Hi. I have been playing guitar for a while but I'm just starting to try to really understand theory. I'm having trouble. I have specific questions that online videos don't answer.

Let's say I start a riff and my first chord is a C, so C is the key of the song I get that. I don't get exactly what that means but I know it's the key. So that chord is the roman numeral I and it is what they call the tonic. What I don't get is how do you know which other chords are which roman numerals? What roman numerals are the other notes and how do you figure it out? The circle of fifths? Is it just a written rule.

Also, If I start another chord with a G. Is G the roman numeral "I" now? What roman numerals are the other notes? So the roman numerals DO change according to what key you are in, I guess the rules of what roman numeral sounds good with another changes too right?

Also there rules as to which roman numerals can follow after others. Do these change according to the key you are in as well?

Sorry for the long post.

Thanks
The first chord isn't always the key. You get your roman numerals simply by counting up that scale.

Say you're in C major (meaning your resolve to C and most likely have no sharps or flats). Let's do a I-V-vi-IV progression. C is I obviously because that's your key. So count up the scale for V. C D E F G. G is the fifth of C. Your minor six is right above that, A minor. Then the perfect fourth is F. So it would be C-G-Am-F.

There are progressions that are common but there aren't really rules. The roman numerals are only scale degrees. They're separate from the key in a way. I-V-vi-IV sounds the way it does because of the intervals, so that's a good place to study if you're learning theory.
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ok that actually helped thanks. you seem to know your theory so I have another question.

I am really confused about what scales to use with what chords and how to use them.

Let's say I want to write a song and with a random power chord progression. I start with..
tab:
D 5
A 3
E

That chord is a C minor chord right? so now I want to do lead over a progression that starts with that chord. So now I consider what scale.

Let's say I want to use the harmonic minor. I have two questions:
-First, where do I start the scale on the fret board? for a c minor in this case?
-Second, does the position of the scale need to shift for every chord change in the progression? or can I stay in that same scale position throughout the whole progression?

and is it the same with a scale like the penatonic? where would I start it? Thanks!
No, two notes don't make a chord, thus it can't be any key. It's just a root and a fifth, with can just about go with any key. You really shouldn't just learn positions, learn the scale by the notes and intervals so that you can play it anywhere on the neck, you just have to determine where you want it to take you. A good tip is for the notes you hold or resolve should match the chord being played. Say the chord being strummed is a C chord, your lead guitar, if he's resolving something, should be playing a C.

As for a song, it doesn't really matter, but USUALLY you will start on the note of the key, but it's not a rule or anything. This is all just basic stuff, though.

The key of your song is what the chords and scale are dependent on, so the idea of "what chords go with what scales" is like asking "what words go with what paragraphs". The possibilities are endless!
So how do you find the right scale for power chord progressions?
And I'm confused when you say I shouldn't learn scales by positions because I thought the starting position of scales changed along the fretboard depending on what key it is in?

Basically I want to know what chords and power chords are known to sound well together. Then create progressions based on that and be able to know what scales I can use to play over any given progression and in what position to start them.

I don't know maybe I''m thinking about it wrong.
Quote by desposito48
So how do you find the right scale for power chord progressions?
And I'm confused when you say I shouldn't learn scales by positions because I thought the starting position of scales changed along the fretboard depending on what key it is in?

Basically I want to know what chords and power chords are known to sound well together. Then create progressions based on that and be able to know what scales I can use to play over any given progression and in what position to start them.

I don't know maybe I''m thinking about it wrong.

You're making it much more complicated. You don't learn what chords sound well together and just remember them. Find some lessons on beginning theory, specifically things like key signature. Each key has a key signature. That is what makes your scales different. I'll include the octave in parentheses. C major has no sharps or flats so it's C D E F G A B (C).

If your key signature is one sharp then it's G major. G major is G A B C D E F# (G).

One sharp in the key signature is G major and it's relative minor, E minor but I'll get to that later. For now it's only G major. One sharp will always be G major. Two sharps is D major. One flat is F major, two is Bb major.

This is where the circle of fifths/cycle of fourths comes in.

It's all illustrated there. Your key signature gives you the key. Learning what sounds good is from intervals. Power chords are fifths. Play the notes individually then think of heroic theme music. Those will often use a perfect fifth (don't worry about the perfect part right now) because it has that sound. The generic I-V-vi-IV sounds good because we like that I to V sound. When looping that, the IV goes back to a I. If you've ever heard church hymns, they often end on a IV to I. It's the "amen" part. It sounds very final, very finished. That's what we mean by resolving. You can hear a key, or have a good idea, by listening for what chord sounds like home.

