Guitar Lesson 7 – Guitar Major Key

Hello, friends! For most beginners or those who want to understand the tonality theory in the music, always comes question – what does mean “in the key of…” or “in what key is this song”? What chords are in guitar major key?

This can be a little complicated topic for those who play the guitar recently. I also once had that question. I didn’t understood what is, for example, “in the key of C” above the song or above tabs. My teacher once taught me how to understand it and I would like to share with you today. We’ll cover theory such as key in major. We’ll try to understand it in simple way because it’s the one of guitar basics.

Let’s begin!

Guitar major key progression

We’ll take good old C major as an example and figure out what chords are in this scale. it’s made from following notes:

C; D; E; F; G; A; B

In the key every note is individual chord. You may think that every note is a major chord? No, it isn’t? There’re always few major and few minor ones in every key. They all are positioned by the formula. This is the basic major progression formula:

I; IV; V (one, four, five)

Remember it! Scale is built on extents. There’re 7 extents in the key. C note is “I” extent, D note is “II” and so on.

I; IV; V – means that it contains 3 major chords (first, fourth and fifth one). In our case this key contains 3 major chords.

The important thing to note here is that every key (major or minor) has one half tone diminished or “dim” chord (m7b5). Sounds complicated? But, it isn’t.

Diminished chord is always 7th extent in major. It’s like a freak or cripple in the family. It looks and sounds awfully alone but within the context it makes music more interesting. It always makes light strain feeling and asks for root note.

For example, if we play 4 chords:

C; Bdim; C; G

Then playing Bdim chord always requires C as a solution. Dim chord doesn’t sound quite good alone, but in the context it sounds flavored.

Next, let’s talk about progression I, IV, V. This is the main progression in guitar music. Millions of songs can be played based on these 3 guitar chords.

In our case C chord is the “I” extend and it is a root chord. My teacher taught me that this is “Home” in colloquially language.


So, we’re playing C chord alone. We are at “Home”. We’re sitting at the home on C. Next we play “IV” extent which is F. F is the subdominant which in some way goes away from the song but it’s in the key. F is the “Away from Home”. It tells like I’m leaving my home (leaving C). Try to play few times C and F and hear that difference when you are at “Home” and when you’re “Away from Home”.

Next, one is G chord which is a dominant. Dominant is “V” extent in the key. It’s strong strain which requires for solution (the root). G is like “Want back to my home”. It picks up the accompaniment of the song, it makes a strong strain and it requires a solution which is (mostly) the root C. Try to play for now C and G and hear the difference when you’re at “Home” and when you “Want back to the home”.

After that play all three chords and listen to each of them. I know that this may sound complicated, but remember that there’s one good sentence for this reason: “No Pain, No Game!”

The final thing that I would like to show you is how all chords in C major key look like on the neck:

“I” extent – C root. A string 3rd fret.

“II” extent – Dm. A string. 5th fret.

“III” extent – Em. A string. 7th fret.

“IV” extent – F (subdominant). A string. 8th fret.

“V” extent – G7 on the A string 10th fret (This is the dominant G7 structure).

“VI” extent – Am on E string 5th fret.

“VII” extent – Bdim on A string. 2nd fret (The easiest and mostly way to play it).

These are basic major and minor chords that are used in C. I’ve showed you them on whole fretboard (they sound better than simple ones). Here’s the table of all available major key scales. There’re 7 natural and 6 augmented/diminished (with # or b) scales. Copy it and place somewhere in your notes. Use it often until you automatically remember all scales and chords. (Remember that, for example, D# is the same as Eb. Just different explanation).

Take your time learning these keys. It’s not as easy as it may be. It takes some time. Do that 2 or 3 time a week. Don’t hurry, there’s plenty of time. Do it slowly, until you understand them. If it still sounds complicated then you need to do private lessons with music teacher. That will be the best way to understand guitar keys.

Conclusion about guitar major keys

Let’s point out the main points of today’s topic. We learned:

  • Basic structure of the key;
  • Progression I; IV; V;
  • What chords are in it;
  • It consists of major, minor and dim chords;
  • Table of all available major scales!

Hope that you have found something new out of this lesson.

Next time we’ll what chords are in guitar minor key.

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