Download the fabulous Key Change Chord Chart
In this lesson, I’m going to explain how to use my Key Change Chord Chart. You may want to change the key of the song for two main reasons:
To make it easier to sing for yourself or another vocalist (moving the key up or down), or
To make the song easier to play by playing chords that you find more comfortable
Let’s take a look at the chart. The column on the left has all of the keys. First are the major keys, then below are the minor keys. Every chord in any scale can be represented by numbers. These numbers are typically written as roman numerals.
The top row has the number of each chord in every key. So you can see in the key of C that the C chord is the I (one) chord. Dm is the II (two) chord, and so on.
Minor chords are typically listed as lower case roman numerals. And major chords are uppercase. To keep things easy today, I’ll use all uppercase roman numerals, and just call out the minor chords as they come up.
One last thing about the chart. You’ll notice that some of the columns are in blue. These are the most common chords you’ll find yourself using in any key. The I, IV, V, and VI chords. In the key of C Major, that would be C-F-G-Am.
(For more on common chord progressions, check out this lesson)
So lets start in the key of C. We’ll do this with just two chords to start. Let's say your chord progression is C to G. What if that’s a little low for our voice? Let’s raise it up to the key of D.
Take a look at the chart. You were playing C to G, which is the I (one) chord to the V (five) chord. Go down one row on the chord chart to the D major row. The I is D and the V is A. Every time you come to the C chord you’ll plan a D. Every time you come to the G chord you’ll play an A.
But let's say you want to go even higher than that. Let's go all the way up to the key of G. Take a look at the chart and find the I and V chords. Did you find the chords?
Every time you’d normally play the C chord, you'll play the G chord (the I chord). Now for the V chord. Every time you’d use the G chord in the original key of C, you’ll play a D (the V chord in the key of G).
So you've changed the progression from C-G to G-D. Memorizing the numbers (the I and V chords) makes it a lot easier than trying to remember every chord in every key.
It’s pretty easy with two chords, but what about three chords?
In the key of C, let's say were using the C, F, and G chords. These are the I, IV, and V chords respectively. The IV (four) chord is a common chord to use in a song. Especially together with the I and V chords.
Let’s start with the key of C again, and raise it up a whole step to the key of D. You'd raise the F chord to a G, and then of course the G chord to an A like we did before. So now you’re playing D-G-A instead of C-F-G. These are both the I, IV, and V chords in their respective keys.
It’s easy going up one step. You just go to the next letter in the alphabet. But let’s take it higher to the key of G. Follow along on the chart. What are the I, IV, and V chords on the G row?
Right! G, C, and D.
It gets more difficult once you start adding more chords. A good way to practice this is to take a song and actually cross out the original chords. Then write in the chords for the new key.
For example, you want to change the song from the key of C to the key of G. You would cross off the C on the sheet and write a G next to it. And so on all the way through the song. If you need to change this several times it can get messy. But it’s a good way to start.
OK, one more scenario, but in a minor key.
Let’s take the key of E minor. The progression is Em-G-C-D. This could easily be “Heart of Gold” by Neil Young. Neil Young sings pretty high, so let’s drop the key down to B minor. Take a look at the chart.
The Em-G-C-D progression is the I-III-VI-VII progression. If we go to the B minor row, we’ll find the I-III-VI-VII chords are Bm-D-G-A
If I were transposing this I’d probably write this all down on a piece of paper to make things easy. This is a good way to start.
Take a song with a three or four chord progression and try to transpose it to a different key. Just go up one step. Then maybe go up 4 steps. The best way to learn this is by doing it.
The more you practice this the easier it will get. Eventually you’ll be able to change keys on the fly without writing anything down!
How to Change the Key of a Song
If you're a member of Real Guitar Success you can access a complete lesson on Changing Keys And Using A Capo. Go here (log in first).
One of the most important uses of a capo is to raise or lower the pitch of a song to make it easier to sing along. In this course module, you'll learn the ins and outs of changing keys with and without a capo. The course includes several practical exercises with Play-Along tracks.
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