Learn Music Theory In 5 Minutes: Guitar And Piano Chord Theory For Beginners

Have you ever noticed that the same chords show up together in songs?

G, C, and D.

E, B, and C#m.

If so, you’re already on the path to learning music theory. Whether you play guitar, piano, keyboard, bass, or whatever, this is your beginner’s guide to learn chord theory.

Luckily, it will only take you five minutes. Seriously. If you can count to 7, you can learn music theory.

The benefits are amazing. Once you learn theory, you will start seeing patterns in music. You’ll transpose chord charts more easily, and have a greater understanding what’s going on in a song.

Count To 7 To Learn Music Theory

Most western music is based on the major scale. That scale consists of seven notes.

Let’s look at the key of C as an example.

C, D, E, F, G, A, B

The key of C happens to be all white keys on a piano keyboard. This makes the key of C an easy example.

Keyboard Key Of C

Lucky for us, each note in the scale can also be thought of as a number.

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CDEFGAB

Most of the time, you will see certain “numbers” showing up when you play in a certain key: most often: 1, 4, 5. Next most often: 2 & 6.

“1” is the root chord, or the first note in the scale of that key. “2” is the second note, and so on.

We learned that 1,4, and 5 are chords you will see most often in any key. These are major chords. In the key of C, then, you will most often play C, F, and G major.

2 & 6 also appear quite regularly, and are minor chords. So, in the key of C, you will often see D minor and A minor. Here’s all that in chart form.

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C majorD minorF majorG majorA minor

There’s a popular song that will help you remember this: Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. He talks about a “secret chord” that David played “and it pleased the Lord.”

It goes like this / the fourth the fifth

The minor fall / the major lift

If you were playing in the key of C, the 4th is F, the 5th is G. The “minor fall” is Am (6th) and the “major lift” is F again.

It takes a genius to give a nod to music theory in what would become one of the most recognizable songs ever written.

But I digress!

There are still two number left we need to talk about.

The 3 and 7 Chords

So what about 3 and 7? They are less common, but certainly can show up, and sound quite nice if placed correctly. When you see them, the 3 is typically minor and the 7 is typically a diminished chord (1, flat 3, flat 5, flat flat 7).

If we put the whole scale together, it looks like this in the key of C. I’ll use a capital “M” for major and lower case “m” for minor. Dim = diminished

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C MD mE mF MG MA mB dim

Are we at 5 minutes yet? Probably not. Yet you already know foundational chord theory with which you can play 95% of worship songs out there, and most pop songs too.

Now let’s look at some other keys, and you’ll see why you notice certain chords showing up together in many songs.

Chord Theory In All The Keys

Whether you play worship songs in church or are just learning chord theory to play pop songs, you’ll notice some keys are more popular than others.

Below are charts for all 12 keys, starting with the most popular. See if you notice certain chords that you play a lot, and why you think that’s the case.

Side note: check a song’s key before looking at anything else. Once you know that, you know most or all the chords that will appear in the song.

As practice, pull out some songs and try to figure out which key they are in using the below charts.

Key of C

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C majorD minorE minorF majorG majorA minorB dim

Key of D

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D majorE minorF# minorG majorA majorB minorC# dim

Key of E

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E majorF# minorG# minorA majorB majorC# minorD# dim

Key of F

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F majorG minorA minorBb majorC majorD minorE dim

Key of G

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G majorA minorB minorC majorD majorE minorF# dim

Key of A

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A majorB minorC# minorD majorE majorF# minorG# dim

Key of B

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B majorC# minorD# minorE majorF# majorG# minorA# dim

Key of C#

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C# majorD# minorE# (F) minorF# majorG# majorA# minorB# dim

Key of D#

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D# majorE# minorF## (G) minorG# majorA# majorB# (C) minorC## (D) dim

Key of F#

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F# majorG# minorA# minorB majorC# majorD# minorE# (F) dim

Key of G#

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G# majorA# minorB# (C) minorC# majorD# majorE# (F) minorF## (G) dim

Key of A#

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A# majorB# (C) minorC## (D) minorD# majorE# (F) majorF## (G) minorG## (A) dim

Key of Db

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Db majorEb minorF minorGb majorAb majorBb minorC dim

Key of Eb

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Eb majorF minorG minorAb majorBb majorC minorD dim

Key of Gb

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Gb majorAb minorBb minorCb majorDb majorEb minorF dim

Key of Ab

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Ab majorBb minorC minorDb majorEb majorF minorG dim

Key of Bb

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Bb majorC minorD minorEb majorF majorG minorA dim

HOW SCALES ARE “MADE”

You may be wondering why there are sharps and flats, and how those factor into chord theory.

In the key of C major, it’s a happy coincidence that there are no sharps or flats. Every note is a white key on the piano keyboard.

If you play guitar, you are less concerned about white and black keys, but you’ll notice that all the songs you play are probably in popular piano keys. The piano still has a massive influence in worship music and all music today.

