• A Lesson On The Common Chords In The Major Key And The Keys They’re Related To

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    In the study of modulation, the understanding of common chords in the major key is of the greatest importance.

    Modulation is the change of key and one of the regular approaches to modulation is the use of the common chord (aka – “common chord modulation”.)

    This lesson will cover the related keys for every common chord in the key and open your eyes to the modulation possibilities from the prevalent key to other closely related keys.

    Let’s start with a short note on the common chords in the key of C major.

    A Short Note On Common Chords In The Major Key

    Common chords are triads that the interval between their root and fifth tone is a perfect fifth interval and for the most part, only major and minor triads fit into the common chords category.

    So, all the major and minor chords in the major key are common chords. For example, in the key of C major (just like every other major key):

    …the following chords are common chords:

    The 1-chord (the C major triad):

    The 2-chord (the D minor triad):

    The 3-chord (the E minor triad):

    The 4-chord (the F major triad):

    The 5-chord (the G major triad):

    The 6-chord (the A minor triad):

    The only chord in the major key that is not a common chord is the 7-chord:

    …and we’ll focus on it in a subsequent lesson.

    “Why Are Common Chords Important?”

    Common chords are important because they are shared by two or more keys. They are literally described as common chords because two or more keys have these chords in common.

    So, the application of a common chord is not limited to a particular major or minor key. There are major and minor keys (that are closely related) that have these common chords in common.

    Common chords are useful in situations where there is a change of key (aka – “modulation”) and we’ll talk more on this at the end of this lesson.

    Common Chords In The Major Key And Related Keys

    Every common chord in the prevalent major key (which is the key of C major):

    …is related to other keys (major and minor keys.)

    In this segment, we’ll be looking at the keys associated with each of these common chords; which are also the possible keys that can be modulated to, using these common chords.

    The 1-chord

    The 1-chord in the key of C major is the C major triad:

    The C major triad:

    …is a common chord in the following keys:

    The key of C major:

    The key of F major:

    The key of G major:

    In the key of F major and G major, the C major triad is the 5-chord and 4-chord respectively:

    5-chord:

    …in the key of F major:

    4-chord:

    …in the key of G major:

    The C major triad can be used to modulate from the key of C major:

    …to any of the following keys:

    F major:

    G major:

    …and their relative minor keys: D minor and E minor respectively.

    The 2-chord

    The 2-chord in the key of C major is the D minor triad:

    The D minor triad is a common chord in the following keys:

    The key of C major:

    The key of F major:

    The key of Bb major:

    In the key of F major, D minor triad is the 6-chord. Consequently, the D minor triad can be used as a pivot chord to modulate from C major to F major or vice-versa.

    The D minor triad is also a common chord in the following minor keys:

    The key of A minor:

    The key of D minor:

    The key of G minor:

    …which are the relative minor keys of C major and F major respectively.

    The 3-chord

    The E minor triad:

    …is the 3-chord in the key of C major:

    …the 2-chord in the key of D major:

    …and the 6-chord in the key of G major:

    So, it’s possible to modulate to the key of D major from the prevalent key (which is C major) using the E minor triad as a common chord.

    The E minor triad is also a scale tone chord in the following minor keys:

    The key of A minor:

    The key of B minor:

    The key of E minor:

    The 4-chord

    The F major triad:

    …is the 4-chord in the key of C major:

    …and a common chord in two other keys:

    The key of F major:

    The key of Bb major:

    So, the key of C major and Bb major have a chord in common? Yes! The F major triad (which is the 4-chord in the key of C major) is the 1-chord in the key of F major and 5-chord in the key of Bb major.

    The following minor keys have the F major triad as a scale tone chord as well:

    A minor (as the 6-chord):

    D minor (as the 3-chord):

    G minor (as the 7-chord):

    Final Words

    Common chords are useful in the context of modulation to closely related keys — major and minor keys alike.

    In the modulation from C major to D major for example, the following common chords between both keys can be used as pivot chords to link up both keys:

    E minor triad:

    G major triad:

    Playing the G major triad (the 5-chord in the key of C major) and treating it as the 4-chord in the key of D major creates the link between the keys and produces the modulation.

    In the same vein, the 3-chord in the key of C major (the E minor triad) can be treated as the 2-chord in the key of D major:

    We’ll talk more about this in the next lesson.

    Thank you for your time.

    All the best.

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as the head of education, music consultant, and chief content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with hundreds of thousands of musicians across the world.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.




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