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Identifying Appropriate Chords


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I was looking at the very useful chord fingering chart for the Anglo posted not so long ago by Marc Lamb. Is there a method for identifying what chords should be played at particular points in a tune when you only have the written music for the tune available and not the chord sequence.

 

Thanks

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Short answer: no.

 

Long answer: you need to get to know the chords which will normally be required for the key you are in. For example, in G major you will likely need G, D, A minor and/or C, E minor. Try these in an effort to help the tune on the tonal journey it's trying to go on. If a chord sounds wrong, try another one. If it sounds good, stick with it (but bear in mind there may be a better one). If you're playing folk stuff, you mostly won't need too many chords. If it's 'tin pan alley' songs, you will need many more.

 

Good luck.

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Most folks here will probably see it as another Wicki-Hayden keyboards fanboy post, but there is a very straightforward method for learning harmony and identyfiying chords needed. Because in W-H system, major and minor scales are closed clusters of buttons, every chord that can be contained within such cluster is a native chord for particular key. You don't realy need to learn this layout, just treat it as a shortcut tool:

 

1. print out a layout of a full Wicki-Hayden keyboard (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/e8/Wicki-Hayden_Musical_Note_Layout.png/400px-Wicki-Hayden_Musical_Note_Layout.png)

2. get a glance on this page: http://www.shiverware.com/musix/wicki/chords.html - it shows EVERY chord layout on this keyboard. For those unfamiliar with this layout, chords have constant shapes, regardles of key.

3. connect the notes of your melody with a line to form a graph, an then look at how the music wanders around a keyboard and fit chords that will have something in common with a melody (a note, a direction of movement etc..)

4. look at those common progressions: http://idiotsguides.com/static/quickguides/musicperformingarts/common-chord-progressions.html and check if anything fits on your melody line.

5. experiment with inversions etc to make harmony more interesting

 

This is not a complete theory of course and an experienced player will find better harmonies just by ear, but IMHO this is a good tool for a beginner.

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You will have to look at the accidentals first. If there aren't any, your tune is most likely in the key of Cmaj or Amin, although it might be in the key of Gmix (Mixolydian) or Ddor (Dorian) or one of the two remaining "church" modes. In any event appropriate chords will be Cmaj, Dmin, Emin (or possibly Emaj, particularly if you recognize a G# in the melody), Fmaj, Gmaj and Amin (apart from Emaj all to be built of "white keys" of a piano keyboard).

If you determine the fundamental (most likely by looking at the ending note, at least if your tune is not a dance tune with an open ending for endless repeating) you can choose favourite chord patterns (say, for doing the "three-chord-trick", employing parallel minor, or whatever) out of the six given chords. In addition to that you might wish to "fortify" not just the Emin chord but the remaining minor chords as well by changing them to major (resp. maj7) at certain points.

With accidentals, be they ## or bb, it's just the same but kind of "shifted" (f.i. one # => Gmaj / Emin a.s.f., chords Gmaj, Amin, Bmin, Cmaj, Dmaj, Emin; one b => Fmaj / Dmin a.s.f., chords Fmaj, Gmin, Amin, Bb-maj, Cmaj, Dmin). You can use a "circle of fifths" diagram for that...

Hope that helps for a start.

Best wishes - Wolf

Edited by blue eyed sailor
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  • 2 weeks later...

I was looking at the very useful chord fingering chart for the Anglo posted not so long ago by Marc Lamb. Is there a method for identifying what chords should be played at particular points in a tune when you only have the written music for the tune available and not the chord sequence.

 

Thanks

 

An example might help. Let's imagine you have the notation for a jig in the key of G (i.e. 6/8 and one # in the key signature). The chord at any part of the tune is therefore most likely to be either G, C, D or Em. (There could be others, but let's start simple.)

 

If a certain half bar has the notes GBD, you can be confident that the chord for that half bar is a G chord, because they are the exact notes in a G chord. A C chord has the notes CEG, and a D chord has DEF#, so you can see why the G chord wins. It scores 3/3, while the other two score 1/3. Em, with the notes GBE, comes in closer at 2/3.

 

If the half bar had the run GAB, it's probably still a G chord. Only the A is out of place, and no chord can exactly match all the notes in a run.

 

But if it were GBE, or G~E, or B~E it's more likely to be an Em than a G chord.

 

So, to summarise, look at the key signature to see what the chords are likely to include. Then look at each half bar in turn to see which of these chords are closest to the contents of that half bar. But don't expect chords to change at every half bar - the same chord can sometimes go for several bars. I just find half a bar is a good lump of data to make a local decision on.

 

Most of the time, it's quicker and easier to listen for which chords match the tune best. But sometimes looking at the notation can alert you to a ripper chord that you might not have thought to be in context. Especially in the case of tunes that modulate to a different key or mode at a particular point in the tune. In the notation, accidentals are the giveaway here. If the tune is in G, but suddenly you're seeing F naturals thrown in, it's probably having a mixolydian moment, and an F chord may be called for. Scrumptious.

 

What interests me in all this is why the ABC programs with chord generators have so much trouble picking obvious chords. A tune in G starts on a B and it tries to sell you a Bm chord. Has anyone found a successful automatic chord generator among ABC programs?

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There used to be a very nice article by Roger Digby on the application of the three chord trick to concertina playing and accompaniment. It was in the group of articles on the home page of this site. I don't see them listed there anymore. Anyone know what happened to them?

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There used to be a very nice article by Roger Digby on the application of the three chord trick to concertina playing and accompaniment. It was in the group of articles on the home page of this site. I don't see them listed there anymore. Anyone know what happened to them?

Do you mean this one?

http://www.concertina.com/digby/faking/

 

I am also finding this instructive:

http://www.concertina.com/hayden-duet/Hayden-Playing-Chords.pdf

(This is not just about chords on a Hayden duet, it is about playing chords and was written by Brian Hayden).

 

and the just the last page of this:

http://www.concertina.com/hayden-duet/Hayden-All-Systems-Duet-Workshop-Tutor.pdf

(Only the last page is not duet-specific, but is a very concise summary applicable to most instruments).

 

Add in Terry's advice in an earlier post, thank you Terry, and I know that I have got plenty to work on.

 

Don.

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