June 13

How to Change Keys on Guitar

6  comments

Video Transcript And Relevant Links:

One very practical skills for guitar players is to be able to change keys. This is especially helpful if you want to play guitar and sing. Oh, if you're playing guitar for somebody else you're singing that's because certain keys are better for the singer than others. Also, there are some things when you're playing they just work better in certain keys than others. So one way to do this in a very useful way is to memorize a little graph like this. So what I've done is I've written out the scales for the 5 most popular keys that guitar players used C G D A and E and I've written out the scale for each of these, there's 7 notes in each. 

Up top, I wrote the number for each scale degree. In other words C is the first note, D is the second note in the key of C. If you're talking about the key of G, G would be the first note. And underneath that, I don't know if you can see that, so I've had a little roman numerals  and that's very common in music because especially when you're talking about chords the roman numeral gives you a chance to make a capital roman numeral for a major chord and a small baby roman numeral for minor chords so that's enough theory for right now.

I'm gonna choose the 1 chord in each key, the 4 coordinate key and the 5 chord in each key. Why? Because there are so many songs created with those 3 chords in the key. So for example if I were to play a song in the key of C and I used the C chord, the F chord and G chord and I wanted to play the song (___)  in the key of G, I could take the one chord from the key of G and replace it every time there was a C chord in the song. I think the 4 chord in the key of G, A, C and replace it every time there was an F chord and the same with the D. Every time I saw a G in the key of C I'd replace it with the D. Sometime I'll take a piece of sheet music and I'll actually write out or cross off the C's and put G's. I'll cross off the F so I don't have to necessarily do it right in my head but once you get used to this you can especially if the song is simple with just three 3 chords. It's fairly easy to memorize the 3 major chords in each of these 5 keys and then just shift on the spur of the moment.

Now I want to give you an example with a guitar. First of all, a good way to practice this is to play the 1 4  5 chords in each of the keys and I'm going to go an order starting with C. By the way there's a little pattern here. I'm going to point it out to you. In the key of C,  the 5 chord is G and that's the next scale. Again the 5 chord in the key of G is D and that's the next scale.  This is related to the Circle of Fifths in which I'm going to right now but there are patterns here that I want you to see. Also by the way it has to do with the number sharps in the key. You start with no sharps, 1 sharp, F sharp, 2 sharps, 3 sharp and 4 sharp and so on so let's start off with a key of C.

We'll go to the 4 chords, the 5 chords and then back to the one chord that's a 1 4 5 - 1 4 5 or in this case C F and G. By the way,  you can get the most of this if you play along with me but just listening will really help also. Now in the key of G the 4 chord will be G A B C and the 5 chord will be D right after it. Okay let's go on to the next one G A B C D the 5 chord. We'll do now the key of D D E F G A and D -   1 4 5 -1 4 and 5. Next D, A now A is the 1 chord, D is the 4 chord and finally we're going go on to the key of A B C D E, the 5 chord E A. I'm gonna use B7 because it's easier to play than B and it's very commonly used.

Now here's an example of changing keys. I'll use a very simple song -  happy birthday. So let's say I'll start off in the key of C. I'll raise it up an octave Happy birthday to you. That's really high for me. Let's lower it C, let's go back -C B A. Let's try that in a key of A. So I know the 1 4  5. It's a 1 4 5 song so A B C D and E here we go. Happy birthday to - to the 5 chord. Happy birthday back to the 1 chord. Happy birthday, here comes the 4 chord Happy birthday, that's some kind of high - to you - 1 4 5. I'm gonna go down the key back from A and G  Here we go Happy birthday to the five 5 chord , G A B C D - happy birthday to you. Okay, another 1 4 5 and I'm counting for your sake - 4 chord C - happy birthday Happy birthday, Happy birthday to you. Okay, I hope you've enjoyed that.

Please if you like to give me a like and leave me a comment I'd love to know what you're thinking. Take care for now. I'm Tomas Michaud, from Real Guitar. Bye.

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Tomas Michaud

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cp theory


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  1. I am a beginner at 72 years and feel I am more confused.I want someone to teach me like a baby feeding me with a spoon .

  2. Thank you for sharing this changing key concept…i am struggling with learning keys and also to be able to change them quickly…i believe with this lesson it will help me to develop changing keys and learning the keys….
    Thank you Tomas

  3. Tomas, thanks so much for explaining how to play in different keys. the only question is how to tell the key of the singer.
    I really enjoy your style of teaching.

    1. Thanks Tommy. Check out the RGS Live this Tuesday. US Pacific (PDT/California) – 12:00 pm
      US East Coast (EDT) – 3:00 pm
      US Mountain (MDT) – 1:00 pm
      US Central (CDT) – 2:00 pm
      London (GMT) – 8:00 pm

      >>Real Guitar Live August 6th, 2019

      https://youtu.be/6m95t57RLQM

      I’ll record this so you can watch later if you can’t make it.

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