But no matter which key you play in, you can “construct” the 7-note scale with this method in which a whole step is equal to two half-steps. A half-step is one move to the very next note on the piano (white or black) or one fret on guitar.

Here’s how you construct a major scale:

  • root
  • whole step
  • whole step
  • half step
  • whole step
  • whole step
  • whole step
  • half step (which brings you back to the root)

If we look at our piano keyboard again, we see that the C major scale is all white keys. Other keys have at least one sharp or flat (black key).

Keyboard Key Of C

For this reason, you will run into chords like C#m in the key of E or, when playing in F, you’ll run into Bb quite a bit.

Let’s construct the key of D using our whole-step/half-step system.

  • root – D
  • whole step – E
  • whole step – F#
  • half step – G
  • whole step – A
  • whole step – B
  • whole step – C#
  • half step – D (root)

It’s easy to follow this sequence on this two-octave keyboard.

2 octave keyboard

So, when you are playing in various keys, you will undoubtedly hit chords in sharps and flats, and now you know why.

So, we’ve talked about sharps, but what about flats? While sharps are one half-step higher than the “natural” note, flats are one half-step lower than the note for which it is named.

For instance, D# is the same note as Eb. Compare the below keyboard with the one above.

Piano Keyboard Image With Flats | Worship Deeper

What the song “calls” the note a sharp or a flat depends on the key you’re playing in.

Here’s an easy way to remember when to use what, according to amateur musician Mike Richmond who explains it on Quora:

We write the key signature so that every note (ABCDEFG) in the scale upwards from it gets represented. So, for F major we go F,G,A,Bb,C,D,E, but not F,G,A,A#,C,D,E, which ignores the B.

Use Numbers To Construct Chords

Now that you know theory (by counting to 7), you also know how to construct chords.

For instance, a seventh chord means that the 7th note in that scale is added to the chord. A becomes A7 when you add a G to it.

Likewise, a D2 is a D major chord with an E added, since E is the 2nd note in that scale.

The typical major chord assumes 1, 3, and 5 in that scale. The C chord is C, E, and G. When you see numbers attached to a chord, just count up the scale and add that note to the chord.

So a C6 is a C, E, G, and A.

Now you can construct many of the chords you see in music just by counting.

Did You Learn Theory In 5 Minutes?

I hope this tutorial helps you grow in your worship ministry, or any reason for which you are learning music theory.

Questions? Leave a comment below, or sign up for my weekly email for more free resources.

9 thoughts on “Learn Music Theory In 5 Minutes: Guitar And Piano Chord Theory For Beginners

  1. In your 5 minute teaching on music theory you call the 7 chord a minor which is not correct, it is a diminish chord (minor third with a minor third)Minor chords are (minor third with major third above in root position)It would be good to correct your teaching. All chords are built on thirds minor and major. Minor thirds are a step and half. Major thirds are two whole steps.

  2. Great work! Like a lot of others have said – it definitely helps having a teacher but it’s not 100% mandatory. The awesome thing about learning on your own is that you can devote much more than 2-3 hours of your time on a daily basis.

    Besides, it’s less pricey. Personally, my eldest daughter felt she was getting nowhere with all the different YouTube channels though until she tried Piano in 30 Days at 1monthpiano.com

    I think following a structured course like this one is the way to go, you can learn for free on sites like Youtube but it’s all over the place and you’ll mostly be learning specific songs rather than techniques and methods that can accelerate your learning. A step by step approach is better than just learning random songs IMO. Good luck learning the piano people! 🙂

  3. Great post! One of the best I’ve seen for beginners. Music theory and math are similar. In math you have addition and subtraction….and then you have calculus. Kaleb, you were speaking the calculus of music theory. Sounds great, and I’m sure it’s useful for amazing things! 🙂

  4. That was such a good explanation of theory. It was well laid out and has given me a breakthrough. I am a guitar playing leader who wants to reach out and start to learn piano. I am poor and cheap, and can’t afford the money, or the time for lessons. This will give me a good start on the keyboard. Thanks.
    P.s. Kaleb… for a beginner, that all sounded like Greek. Lol. But with time…..

  5. Thanks for your comment. I will see about updating the post. The problem is that your explanation is chord theory 424 and we’re on 101. If beginning musicians want to dig into what’s really going on for the 3 and 7, that’s great. But this is the easiest way to explain it to the beginning musician for whom this post is written.

  6. Ok. 7th chord is not minor nor is it major. Diatonically it’s diminished. The thing that’s happening in “Yesterday” are called secondary dominants. It’s not a “7minor” nor a “3major” its doing the ii:vi (2minor of 6minor) to V:vi (5maj of 6min) to 6minor. It’s basically like you make the 6 of your key the temporary key and play a standard Jazz ii, V, I Progression but instead of major I chord your target was the minor 6 of the actual key your in.
    Diatonically chords are always 1M 2m 3m 4M 5M 6m 7diminished. To teach that the 3rd and 7th are fluid is setting people up for failure.

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