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helping a tard (me) understand music chords

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For c major:

The 'main' chords are supposedly the 1/4/5 (ceg, fac, gbd). And afaik you can keep going beyond a triplet, adding every other note (cegbd, faceg, gbdfa). Each are simply every other note. That's basically what I've been doing, except I don't really restrict it to 1/4/5.
So say I have 64 'rows' of music (beats/tics/whatever 'units'). An example chord layout I might use is:

cegbd (x 32 rows) ((1 chord))
dface (x 16 rows) ((2 chord))
gbdfa (x 16 rows) ((5 chord))

That means I almost entirely restrict myself to using only notes cegbd for the first 32 rows, only notes dface for the next 16 rows, etc.

Maybe all the previous wan't necessary to write. My main question is about more oddball chords. This is how I name all 12 notes:

c, c#, d, d#, e, f, f#, g, g#, a, a#, b
(like modplug tracker, so you don't have to worry about calling something flat vs. sharp).

AFAIK, these are some of the more commonly used oddballs (for note c in c major):
c, d#, g
c, e, g, a
c, d, g
c, f, g

So my question is how do you change these from note c to any other note (for example, its not clear whether the a in cega is supposed to be up a single 1/7 SCALE note or up two 1/12 notes):

d, ?, ?
d, ?, ?, ?
d, ?, ?
d, ?, ?

And also can you add more notes to these:

c, d#, g, (+ what else?)
c, e, g, a, (+ what else?)
c, d, g, (+ what else?)
c, f, g, (+ what else?)

Like if you're using chord c, d#, g.. any accompanying melody is pretty minimal and lame sounding if it can only use those 3 notes, whereas cegbd has 5 notes to choose from (and sometimes f also since it follows the pattern of being the next 'every other' note).

I'm just looking for the most typical musically 'correct' chords, most commonly used (in typical sonic/mario/videogame/etc music maybe), not fancy exceptions. I've seen flash/etc chord sites but they're usually bloated with tons of chords and its not clear which are commonly used typical ones. And searching google for this stuff in general is like finding a needle in a haystack (especially since I only 'speak' modplug tracker lingo, and don't know notation and stuff).

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If you're going to learn how this works you have to learn the scales.
Like playing a major and minor scale from whatever starting note you choose to write the song in. Also, important to add is the lowered 7th step, in C that would be Bb, on semitone below B, which is used for so called Dominant chords which pushes the song towards another the tonal centre of a song.

Most songs are made up of a chord on the first step, let's say if we're in C, it's C chord, made up of C, E and G. (you can also add a B, but then it's called a Cmaj7)
The second is step nr 4 which is called the subdominant, which leads you towards the dominant. In C this is F, made up of F, A and C (you can also add E here, but then again it's a Fmaj7) and then last but most imporant, the dominant, which pushes back towards the first step which here is a G7 chord, made up of G, H, D and F. The extra F here makes it a dominant chord which helps it push back towards the beginning. So for all scales the most imporant are the Tonica(1), Subdominant(4) and Dominant (5).

An easy way to know which chords sound right is to use functional harmony based on the minor or major scale, here's a list for the correct 4 noted chords for use in the major scale.


for other tonalities, just replace the steps with their proper ones according to that major scale. Like for D this would be:


And so on.

This here is a handy little site for finding scales and chords likewise. And it's got info on tones belonging in scales on chords and so on. Very very handy.


What you will find is that using these chords you're likely to get some very uplifting songs though and alot of game music tends to use a harmonic minor scale, and very often an aeolian one. These are very much the same, except the aeolian one doesn't have a high 7th step, wheras the harmonic minor does. The aoelian scale is a modal scale, and some Doom songs tend to use these sort of scales alot as they give a sort of eerie feeling to the music. Take E2M4 for example, which uses a Dorian scale. The modal scales are as following:

Ionian (same as major)

Remember that the most imporant thing though isn't theory like this at all, it's just a tool. The real sayer on what's right or wrong is your own ears, if it sounds right, well chance is it probably is. And if you're still having problems telling, listen to music, learn to play all your favorite songs and all the choices you make when you create songs will somehow be correct. There's no rules really, just shitty music.

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RightField just gave a great summary. Don't be afraid to search the net. It's mind numbing how great the internet is for providing free lessons, both written and performed. When I was a kid we had to pay for lessons and books.


^That's a great chart for the note structure for Major, Minor, 7th, Aug chords. Don't be a lazy man like me and try learning chord theory completely before diving into scales.

You're actually learning more just by reading this thread then most bedroom artists on Youtube.

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I guess the thing is that I'm not trying to learn an instrument, merely try to compose with software. So maybe a lot of the conventional things people are taught go over my head and don't need to apply to me. For example, AFAIK, I only need to know and compose in the Cmajor and Aminor scales. That way everything is extremely simplified because I only have to use white keys either way (except for oddball chords which I don't usually understand). I don't seem to need to worry about the Dmajor scale (which would contain black piano notes) for example, because if I want that, I can compose in Cmajor, then select all the notes in modplug tracker and +1 them until the whole thing is in Dmajor (if that makes sense).
For all those chords quoted above.. it seems like a bloated way to think about it.. isn't this more concise?:

for c major, only use white piano keys. For the chords, pick any of those white keys and include every other note until you have 4 total.

