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Reverse Chord Finder Can't Help, Maybe You Can

Question by Eric Simonson
(Sun City, California)

I've been messing around with a chord and want to know a corresponding scale and some other chords to go along with it - D F# G D

I tried just using Dadd9 with it and some D major scales, but I'm having to filter out some notes.


Hey Eric. That's a nice chord and one that can be used in many contexts.

Key and Chord Progression Ideas

After playing around with some ideas I'm gravitating towards two relative key centres...

G major and E minor.

To my ears, your D major chord sounds best when occupying the V (5) chord position in a G major progression...

V , IV , I = Dmaj , Cmaj , Gmaj

I , V , IV = Gmaj , Dmaj , Cmaj

I , vi , IV , V = Gmaj , Em , Cmaj , Dmaj

I , IV , ii = Gmaj , Dmaj , Am

Or in a minor key, your D major chord could occupy the VII position...

VII , i , VI , vi - Dmaj , Em , Cmaj , Am

i , VI , VII - Em , Cmaj , Dmaj

VI , VII , i , IV - Cmaj , Dmaj , Em , A7

Try substituting chords in these progressions to major, dominant 7th and add9 variations. It's the natural relationship between these chord positions/degrees that will put that D major chord into context.

Chord Voicing Ideas

Now for some chord voicing ideas...

Because your D major chord is in an open position (i.e. it uses open strings as part of the chord shape), it's nice to keep that vibrant open sound throughout the progression.

Obviously, C major and G major can be played open, but try some variations on these.

For example, a variation on C major...

G major...

A minor...

You could also turn that D major into a D7 in the same position...

And for the E minor key, we could move up from D major to a rather floaty Emadd9 voicing...

So try adding and changing notes to open chord shapes you know and see if you can create some more interesting voicings.

Try adding in chords around the positions above. You can use the natural degrees - I ii iii IV V vi (in this example Gmaj, Am, Bm, Cmaj, Dmaj, Em) - as the scaffolding for your experimentation.

As you've discovered, reverse chord finders and even most chord charts will only take you so far. You need to keep playing around with trial and error to find the expression you want.

If you haven't already, subscribe for updates because I'm currently giving away a free chord book, Uncommon Chords, which will be right up your street if you're looking for these types of chord ideas.

Scale Ideas

If you're playing in a G major key, try G major pentatonic or G major/Ionian.

For an E minor key, try E minor pentatonic or E natural minor.

However, if you want to isolate that D major chord and play it outside the context of a G major or E minor key centre, the D major scale would also work well, because all the tones of that scale are in the chord.

So there are two ways you can apply scales - play the major or minor scale of the related tonic chord or play a scale on the root of the chord in question.

Filter out notes if you need to, but also look for replacement notes! As long as the chord tones are being expressed in the scale, you can often add "passing notes" as part of your melody and it will still sound good.

I hope this has helped spark a few ideas.

If anyone has any more ideas, let us know! Use the comments link below...

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Thank you!
By: Eric Simonson

The G Major scale fits perfect and actually led me to another chord and a melody idea. I've actually decided to to go for my first attempt into writing a song. I'm into fingerstyle on my acoustic right now. I put my guitar into drop d and it helps give a little bit of a better voicing for what I'm trying to achieve. Thank you very much for your more than awesome answer. I subscribed and will be around on the site for some time because of you. Never got such an in depth answer before. Stay cool.

You're welcome!
By: Mike

Eric, you sound like a very exploratory, intuitive player. Only good things can come of that. Enjoy your song writing.

By: Jim

Hi Mike,

If I understood you correctly, it's possible to either solo over the major scale of the key or play the scale of each chord you are playing.

I am totally confused because if we consider your example, we can either solo over the G Major scale which is the key of the song or when playing over D chord, use the D Major scale. Isn't that a contradiction?

And if we take a simple song like "Guantanamera" in the key C as an example:
while playing the G chord, it’s posible to play the scale of Gmajor with Fsharp and at the same time it is possible to play the note F which is in the scale of Cmajor which is the key of the song (G mixolydian).

I would have thought it is generally only possible to play over the scale of the key of the song (if all chords are in the key) OR/AND play over 1-3-5 notes of each chord you are playing
(ie arpeggiate) - also if not all chords in the song are in the key of the song...


Jim, it depends if the chord is part of that key...
By: Mike

As I mentioned above, the D major scale would be an option if you're playing outside the G major/E minor key centres.

In other words, if that D major chord is not part of a G major or E minor key progression, you might want to try the D major scale.

This would be the obvious choice if the D major chord is the I chord in a progression. For example Dmaj / Em / Amaj (I ii V). In that example, the D major scale would be the natural choice.

But to my ears, the specific D major voicing in question (with an added G or perfect 4th) sounds quite weak as a tonic chord, so I gave the example of two stronger key centres in relation to that chord - G major or E minor.

Hope that clears things up.

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