Chord Functions in the Major Keys

Major scale chords are important for building your knowledge in chords, transposing to other keys, and developing your ear as a guitarist. Within a certain key, the chords have a role which I can explain so that you understand why some chord progression sound good while others don’t sound as much.

In this lesson, we’ll go chord by chord in the key of G major and examine the make up of each chord. We’ll also look at how their function is determined. Although we’re looking specifically at G major in this lesson, this information can be applied to any key you choose.

Chords in the Key of G Major

To build the chords of G major, you’ll need to begin with its scale.

The image above shows all the notes in the key of G major, along with their Roman numerals which signify two things-scale interval and chord quality. Uppercase roman numerals represent major chords, while lowercase represent minor chords.

This interval & chord quality scheme is the one and only in major keys. For a major key, you have:

  • Major chords = I – IV – V
  • Minor chords = ii – iii – vi
  • Diminished chords = vii

Applied to the key of G major, these chords appear:

  • G major
  • A minor
  • B minor
  • C major
  • D major
  • E minor
  • F# diminished

Chord Families

Chord families are groups of chords that are related in function.

  • Tonic – stable, the tonal center, the resting point in a chord progression.
  • Subdominant – these chords are not often in the key of the song because they lead to another chord.
  • Dominant – tension, sometimes these chords are the most unstable, need to resolve.

Chords Functions in the Key of G Major

Now let’s take a look at which family the chords in G major belong to.

  • I Chord

The first chord, known as the I chord, is often referred to as the “key” because it sets the tone for what’s ahead. More than that, it can serve as a foundation for your entire song through its “tonal center,” or middle note. The I chord contains the 1st, 3rd and 5th intervals of any scale.

Chord Family: Tonic

  • ii Chord

The ii chord is a chord with a lot of movement, containing the 2nd, 4th, and 6th degrees of the scale. It doesn’t contain any notes from the I chord which means that it’s not holding onto any tonal center.

Chord Family: Subdominant

  • iii Chord

The iii chord is just two notes and functions as a tonic, so it’s not complex. In this case, it contains the 3rd and 5th degrees of a major scale.

Chord Family: Tonic

  • IV Chord

The IV chord has the intervals 4th, 6th, and 1st of the major scale. It consists of only one note from the tonic chord, which is 1st. It tends to move away from the key center towards a dominant chord.

Chord Family: Subdominant

  • V Chord

The V chord – containing a major 5th, 7th, and 2nd degree – is considered the most unstable of the four major chords. It’s called a leading tone. This leading tone is created by using a half-step below the tonic note, creating the feeling like you want this back to the tonic note.

You can feel the tension and need to resolve back to the one. The voce leading tone gives the V chord a dominant function.

Chord Family: Dominant

  • vi Chord

The vi chord in Western music has three notes – the 1st, 3rd and 6th. These tonic tones provide the chord with stability.

Chord Family: Tonic

  • vii Chord

The VII chord is a very unstable chord. It’s composed of the 7th, 2nd, and 4th degrees of the major scale and doesn’t contain any tonic chord tones. As well, the tonic of this chord is the 7th degree which as we saw with the V chord acts as a leading tone to the forthcoming tonic.

Chord Family: Dominant

Here is a summary of chord functions:




I, iii, vi ii, IV V, vii

Applying Chord Function to Progressions

Chord function is generally used to create a build-up of tension and release in music. It’s satisfying to our ears when it works well.

It’s important to recognize that theory came after music so the music is the foundation. It can be easy to see these terms as rules, but it’s important not to forget how much of a foundation music is.

This is generally a good rule of thumb, but many songs challenge this. Chart the sounds that belong in one key over time and you’ll find they are used interchangeably. Ultimately what sounds good to your ear comes first with chords.

FAQ for Chord Functions Major Keys

What is a Major key?

A major key is a piece of music that is built on the first, third, and fifth degrees of the scale.

The major key has a happy and bright sound. It’s typically used in pop songs and other pieces that are supposed to be fun.

What are the chord functions in major keys?

Chord functions are the three types of chords that are used in major keys.

The first type of chord is the tonic chord. The tonic chord is also known as the I chord. The tonic chord is a major triad with a root note, third and fifth.

The second type of chord that is used in major keys is the subdominant chord, also known as IV or IV7. The subdominant chord has a root note, third and fifth but it’s built on a minor seventh instead of a major seventh.

The third type of chords used in major key signatures are dominant chords, also known as V or V7. Dominant chords have roots notes, thirds and fifths but they have an augmented fifth which adds tension to the sound of the dominant chords.

What are the types of chords that exist in major keys?

The most common chords in major keys are the I, IV and V chords.

The I chord is the first chord in a key and it is also called the tonic. The IV chord is the fourth chord in a key and it is also called the subdominant. The V chord is the fifth chord in a key and it is also called the dominant.

How many notes are there in a Major key?

There are 12 notes in a major key.

The 12 notes in a major scale are: “do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do.”

The first 7 notes of the major scale is also called the “natural” or “white” keys on the piano keyboard.

The last 5 notes of the major scale is also called the “sharp” or “black” keys on the piano keyboard.

Which key has 7 sharps and 6 flats?

A key has 7 sharps when it is a major key and 6 flats when it is a minor key.

What are the 7 chords in C major?

The 7 chords in C major are C, Dm, Em, F, G7, Am and Bdim.

In music theory, a chord is a set of three or more notes that are played together.

A chord may consist of the root note (the name of the chord), plus additional notes. Some chords have up to six different notes.

Chords are classified according to the quality of their individual notes and their position in relation to each other on the musical scale.

What is the difference between a major and minor chord?

A major chord is a triad where the third note has been raised by one semitone. A minor chord is a triad where the third note has been lowered by one semitone.

The difference between major and minor chords is that their root notes are different. The root notes of a major chord are “C” and “E,” while the root note of a minor chord is “C” with an altered “E.”

How can I identify a major chord in a song?

The first step is to identify the root note. The root note is the first note in the major scale, and it is usually the lowest sounding note in a chord.

Next, you need to find the third of that chord. The third is what makes it sound like a major chord instead of a minor chord. It will be either an interval of four or five notes up from the root note, or an interval of three notes up from the root point.

Finally, you need to find the fifth of that chord. It will be either an interval of three or four notes up from the third point, or two notes up from the third point if you are on a piano keyboard.

How do I know what type of chord is being played?

The first step to understanding the type of chord being played is to identify the root note. The root note is the key of the song and is typically the lowest pitched note in a chord. The second step is to identify what type of chord is being played.

There are three types of chords: major, minor, and diminished. Major chords have a happy feel to them because they produce a tone that sounds like it has been lifted up or brightened. Minor chords have a sad feel because they produce a tone that sounds like it has been pushed down or darkened. Diminished chords are very dissonant and sound almost unsettling with their two tones sounding at odds with each other.

What are the most common types of chords used in music?

There are many different types of chords that are used in music. The most common types of chords are major and minor.

Leave a Comment