That's what the site basically spit out for each of those names (but I couldn't find Hm7b5).

Here's some short songs I made fused into a single 5min ish mp3 (I don't care about sound quality currently, just trying to compose notes using cheesy sounds):
Those pretty much only use 'every other key' chords. They sound 'correct' for the most part imo, though not as good as many doom music makers.
The only way I can get 'doomy' music currently is by using A minor instead of c major, and kind of being minimal and low octave. 'Energetic doomy' is probably beyond me; if I try that it'll sound like didy kong racing music probably (though Aminor helps keep it gloomier relative to c major).

Basically I want to add the oddball chords to my 'every other key' ACE/DFA/EGB chords. But I'd prefer if they were longer than triads so I have more notes to choose from in an accompanying melody (that's why I usually just make all chords 5 'every other' notes, like cegbd.. so I have 5 notes to choose from melody-wise, instead of just 3 for ceg)

Its always impossible to communicate or understand this stuff..

Ok, say I'm in the scale of C major:
c d e f g a b
So for now, only think in those terms.
My choices of 5 note chords would seem to be:
cegbd, dface, egbdf, faceg, gbdfa, acegb, bdfac
I'm still in the 'key' of c, no matter which I choose.. I'm just changing chords here and there, not key. I focus on cegbd/faceg/gbdfa the most because those are the 1/4/5...

Well onto oddball chords.. this one sounds good and 'dark'
c,d#,g (the e was moved down 1)
Again, still in the key of c AFAIK, but I guess you can still play that chord occasionally even though it has a black key. Sigh I'm making no sense.
Basically, what can I add to c/d#/g to make it longer than a triad, and how do I make this equivalent:
cegbd, dface, egbdf, faceg, gbdfa, acegb, bdfac
only for the c/d#/g chord instead of the ceg chord. Man music theory is a train wreck. Or my brain is (either way this post is).

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If you're playing with an instrument or composing with a piece of software it incorporates the same theory.

I don't want to do this, but rock is based a lot on power chords so... If you want to skip using sharps and flats, then you can make fifth chords. You take your Root or first (Say "D") and play the chord's Fifth (which is "A"). A D chord's notes are "D" (The root or first), F# (The defining third) and the "A" (the fifth). Eliminate the third.

Look at the chart I provided. You want to ignore using sharps (or black keys), well you can. By playing two notes D and A, you can simulate a true chords value. It won't be a major or a minor, but it gives the beef of the chord.

NOW! We that we have eliminated sharps from chords let's eliminate them from scales. You're going to run into bord town just using the C and am scale alone. You can now use a power chords Pentatonic scale. Pentatonic scales all use the same arangment of notes in a different order and eliminates the sharps.

If you played a D chord the Pentatonic scale you can use is D E G A B and back to D you do not use sharps in this scale and you no longer even use the forth and seven degrees. So in other words drop C and F

A Pentatonic scale for G would be G A B D E back to G. See? Simple!

When it comes to oddball chords you'll have to experiment. If you don't know the diatonic chord scales or chord structure then you won't know exactly the types of oddball chords to use. Each chord (minor, Major7, 7, diminished, augmented, etc.) all have different emotional expressions.

Here's some easy reading to better understand chords

http://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Chords_(music) - A little more detail into what RightField spoke of.

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Ok.. here I am making a melody in c major

First I bust out:


Then I'm all like:
(mind you I'm still in c major (I think).. its not like I changed the key to f.. I'm still in c major and am just playing a f chord while in c major (or something))

holy shit!

And now for the finale.
gbdfa... but wait a minute.. should it be
g,b,d,f,a *or* g,b,d,f#,a

The latter keeps the keys equally spaced (amongst all 12 possible keys), but the former uses only the keys in the scale of cdefgab.

So am I supposed to just suddenly but out with an f# black key even though I'm in the c major scale that only uses white keys?

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Sure you can, just make sure nothing else is playing a F at the same time. The third, keep it major or minor, but never both at the same time. (oh you can but then it's a #9 but you're not making jazz are you?)

What you will find your self with if you do that though is a C lydian scale, which actually sounds pretty nice.

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gggmork said:

I'm just looking for the most typical musically 'correct' chords, most commonly used (in typical sonic/mario/videogame/etc music maybe)

I'm not sure what you mean by typical chords, based on the examples. Sonic probably uses a lot of "typical" progressions such as anthemic major melodies and blues/rock melodies, but still is not limited to simple scales as you are showing. Mario music is all sorts of jazzy (for example).

Why don't you listen to the music and pick out what sounds good to you? This is the beauty of computer composing - you can easily plop some notes down and play it back. Piano rolls give you a nice spacial representation for pitch (less confusing than the staff unless you are already fluent).

I personally think it sucks that modern mainstream music pumps out factory songs that all use 1-4-5 or some lame ass shit. If your music was all in C-major, I doubt I could listen to it!

