The Heartwood Beat, Issue 4: Chord Families, Part 2

Shake it up, baby.This newsletter is a follow-up to last week’s issue, when I tried to convince you all that learning about chord families was worth your time. Now that you’re all raring to go, let’s check out those I – IV – V chords in more detail.

But first, I need to ask all you jazz geniuses to take a deep breath and prepare yourselves for a few expedient simplifications and omissions.

In last week’s issue, I told you about the most common chord progression in popular music: I – IV – V (pronounced “One, four, five”). Today I’d like to teach you an easy way of figuring out I – IV – V chords for a given key. By the end of the lesson, you’ll be able to play “Twist and Shout” in five different keys without using a capo. C’mon and work it on out!

So let’s say you’re at a party and someone in the live band gets wind you play some guitar. The shove a Rickenbacker in your hand, and call out, “Twist and Shout in the key of C!”

Here’s what you do. First, you know that “Twist and Shout” is one of those I – IV – V songs because of my last newsletter. So you just need to find those chords for the key of C.

The I chord is easy–it’s the chord the key is named after: C. The IV chord and V chord can be found by reciting your musical ABC’s while counting on your fingers:

C = 1  < -- That’s your I chord
D = 2
E = 3
F = 4  <-- That’s your IV chord
G = 5  <-- That’s your V chord

So C - F - G are the I - IV - V chords for the key of C. Let’s say it turned out that C was too low for the singer at that party, and he wants to try the key of E now. Make sure to jump back to A after G.

E = 1  <-- That’s your I chord
F = 2
G = 3
A = 4  <-- That’s your IV chord
B = 5  <-- That’s your V chord

E - A - B. This simple technique works for the most common keys played on the guitar: The keys that spell the word CAGED. See if you can find the I - IV - V chords in each of those five keys. To see if you’re right, try playing the following strumming pattern. It should sound like Twist and Shout, no matter what key you’re playing in:

I       IV    V                   < -- That’s where you make the chord changes
D   D   D D   D   D D D D D D D   <-- D’s mean strum down
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +   <-- Those are the beats

Next week, I’ll show you how to find the other chords in a given chord family, which will open up whole new worlds of songwriting and key-changing bliss.

Comments 9

  1. Mid-summer greetings,Rob! OK, I won’t ‘beat’ around the bush……….these past two issues were ALSO very helpful in figuring out songs from the CD. I find the bass notes on the E string, then apply the ‘family’. So simple, even I can do it!!!! Thank you for keeping us (at all levels) on top of our game! Have a GREAT TRIP!!
    Joe M.

  2. Another thought from ‘Hawthorne(NJ)’Joe Masiak:
    Rob, you can ease up your (has to be) hellish schedgule……..see if you agree.
    The other newsletters I receive are all monthly.
    Why not do monthly, as I (probably many others),
    are still working on the previous ‘BEAT’, when the next one comes in! Just a thought. Trying to help from da odda coast……………………
    Enjoy your week! See; no newsletters ’till August! You should at least get a little more sleep,anyway.
    Just thinking too much, Joe~

  3. Rob,

    I really enjoy your web pages throughout your site.
    As a beginner, it’s nice to find, simple, quality instruction to augment the lessons that I take every other week.
    You should be very proud of what you have created here.


  4. I love when you write the strumming pattern out. I wish you had that for all your songs. This makes everything much easier, and when i hear that pattern again in another song, i can pick it up right away! Thanks for your help!

  5. A sort of related tip… learn the uke! Ukulele chords are like guitar chords, only 5 semitones higher… SO if you play what looks like guitar chord D on the uke, you’re actually playing a G chord.

    After memorising the most common (maj, min, 7th, maj7) chords on uke, I was able to work out ‘V’ chords very quickly. When playing the ‘I’ chord, I think “What would this chord be on uke” and I have the ‘V’. Then working out the ‘IV’ you just go back a whole step from the ‘V’ (ie. one step back from G is F.)

    Okay, so it’s a round-about way of doing things, but it works for me. Plus uke is really fun to play… You can’t sit curled up in the corner of a lounge and play a cumbersome guitar like you can with a uke, and they’re easy to travel with.

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