Posted by: Debra Alexander / wordmavenmusic | November 12, 2012

How To Find The Chords In Any Song


A big thanks to The Songwriter’s Association Of Canada for making me their guest blogger recently! I get by with a little help from my friends, since I’ve missed a couple months of posting here. That article was about mapping out a song lyrically. Here’s a companion piece about mapping out a song musically.

How To Find The Chords In Any Song

1. Use the instrument of your choice to figure out what key it’s in. Listen to the recording and write down the melody, by letter name, phrase by phrase, section by section (i.e., verse, chorus, bridge). The note the melody ends on at the end of the song is usually the key you’re in. However, it could be a major key or a minor key.

2. Build a major scale on the ending melody note (tonic). Decide if the melody notes of the vocal fit in that scale. If not, build a minor scale on that tonic note.

—Write out the letter names for either scale from tonic to tonic, but leave out accidentals (sharps and flats) except for the starting note. For example, if your melody note ends on “F”, you would write: F G A B C D E F. If your melody ends on Bb, you would write: Bb C D E F G A B.

—Use a standard tone (T) / semitone (ST) pattern to decide where the accidentals should be added. The major scale pattern (based on C major) is T T ST T T T ST, and the minor scale pattern (based on A minor) is T ST T T ST T T.

So in our example, the F major scale would be F G A Bb C D E F. The F minor scale would be F G Ab Bb C Db Eb F. It’s easiest to see this on a keyboard, where it’s there in black and white.

(Incidentally, the tone / semitone patterns give us the reasoning behind how we name the accidentals (sharps or flats). You have to maintain sequential letter names. So it’s Bb, and not A# in the F major scale, because you can’t have the same letter twice.)

3. Build triads on each degree of the scale the melody is based on by stacking two letter names above each letter name you’ve already got. Skip every other letter. For example, in the key of C major, it would look like this (only the columns would be absolutely straight!):




4. Add accidentals to all the letters in the stack according to your original scale. In F major, your stack, taken by each degree of the scale, (Laid out horizontally here because it’s easier to see) would be:


That gives you what some call a “chord palette”. Play each triad on a keyboard to hear the basic building blocks of a song in the key of F major.

5. In order to find the chords in the song, listen to the recording and play the chords you hear from the chord palette you’ve built.

It takes some ear training skills to be able to do this. If you want to develop your ear training skills, please let me know! I can help you with that.

Can you make a chord chart for your latest favourite song?


  1. Reblogged this on The Blues Poodle and commented:
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  2. Great article tks for the info. I would like to learn more about ear training.

    • Good Rockin’ Dan, Thanks for taking time to read the post! I am developing an ear training course especially for songsters (as opposed to music majors!) and I’ve taken your e-mail address so I can keep you in the loop. All The Best, Debra

  3. Great blog post! So perfect for me, just what I need since I’m not a musician or ever trained to be one. Thank you!

    • Kathryn, I’m so glad it’s helpful. I really appreciate your taking the time to write. Good luck putting it in practice!

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