~Tuesday 2nd of June 2020~
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Using a Key Card to Write Ukulele Songs
I would like to point out that this guide on “How To Write Songs” is not absolute at all, you can always improvise, “invent” new ukulele chords and much more. Now that this is clear, lets start with what makes a song sound good in the first place. To make a song sound good, you want the chords you use, to match and sound good together. You can try a whole bunch of chords and see if they match, but there’s actually a quicker way to find matching chords, using “keys”.
What is this “key” you are talking about!? Well, it’s basically a group of chords that sound “good” together. This is where the Key Card — which you can find at the bottom of this page — comes in handy. To find matching chords to create your song you can simply choose a key from the card and use any of the chord on that line (horizontally). This is followed by creating a strumming pattern and last but not least, the lyrics. You can however start with the lyrics and find a matching key for them of course. Note: use 6th / 7th / 9th versions of the chords to change the feel of your song.
If you take a close look at the Key Card you can see that the I-IV-V chord progressions are highlighted on the card. These are the most common chord progressions in all the music that exists. This I-IV-V progression is called “figured bass” (or thoroughbass) by classical composers — read this for more detail. The “I-IV-V progression”, which is widely used in blues, rock,… basically states that the first chord you should play is the I chord, followed by the IV chord and finally the V chord. This combination of chords is bound to sound good together. For example “Liquor Store Blues” by Bruno Mars is written in the E key since it has the chords C#m-G#m-A-B.
At the top you can find the “scale degrees”. Western scales have seven different degrees and are designated by the roman numbers I -> VII. A few examples:
• Key C -> Scale: C D E F G A B C
• Key A# -> Scale: A# C D D# F G A A#
• Key A -> Scale: A B C# D F F# G# A
Examples of the I-IV-V progression:
• Key C -> C-F-G
• Key A# -> A#-D#-F
• Key A -> A-D-E
If you take a look at the major key you can see it is divided in three “groups”. The triads for I-IV-V are all major chords. The triads for II-III-VI are all minor chords and the triad for VII is a diminished chord. So, if you know the scales well, you can always find the IV and the V. Simply play the major chord with that note as the root.
Key G -> Major scale: G A B C D E F# G -> I-IV-V = G-C-D
Hopefully this guide has helped you a little bit in understanding how chords are picked to create songs. Feel free to print the “Key Card”, simply click it and then “Save As”.
These tips were shared by an UkuGuides reader, thank you!
1) Count the Chords in Fourths
Looking at the Key Card you can also count the chords in fourths. I to IV is a fourth; IV to VII is a fourth; VII to III is a fourth, etc. The entire sequence in fourths is: I – IV – vii – iii – vi – ii – V – I. (Lower case letters indicate Minor chords). All common and popular chord progressions contain parts of this sequence of fourths. For example, the I – IV – V contains two fourths, one at the beginning, I – IV, and one at the end when you start over again, V – I.
2) The Dominant 7th chord.
The Dominant 7th is the most important chord of a key. Each key contains only one Dominant 7th, and it always leads to the I chord. It defines the key and it drives the progression forward.
Because the Dominant 7th leads to the I chord it can be ‘borrowed’ from other keys as a way to lead into some other chord. For example, B7 does not belong to the key of G, but it can be used to lead to an Em because B7 is the V Chord (the Dominant 7th) of the Key of E:
- G – B7 – Em (in the key of G using a B7 to lead to Em).
- G – G7 – C (in the key of G using a G7 to lead to C)
- G – Am – A7 – D7 (in the key of G using an A7 to lead to D7)