play Am7 and D7
....Ex: you are playing in F and you want to switch to Bb, you play Cm7 and F7
. ..Ex: you are playing in Dm and you want to switch to Em, you play F#m7 and B7.etc. etc.


(a) Practice with sheet music, by marking with a pencil the pattern of the fifth of the chord following, or substitution, chromatic "passing-by" chords, etc. Do it as many times as needed. This will reveal the basic construction of the music piece and help you to understand and "insert chords progressions" while you play, do some nice substitutions or added chords....

Ex: you are playing in Bb "I left my heart in San Francisco..
........................................... ................ ...Bb
.......................................................(try Dm)
.................... (add up a in between diminished)........Ddim. See:. Phase 2 (ee)
..........................................................................................Cm7 (it is the IIm7 of Bb = I)
.............................................................. ...............................beneath the blue.."
..........................(chord ahead is...................... ........................................F7 (it justifies the previous Cm7); plus, if you have sufficient time you can repeat Cm7 F7 ( see:. Step 1 (e))

Note: .Dm instead of Bb could also have been replaced by Gm (the sixth of Bb), but you have to choose "by ear" what sounds better and taking into account what chord is coming next. This is true in all circumstances and everything that is explained on this page.

(b1) Learn your intervals by heart, the fifth is always corresponding to the fifth from the tonic etc...

(c1) Practice patterns, in order to be able to recognize them in pieces you play.
For instance, in the first "harmony pattern" you will find some pieces such as:
. "Blue Moon", "Perfidia", "Dream, Dream, Dream", etc.. (Other songs and instrumental pieces refer to one of the mentioned patterns, plus the rules written here).. (On the "basic chords standard pattern" you can play: ."La Bamba", "Twist And Shout" etc...)

It has been said that even in classical music, chords are hidden and written in notes. Whether with all the notes referring to the chord instead of three or four or five notes. Or, with two notes, like
C and G (instead of C, E, and G notes, than it could be a G# coming in "holding" a C which could hide a substitution of a C#dim or something else depending on what is coming after it).

In fact, the notes we are playing are a part of the chord that is supporting them to make a full harmony. This is why when we play an improvisation, it is the rule to take into account the chord under which we are playing. So if we are improvising while there is a F chord, in passing on B note, we shall play Bb as, in F major scale the note B is played B
b (B flat):
.(see "Scales" section of Part II).

Print this page and work it out on your favorite instrument. You can write down some chords and play them. You are close to making your own compositions. You should have fun and increase your skills while playing chords from time to time. If so, let me know! It may motivate me to add some other page of "Easy-Theory" music notions; because there is much more to be said that I think might help you.

The ABC's Of Music Chords (Chapter 2)