If you have ever read about music theory, chances are you have already seen what the harmonic field of a key is. This is the name given to the group of chords that exist in a given key, and they come from the notes of its corresponding scale.
For example, the harmonic field of E Major are the chords that come from the notes of the E Major scale, obtained by harmonizing each one of them.
To do this, you take each degree (note) of the scale, and you stack two thirds on top of each one. This will give you triads (three note chords with root, third and fifth) on each degree of the scale – those will be your chords that form the harmonic field of the key.
It is understandable if this sounds confusing at first, but after a more thorough explanation, some examples and a few tips and tricks, you’ll see that it is much more intuitive than it seems to be at first!
Chords that belong to the key of E Major
How to figure out what chords fit into a certain key
You now know which chords fit into E Major. Just check the table above if you ever need a reminder, but why not understand the theory behind it? Not only you will comprehend this concept much better, but you will also be able to figure out the chords of any other key you might come across in the future.
In order to build the harmonic field of a key, you must first know the notes that make up its corresponding scale. In this case, that would be the E Major scale.
The circle of fifths is a great tool for this, as it tells you which accidentals (sharps or flats) exist in every key (check out our fill circle of fifths guide).
In E Major, those are F#, C#, G# and D#.
That gives us the following scale:
- E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, D#.
The first step is to write these notes on a staff. This will be your starting point to build the harmonic field of the key you’re working with.
After that, you’ll need to build a triad upon every note (also called degree) of the E Major scale.
To accomplish this, you have to stack two thirds on top of every note, which will give you a triad (three note chord with a root note, a third and a fifth) on each degree.
Don’t forget to respect the E Major scale’s accidentals!
This means that each time you write an F, G, C or D, they have to be sharp, otherwise your end result won’t be correct.
By the end of this task, you should be left with something that looks like this:
Just like anything else in music theory, it is great to know practical tips and tricks that allow you to extract the important bits quickly, so you can make good decisions on the fly, such as when you are performing live or writing music.
Regarding the harmonic field, there are a few key concepts to memorize and keep in mind that will make you extract the most out of it, instead of just understanding the theory behind it.
First, there is a pattern which you’ll be able to identify regardless of the key you’re working with. This is definitely the most important aspect to interiorize.
Here’s what you should start by memorizing:
- Degrees I, IV and V are MAJOR (root, major 3rd, perfect 5th)
- Degrees ii, iii and vi are MINOR (root, minor 3rd, perfect 5th)
- Degree vii is DIMINISHED (root, minor third, diminished 5th)
If you manage to memorize the quality of every chord of the harmonic field, you’re going to save a ton of time in the long run, since you won’t need to write or imagine the staff that you just saw above every single time.
You simply need to know the degrees of the scale, and you’ll automatically know which chords are major, minor or diminished.
When you’re figuring out these chords, always remember to take into account the accidentals of the key you’re working with! A mistake here will cost you greatly, since the chords will not make any sense whatsoever.
Once again, the circle of fifths is your friend, as it will show you the accidentals of every key.
The second detail to keep in mind at all times will help you make sure you’re getting the chords right without having to think too much: any harmonic field of a major key will have a semitone interval between degrees iii – IV and vii – I.
In E Major, these intervals exist between G# minor – A Major, and between D# diminished – E Major.
If you’re working with a minor key instead, the position of these intervals shift. They will appear between degrees ii – iii and V – vii.
If you want to practice this, a good way to start out is to pick out keys randomly and build their harmonic fields by following the steps described in this guide.
Otherwise, you can also follow the circle of fifths, and guarantee that you will cover every key that exists!
If you practice this for a few minutes during a few days, the improvement will be more than noticeable. Everything will become much more intuitive, and if you repeat the circle of fifths a few times, you will even start to memorize some of the chords, which will come in very handy in the future, as you play and compose.
The seven chords that you get from the harmonic field are not your only options for composing though, there are others than can also be used in conjunction with them to make your music a bit more spicy! However, those come from other concepts such as modal interchange.
Most of the songs across the majority of music genres that you know are based on common and popular chord progressions. This means that mastering the concept of the harmonic field is going to help you massively with writing music.
Check the table below to find some examples of popular chord progressions that you may find in the key of E Major. Try them out the next time you’re composing some music!
Popular chord progressions in the key of E Major
|Progression(Degrees)||Chords in the key of E Major|
ii – V – I
F#m – B – E
I – vi – ii – V
E – C#m – F#m – B
ii – V – vi
F#m – B – C#m
I – IV – I – V
E – A – E – B
I – vi – IV – V
E – C#m – A – B
By now, you have probably already realized that investing a bit of time in mastering this concept can only bring you benefits. It is definitely something that every musician should comprehend, regardless of the instrument or musical genres they play.
Pay attention to the accidentals of each key, memorize the quality of the chords on every degree, and before you know it, you will understand music much better, whether you’re playing, listening or composing.