This lesson on chords will open up your understanding of all the basic chord progressions that are used in nearly all popular music. You will learn what chords fall naturally into any given key and how these chords are most commonly used in writing and playing music on the piano.
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...a simple definition.
Diatonic chords are those chords that are naturally related to a given key. They are built on the seven notes of the major scale which is also called a diatonic scale.
If you sit at the keyboard and play a C major triad with your right hand, thumb on middle C, third finger on E, and fifth finger on G, and then move that hand position up the keyboard with the same finger spacing you will play all the diatonic chords related to the key of C.
Notice that the chords share the key signature of the (major) scale they are related to.
In the case above the key of C has no sharps or flats so the chords will follow that rule. That is why they are related to that particular key.
If we try the same playing exercise in the key of G we will have to adjust our hand position to include the F# that is part of the G major (diatonic) scale. Remember that the chords will share the same key signature of the major scale being used.
Notice the Roman Numerals beneath the chords?
Schooled musicians use the roman numeral system to define the position and function of the chord. The (I) chord in any key will always be major, the (II and III) chords will be minor, the (IV and V) chords major, the (VI) chord minor and the (VII) chord will be diminished.
In "musician speak" I might tell you that a particular song is a I, IV, V progression in the key of A, or G, or Eb. If you know the diatonic chords for the key of A for instance you will know to play A, D, and E major chords in that particular song. In The key of Eb, you would use Eb, Ab, and Bb major chords.
Diatonic extended (or 7th) chords.
The diagram below adds the 4th note to the chord which is either a major 7th or dominant 7th. The 7ths add color and tension to the chords for a richer sound.
Notice the C6 and F6 bracketed chords above. These can be used as substitutes to the Cmaj7 and Fmaj7 chords for variety.
Use open voicing for a richer sound.
The chord diagrams below suggest a different way to play any chord for a more professional and interesting sound. From the bottom up the notes are root , fifth and seventh in the left hand and third, seventh and third again in the right hand.
Take away concepts...a brief review.
1. The diatonic chords are chords related to a particular key. A song in that key will most likely contain a common progression containing several of these related chords.
2. The roman numeral system allows us a sort of musical shorthand when identifying common chord progressions used in music. Since the scales and chords are the same in construction we can use the roman numerals to replace using the letter names of the chords.
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