THEORY TIPS – Part 2- What chord is this??

I just received an email from a fan asking me for tips on how to identify the chords for the accompaniment, WHEN TRANSCRIBING A SONG. Here’s my reply. Please feel free to comment – more questions, suggestions, your tips etc 🙂

First thing about figuring out chords is getting the lowest note. The lowest note is usually (though not always) the ROOT of the chord, which could be major, minor, diminished or (rarely) augmented. Try those out and see if they sound correct. Don’t forget the sevenths too.

If they don’t, then listen for more clues in the harmony and even in the melody, above the lowest note. I add those notes into my “possible chord” and see what they make 🙂

For example, with a bass note C, you’d think of:

1) the basic chords, which should be quite easy to spot:
C (C E G), Cm (C Eb G), Cdim (C Eb Gb), Caug (C E G#)

2) the seventh chords, which sound lovely but are harder to spot:
C7 (C E G Bb), CMaj7 (C E G B), Cm7 (C Eb G Bb), Cm Maj7 (C Eb G B), Cdim7 (C Eb Gb Bbb), and an unexpectedly popular chord in pop music – the half diminished seventh Cm7-5 or Cm7b5 (C Eb Gb Bb)

3) the chords that contain other added notes:
C6 (C E G A), C2 (C D E G), Csus (C F G) C7sus (C F G Bb), C9 (C E G Bb D), C Maj9 (C E G B D)

4) chords in which C is found, but NOT as the root:
Am (A C E), Ab (Ab C Eb), F (F A C), Fm (F Ab C), D7 (D F# A C), Dm7 (D F A C) and so on!

So you can see that you can kinda get by with basic chords, but if you want it to sound authentic and interesting and full, you’ll need to learn all these other chords. In jazz and pretty much any music that sounds really nice, I’ve found all these chords that I’ve listed above 😛

Hope this helps and doesn’t scare you off! It may take you time to absorb, but it isn’t all that difficult. Play those chords that I’ve named above, figure out the intervals (in semitones) between the notes, and try them in different keys. Learn to recognise them by sound and to create them. It’s very interesting and rewarding 🙂