Major Minors (1564)
It’s time to get super practical! Once you understand how to formulate the likely possible notes for any given key (seven possible notes), we can actually take those seven numbers down to the most likely four chords.
Four chords! Anyone can memorize four chords, right!?
Honestly, most contemporary western music only uses four chords in a given song. (Of course there are many exceptions to this! But you may be surprised to find out how many times it is true!)
So how do you know which four chords will be the “magic four”? It’s actually quite simple! Let’s take our formula for finding the notes in a given key (R, w, w, h, w, w, w, h), and ascribe numbers to each step of the formula. It would look like this:
R (1), w (2), w (3), h (4), w (5), w (6), w (7), h (8)
Now let’s keep it practical by using an actual key. Just for example, let’s use the key of G:
R: G (1), w: A (2), w: B (3), h: C (4), w: D (5), w: E (6), w: F# (7), h: G (8)
Great! We have officially converted the key of G into numbers! Now we are getting somewhere!
Although the formula we were using (R, w, w, h, w, w, w, h) is meant to help us find what notes are in a given key, it is also telling us what chords are in a given key… kind of. We still have one thing to take into consideration. There are typical major chord numbers and typical minor chord numbers.
1, 4, and 5 are major chord numbers. 2, 3, and 6 are minor chord numbers. This means that in the key of G, for example, typical chords that are used will be:
G (1), Am (2), Bm (3), C (4), D (5), Em (6), F#dim (7), G (8)
You may have noticed that the seven chord was neither major nor minor. It is actually diminished. No worries!! The seven chord is rarely ever used as a full chord. It is typically only used as a note that is added as a bass note to the five chord.
Knowing the majors and minors for a given key is very helpful, but we still haven’t discovered our “magic four” chords. You remember, right? Those magic four chords that make up the vast majority of all contemporary western songs… well here they are:
1, 4, 5, and 6.
Without a doubt, these are the most popular chords in any song. In fact, if you were to simply memorize the one, four, five, and six chord of every key, you could play pretty much any song on the radio!
What’s more, once you get this reality in your mind, you can actually hear the chord changes in a given song and know, just by hearing, which chord is being played. The one chord will always feel like home. It just feels right, resolved. The four chord is a lift, but there is a bit of tension with it. It is not lifted as high as it could be. The five chord lifts as far from home as you would want to stray. The six minor, though it lifts higher yet, actually feels lower, mysterious, and full of tension. Try listening to songs to see if you can spot the one, four, five, and six. As a hint, it may help to know that throughout time the most popular chord progression has been 1564.
* This #ThursdayWorshipThoughts article is part 4 (of 5) of a larger series, “Music Theory March”. Be sure to check out the other articles in the series, as well! For a printable version of this article, click here.
Artwork provided by my good friend, Brooke Gehman, an authentic and wonderful man of God, devoted follower of Christ, and an amazing husband and father. Brooke is a gifted Worship Leader, an incredible artist, and a Potter by trade (check out his website).