Now for relative minors. Each major key has a minor key with the same key signature. Whatever the major key is, C for example, then the relative minor is the VI chord, so A minor. Compared A minor and C major
C D E F G A B (C)
A B C D E F G (A)

No sharps, no flats. So A minor and C major can be played over each other and it sounds good. They share the same notes. This is all very systematic. Think about how you talk. You need words and understandable grammar to express yourself through speech. These are your words and grammar.
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It's starting to make a bit more sense but what I have most trouble with is understanding how all of that applies to what I want to do.

Like how would I use the circle of fifths when I'm trying to write rhythm and a lead guitar parts? What would be an example of how I would go about doing that? Would I pick a key first then use the chords from a certain scale? and you say like I-V-vi-IV sounds good. How do you know that? just by listening or because it's known to be in a lot of songs are is it written somewhere that they sound good?
^ yeah there is sort of a chicken and the egg thing with it- do you pick chords first and then put lead over it, or do you come up with a melody first and then come up with chords which fit it? It really doesn't matter as the end result is the same; sometimes you'll come up with a melody first, at others a chord progression.

"and you say like I-V-vi-IV sounds good. How do you know that? just by listening or because it's known to be in a lot of songs are is it written somewhere that they sound good?"

a bit of all 3, really.

it's not this dark art, though, so don't worry about it too much. It's just a matter of getting that little bit of information that makes everything just "click" for you. The other guys here are way better than me at theory, but I'll give you a few basics (which are hopefully right )

for example, if you pick the scale first, that pretty much tells you which chords you can use- you take alternate ascending notes from each note within that scale and that gives you your basic major and minor chords (and dominant and diminished).

For example, in the key of C, the C major scale is C D E F G A B.

Taking alternate notes C E G is a C Major chord. (I)

D F A is D minor (ii)

E G B is E minor (iii)

F A C is F major (IV)

G B D is G major (really this one should be dominant, i.e. also with the flat 7th, F) (V)

A C E is A minor (vi)

B D F is B diminished (vii dim)

So if you use any of those chords, it'll sound "right". As you suggested, some combinations sound better than others, I IV V is a pretty common one, for example. And some chords lead obviously into others.

that's an oversimplification, to a certain extent you can use any chords you like. But at least that hopefully explains, slightly, what's going on and maybe it's not quite as confusing if you can grasp that.

Deciding which scale to play over the chord progression is pretty much the opposite way round- the chord will suggest a scale to be played over it e.g. the first chord there is C major, that suggests you would play a C Major scale over it. Or the A minor chord suggests playing an A Minor scale over it.

With any luck, though, the scale suggested by chord I should work over the whole progression. At least with simpler tunes.

(like the stuff about chords, the stuff i wrote about scales is an over-simplification, too, but again, hopefully it might demystify a little of what's going on)
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Just pick any random key. Say, C. Count up the notes, C is I, D is ii, E is iii, F is IV, and G is V.
A progression is any combination of roman numerals, but some, like I-IV-V or I-V-iv-V are very common and familiar. Some numerals won't sound so hot after others, just experiment a bit. You can solo over the whole progression using note from the scale (C), and you'll probably want to often play a not from the underlying chord too, but its not essential. You don't really need more than this to start experimenting, and you should experiment so you know how it all sounds too (thats the important bit).

Notice that some of the nwmerals are in capital letters? Those are Major chords, the others are minor, the 7th is diminished. The numerals follow this pattern: Maj, min, min, Maj, Maj, min, diminished.
That means that for C (the I chord) you play c major. The ii chord (D) is d minor, the iii chord is Em, etc. So I-V-vi-V in the key of c is C, G, Am, G. Do your soloing over that using C major scale or pentatonic, it'll sound ok. Its when you start drifting from all this that it starts to sound interesting, but this is the basic stuff and will sound in tune and familiar at least.

Lets try a different key.. hopefully you know how to play a major scale, that is, tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone semitone. So the notes in A are A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G#. look up the major scale construction if this is not clear. Now apply the Maj, min, min, Maj, Maj, min, dim pattern to it, to get:
A, Bm, C#m, D, E, F#min, G#dim. those are the chords in A major, so to play an A major progression, I-vi-V play the first, the sixth and the fifth, as A-F#min-E.
Any soloing in an A major scale will sound fine over these chords.