EDIT: Also, remember that "chord" technically means 3 or more pitches played simultaneously.

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I'm kind of a tard too. I've played guitar since '95 but never took lessons or tried to learn theory, etc. I just try to put stuff together and try to tweak it to sound how I want it to sound or something, while using familiar fingerings and trying to do stuff I haven't done before.

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I might as well reply again since this is near the top, but a disclaimer is that I'll probably continue not understanding so typed explanations might be a waste of energy.

If one can supposedly just use notes outside of the scale here and there, then it seems chromatic and I don't see the point of the scale in the first place.
Some of my 'music theory' I guess is that 7 notes might be a good number for the brain to deal with memory-wise (phone numbers are 7 digits). Maybe the brain has trouble juggling and distinguishing 12 all at once. So that might be a reason to use white piano keys only if in the major or minor scale (because in modplug tracker you can do major starting on c or minor starting on a, thus not having to pay attention to black keys because you can just use software to raise or lower to any other key you want if desired).
I have been going by ear and using white keys only like that seems to be what sounds good.
Maybe sonic/mario wasn't a good example of typical major/minor videogame music. I've tried importing midi files of sonic etc music into modplug then highlighting all notes and raising or lowering the whole thing one chromatic note at a time to try to make it all white keys. If it is major or minor then it seems it should eventually map to all white keys (on c or a, major or minor respectively), but in a lot of video game music there is some black note sticking out no matter how the key is changed. I guess either because those sonic songs use notes outside the scale or because they use a non-major or minor scale.

Say I'm in c major and I want to play every triplet chord going up (each row is a unit of time):

That's how I've been doing it, using only scale notes. But I guess you guys are saying that I'm supposed to do this instead to keep the spacing chromatically even:
ModPlug Tracker  IT
Either way, the ceg/fac/ and gbd are the same. And that's why the 1/4/5 of ceg/fac/gbd are the 'main' chords for c major I guess. But the first one uses only scale notes and kinda sounds better to me but maybe I'm doing it wrong (probably). The 2nd one sort of seems like it is changing the entire key of the piece every row instead of changing chord.

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I'm just saying you don't have to limit yourself to those scales. The excellent music in video games is often melodically unconventional. A lot of doom music, while straight-forward in structure, uses chromatic scales. This conveys a feeling that is impossible to duplicate in a different scale...so why leave it out?

Chromatically even spacing sounds very strange, although you were going up 4 half-tones and then 3 I think...

Were those all major chords? What if you changed them?

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Were those all major chords?

The 1st group were 'every other white key' in c major.

The 2nd group were all chromatically evenly spaced relative to eachother 'up 4, then up 3' like this:
(c) c# d d# (e) f f# (g) g# a a# b
c c# (d) d# e f (f#) g g# (a) a# b
so c e g is the same flavor as d f# a since they have the same relative spacing amongst the 12 keys.

I suspect that the 2nd group were the 'major' chords but don't know for sure.

What if you changed them?

I think the 2nd group in my last post are all the same chord 'flavor', just different pitch. The 1st group seems to have a different flavor depending on key (ceg,fac and gbd are the same due to same chromatic spacing), but some like dfa are slightly different flavor since the f# was lowered to f.

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You are changing the key when you move to D and use a C# afterwards. But that's normal for some songs. Also the clue with scales is only that you are raised with all music using that scale, see arabic music uses entirely different scales and tones we don't even use so it's a culture thing. If you are you are to change from one scale to another without it sounding strange, there's a fuctional harmony rule that you can add the fifth steps chord in the new scale before adding the first step, which will prepare you for it. If you want it jazzy, add the second steps minor chord, then the fifths dominant 7 chord, again for the new scale, not the one you went from.

All in all, remember that it's the bass tone that defines more or less which scale you're using. You can do chromatic shit if you want but too much of it sounds confusing, but try to STAY AWAY from the wrong third! If you're in minor, use a minor third step, if you're in major, use a major one! This is the biggest reason why many guitarist only want their around solo in one chord, because they can't handle the change of thirds. this is a pretty nobrainer no, it's easily the easiest thing to pick up as it is pretty unusual and sounds bad. Trust me, you'll know.

Anyway, gonna make it easy for you here's some chords to use in C, which are quite melodious and are pretty hard to make into sounding wrong. I've also included the tones to stay away from while using the chord, except where it thought it was obvious, nevermind, lazy today. Remember the move the bass tones!

Cmaj7, (stay away from Bb)
D (Stay away from F, tastes extra nice with B in bass, giving a bm7)
Dm7 (stay away from F#)
Am7 (Stay away from C#)
A (stay away from C)
Bb (stay away from b)
Bbmaj7 (stay away from b)
Gm (stay away from B)
Gmaj7 (stay away from F)
G7 (no F#)
Fm (No A)
E (no g)
Eb (no e or b)
F#m (no F or C)
Bm7 (no Bb or F)
Fmaj7 (works with alot of shit, cue david bowie space oddity, no F# though derr)
Dm with B in bass (combine with a E and Am to give you that jazzy sad feel)
G11 (play a F chord and put a G in bass)

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