Understanding a Chord Key Chart [2021 Guide]

This KillerGuitarRigs Guide features a chord key chart for all the major and minor key centers that exist in music. Each line will represent the harmonic field of the corresponding key.

The harmonic field is the set of 7 chords that you get from harmonizing each note of the scale you are working with. They are the diatonic chords of that key, or in other words, the chords that exist naturally in that key.

This does not mean that you can only use the 7 chords of the harmonic field when composing a song in a given key, as we will also discuss.

You can use these two charts to figure out what chords might work well in a composition of yours, to determine the key of a song that you have learned in the past, or even to find some chord substitution ideas.

Major Keys Chord Chart

The chord chart that you will find below represents all of the existing major keys. 

In the columns, you have all keys from C Major up to B Major, and the top line represents the chord degree and chord quality.

You might notice that with most enharmonic keys such as C# and Db, only Db is represented on the table, since it is more common to use Db, Eb, Ab and Bb, instead of C#, D#, G# and A#.

However, F# is still present on the table, as it is generally used as frequently as Gb.

The chord degrees are written in uppercase letters when that chord is major and lowercase letters when the chord is minor or diminished.

Key/Scale Degree
I

ii

iii

IV

V

vi

vii
CC MajorD minorE minorF MajorG MajorA minorB diminished
DbDb MajorEb minorF minorGb MajorAb MajorBb minorC diminished
DD MajorE minorF# minorG MajorA MajorB minorC# diminished
EbEb MajorF minorG minorAb MajorBb MajorC minorD diminished
EE MajorF# minorG# minorA MajorB MajorC# minorD# diminished
FF MajorG minorA minorBb MajorC MajorD minorE diminished
F#F# MajorG# minorA# minorB MajorC# MajorD# minorE# diminished (F dim)
GbGb MajorAb minorBb minorCb Major (B Maj)Db MajorEb minorF diminished
GG MajorA minorB minorC MajorD MajorE minorF# diminished
AbAb MajorBb minorC minorDb MajorEb MajorF minorG diminished
AA MajorB minorC# minorD MajorE MajorF# minorG# diminished
BbBb MajorC minorD minorEb MajorF MajorG minorA diminished
BB MajorC# minorD# minorE MajorF# MajorG# minorA# diminished

Here are some of the main things that you should know in order to make the most out of this chart:

Every major key follows a formula. Each of its degrees, independently of the key center, always has the same chord quality. In every harmonic field, you can always verify that:

  • The “I” chord is Major;
  • The “ii” chord is minor;
  • The “iii” chord is minor;
  • The “IV” chord is Major;
  • The “V” chord is Major;
  • The “vi” chord is minor;
  • The “vii” chord is diminished.

The 6th degree of the key (vii chord) has a special detail to it: it is the relative minor key of its corresponding first degree.

For example, if you are in C Major, your relative minor is A minor, its 6th degree.

Instead of going up one major sixth from your root note in a major key to find its relative minor, you can also go one minor third up from the root note of a minor key to find its relative major.

Lastly, since the harmonic field is built upon the major scale of a key, you can figure out the accidentals (sharps and flats) of any key by checking the Circle of Fifths.

Following the Circle of Fifths and the formula described above will guarantee that you always get the chords of a given key correctly every time.

You’ll find an image of the Circle of Fifths below, in case you need to consult it:

Understanding a Chord Key Chart - Circle of Fifths

Minor Keys Chord Chart

Next, let’s take a look at the same chord chart, but for minor keys instead.

If you compare any of these minor keys with their relative major, you will notice that they use the same set of chords, but the root is different. It is basically the same as starting the chord sequence from a different degree and go from there.

Key/Scale Degree
i

ii

III

iv

v

VI

VII
CmC minorD diminishedEb MajorF minorG minorAb MajorBb Major
C#minC# minorD# diminishedE MajorF# minorG# minorA MajorB Major
DminD minorE diminishedF MajorG minorA minorBb MajorC Major
D#minD# minorE# diminished (F dim)F# MajorG# minorA# minorB MajorC# Major
EbminEb minorF diminishedGb MajorAb minorBb minorCb Major (B Maj)Db Major
EminE minorF# diminishedG MajorA minorB minorC MajorD Major
FminF minorG diminishedAb MajorBb minorC minorDb MajorEb Major
F#minF# minorG# diminishedA MajorB minorC# minorD MajorE Major
GminG minorA diminishedBb MajorC minorD minorEb MajorF Major
G#minG# minorA# diminishedB MajorC# minorD# minorE MajorF# Major
AminA minorB diminishedC MajorD minorE minorF MajorG Major
BbminBb minorC diminishedDb MajorEb minorF minorGb MajorAb Major
BminB minorC# diminishedD MajorE minorF# minorG MajorA Major

You may have noticed that some chords might not seem right at first (Cb Major or E# diminished). 

These are written that way to respect the order of the scale degrees, but since it is easier to think about those two as B Major and F diminished, those have been noted too.

When working with a minor key, you should always keep in mind that your relative major key is your third degree. 

For example, in A minor, your third degree is C Major, meaning that those two are relative keys.

Also, the formula that was explained previously has to be adapted to a minor key. You’ll find that minor keys follow this pattern:

  • The “i” chord is minor;
  • The “ii” chord is diminished;
  • The “III” chord is Major;
  • The “iv” chord is minor;
  • The “v” chord is minor;
  • The “VI” chord is Major,
  • The “VII” chord is Major.

By memorizing the patterns that dictate the chord qualities of each scale degree in major and minor keys, it will be much easier for you to come up with your own chord progressions, especially if you start to identify the “color” or “sensation” of each degree, and use that to your advantage.

There is also a very interesting concept called “modal interchange”. In summary, it means that you are “borrowing” a chord from the minor key.

For example, if you are in C Major, and you want to use the “iii” chord, you can either use E minor or Eb Major (third degree in C minor).

Another example: if you are in A Major and you want to use the “IV” chord, you can replace it with the minor “iv” chord from the A minor key (D minor instead of D Major).

These chord substitutions can bring a new mood to your compositions; you should try them out and start opening up your range of options.


Final Thoughts on Chord Key Charts

Being able to understand the information presented in a chord chart such as the ones that were presented in this guide can bring you many advantages as a musician.

Ideally, you will reach the point at which you won’t even need to check a chart like this, as you will eventually start to memorize the degrees of each key center.

Make the most out of that knowledge by tastefully applying your available options when accompanying another musician or when composing your own music.

Gustavo Pereira

Gustavo is a Portuguese musician based in Barcelona, where he’s studying jazz & modern music interpretation on the electric guitar. Favorite genre: blues, jazz, funk, soul

Gustavo Pereira has 31 posts and counting. See all posts by Gustavo Pereira