Progressions don't need to start on the I chord (the key) but they often do. Look at ii-V-I for example.

The progressions are labelled with roman numerals to keep it flexible. Each chord is labelled by its relationship to the root note, or key. This lets you easily change key but maintain the relations between the chords. Try the above progressions first in C, then in some other key to hear what I'm on about. Hope this helps!
Last edited by innovine at Sep 13, 2013,
Thanks! I think I'm getting it.

So if I want to create a guitar riff that starts with a G then I should try to make the progression fit with in the major scale of G? Then I can use the minor pentatonic scale in its relative minor key? Which would be E. So I could use that scale throughout the whole progression?

When you say I-IV-V are very common. You mean regardless of the key its in right?

Another question. When I see this thing: http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/use-chord-progressions-when-writing-music.html

it says what chords sound best following other chords. This isn't dependent of the key right?

in C major scale
ii is (Dm) which sounds best when it leads to V or vii° chords.

Does this apply in a different scale. For example

in G major scale
ii (Am) will sound best leading to V (D) or vii (F)
Yeah thats it, the numerals describe relationships and movements between chords in relation to the key, but not the actual chords. Think of progressions in terms of the moman numerals.

You should probably avoid the minor keys and pentatonics until you fully grasp the above, especially the tone, tone semitone thing which actually builds the scale. You need to know that well, before you shake it up a bit with looking at minorse you'll learn all the minor stuff in a day IF you know what to compare it to, so stick with the major until it really clicks is my suggestion
Quote by desposito48
Thanks! I think I'm getting it.

(a) So if I want to create a guitar riff that starts with a G then I should try to make the progression fit with in the major scale of G? (b) Then I can use the minor pentatonic scale in its relative minor key? Which would be E. So I could use that scale throughout the whole progression?

(c) When you say I-IV-V are very common. You mean regardless of the key its in right?

(d) Another question. When I see this thing: http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/use-chord-progressions-when-writing-music.html

it says what chords sound best following other chords. This isn't dependent of the key right?

in C major scale
ii is (Dm) which sounds best when it leads to V or vii° chords.

(e) Does this apply in a different scale. For example

in G major scale
ii (Am) will sound best leading to V (D) or vii (F)

(a) yep, exactly (assuming you want it to be a G Major-based progression)

(b) Yep exactly.

[The only slight thing to be careful of is, if you're very used to the minor pentatonic scale there, you'll be used to ending phrases on certain notes (the root, the third and the fifth) which sound good, but when you're using the relative minor pentatonic as a substitute for its relative major, those intervals change- the root (from the minor pentatonic scale) will be the 6th in the major pentatonic, which is a "correct" note ok, but which doesn't sound so good (normally) to finish a phrase on. The third (from the minor pentatonic) should be ok as it changes to the fifth in the major pentatonic. The fifth changes to the 7th, which again isn't *that* safe- it's not "wrong", just it doesn't sound as complete/rested as finishing on the root, third or fifth.]

If that bit inside the brackets sounds too complex, then just use your ears. All the notes should be "correct", but you might have to finish a phrase on a different note within the pentatonic scale than you're used to. In other words, you can use the same scale shape you're used to, but you can't necessarily use all the old licks you're used to. If that makes sense.

(c) yep exactly

(d) yep, exactly

(e) yep exactly

Sounds like you're getting the hang of it
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Last edited by Dave_Mc at Sep 13, 2013,
While Dave's method did get the correct chords, learning intervals will help you a lot. A major chord is made of a major third with a minor third. A major third is four semitones (half steps, or one guitar fret). A minor third is three. C to E (C#, D, D#, E) is a major third. E to G (F, F#, G) is a minor third. So C E G is a major chord, that's it's quality. A minor chord is flipped, minor on bottom, major on top. C minor is C Eb G. C to Eb is a minor third, Eb to G is a major third.

Intervals also help you find certain sounds. I'm having to get better because my teacher is going to teach me improvisation soon. The intervals are kind of like words. So I have to learn words to make musical sentences of my own, or repeat someone else's sentence when I hear it.
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All of this information is correct, but I'd like to remind you to mostly use your ears as well. Writing music that is perfectly in the same key is good for learning and can make very good music, but there are lots of times when it's much more interesting to throw in notes or chords that aren't perfectly in key.

Of course, music theory does cover these things, but it's a little more advanced and requires a good understanding of the basics, so I won't try to go into it here. Until then, don't be scared to just experiment - and if something sounds better one way you don't have to change it just so that it fits the scale better.
^ yep, agreed. I sort of very slightly touched on that when I said "that's an oversimplification" and similar things like that- as you said, there is theory that covers that, too, but (as you also correctly said) for now saying, "If it sounds right, it is right" (which, to be honest, pretty much holds true indefinitely even when you get to the more advanced stuff) and "Don't be afraid to experiment" is a much better way of going about it

While Dave's method did get the correct chords, learning intervals will help you a lot. A major chord is made of a major third with a minor third. A major third is four semitones (half steps, or one guitar fret). A minor third is three. C to E (C#, D, D#, E) is a major third. E to G (F, F#, G) is a minor third. So C E G is a major chord, that's it's quality. A minor chord is flipped, minor on bottom, major on top. C minor is C Eb G. C to Eb is a minor third, Eb to G is a major third.

Intervals also help you find certain sounds. I'm having to get better because my teacher is going to teach me improvisation soon. The intervals are kind of like words. So I have to learn words to make musical sentences of my own, or repeat someone else's sentence when I hear it.

Absolutely, I just didn't want to complicate things.

(Ironically I'm normally the one who's saying to concentrate on intervals and to ignore the note names )
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I'll have to put the Classic T models on my to-try list. Shame the finish options there are Anachronism Gold, Nuclear Waste and Aged Clown, because in principle the plaintop is right up my alley.

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Presumably because the CCF (Combined Corksniffing Forces) of MLP and Gibson forums would rise up against them, plunging the land into war.

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thanks. How does all of this change if I change my tuning to drop d or drop c?
It doesn't, you just have to fret at different positions.

in drop D, the low E string is now D i.e. two frets/two semitones lower. All the other strings are the same. So anything you'd have normally played at any given fret on the low E string, you now have to play 2 frets higher.

Drop C is a similar idea, except the low E string is now 2 frets/semitones lower again. And the other strings are now 2 frets/semitones lower than the original E tuning. So anything you'd have played at a certain fret when tuned to E you have to play 2 frets higher, except for the low E string, which you'd have to play 4 frets higher.

If you just want to maintain the overall correct relationships of the chords and notes to each other (i.e. keep it a I IV V progression, say) and don't care about the note names changing, then you can still play strings 1-5 at the same fret positions as usual, you'd only have to change your fret position for the low E string (same as using drop D, in other words- play everything 2 frets higher). So an E A B (I IV V) progression when tuned to E (or drop D) would now be D G A when tuned to drop C- still I IV V. You can't do that if you're playing along with other people, but if you're just playing unaccompanied, that'll work and is normally much handier.
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I'll have to put the Classic T models on my to-try list. Shame the finish options there are Anachronism Gold, Nuclear Waste and Aged Clown, because in principle the plaintop is right up my alley.

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Presumably because the CCF (Combined Corksniffing Forces) of MLP and Gibson forums would rise up against them, plunging the land into war.

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Et tu, br00tz?
Go play guitar now.
You'll learn how different progressions sound like by listening to them. So just try different progressions. Why we use Roman numerals is because C - F - G (I - IV - V) has exactly the same function in C major as E - A - B has in E major. Try both progressions and you'll notice that they sound the same - you are just transposing the chords to a different key.

You just need to experiment and listen to lots of music and analyze it.

Learning the intervals is important and makes everything a lot easier. Remember to learn their sound!!

To write music you don't pick a scale and play something random (or of course you can and sometimes good stuff comes out that way but when you are more familiar with the instrument, the stuff you play isn't that random any more). You want to think. How do you want your song to sound like? Try to think in sound because music is all about sound. It may be hard at the moment but you'll get better at it.

So first experiment with different progressions and you'll get familiar with how they sound like. Also, remember that many times notes outside of the scale (they are called accidentals) sound better than the notes inside of the scale. There are quite a few common chord progressions that use accidentals. Most used "borrowed chords" in a major key are bVII, bIII, bVI, iv and v (in C major they would be Bb, Eb, Ab, Fm and Gm). So you aren't limited to just seven notes, you can use all 12 notes. But usually most of the time you'll be using the seven notes inside the scale.
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