Category Archives: Theory

The Key of D (second in a series)

The key of D is my favorite key to play on the guitar.  In fact, as a routine, I will usually transpose any song in the keys of E-flat, E or F into the key of D and capo my guitar at the first, second and third fret accordingly so that I can use the key of D.  In addition, all of the chords are accessible and flow nicely together.

Here is the major scale of the key of D:
1   2  3    4   5   6   7    8
D  E  F#  G  A  B  C#  D

You will note that it has two sharps.  The typical chords which are used in a song written in the key of D are D, Em, F#m, G, A, and Bm.  These sound beautiful together.  In fact, arpeggio your way through this chord sequence:
||:D / A / | Bm / F#m / | G / D / | G / A / :||

Sound familiar?  It should.  It’s Pachelbel’s canon in D.

For our scale this time, we will consider the major pentatonic which consists of the following notes by number: 1-2-3-5-6, which in the key of D is the following notes: D E F# A B.  The notes of the major pentatonic are also included in the major scale; so again, improvising over these notes will work in almost any song style.

Here’s the scale on the guitar neck, shown in several positions (I-III, and combined in IV):

Key of D

The major chords that you will typically encounter in this key are D, G and A.  Once again, feel free to try substituting a “2” chord for a more contemporary sound:
D2 – x00230  or 5577xx
G2 -300033   or 5×0035
A2 – 002200

The minor chords are Em, F#m and Bm.  Both F#m and Bm require you to bar your first finger across the fretboard:
Em – 022000 (try Em7 – 020030 or 020000 or 022030 or 022033 or xx0987)
F#m – 244222 (try F#m7 – 242222)
Bm – 224432 (try Bm7 – x24232)

For the electric guitar, punch out a power 5 chord with some “crunch” added on your foot pedal and let the chord sustain through until the next chord change:

D5 (no 3) – 5577×5 or x00235
G5 (no 3) – 355xxx or 3×0033
A5 (no 3) – 577xx5

You can slide from the G5 chord to the A5 chord without lifting your fingers for a nice transition.  Sometimes, you can even get away with hitting the transition Aflat5 chord as you slide from the G5 to the A5.

There are two great slash chords used in this key, namely the D/F# and A/C#.  Learn these because you will need them often:
D/F# –  20023x  (play the sixth string second fret with either your thumb wrapped around or with your second finger by abandoning its usual position on the first string second fret)
A/C# –  04222x (play by barring the second fret with your first finger and reaching the C# note with your ring finger)

Here are some D chord inversions (these sound nice if picked in the background by a second guitar):
D triad (upper position):            10-9-7-x-x-x    (D F# A)
D first inversion:            x-9-7-7-x-x    (F# A D)
D second inversion:       x-x-7-7-7-x    (A D F#)

And lastly, one of my favorite tricks on the D chord is to take the open position C chord and slide it up two frets.

Here’s the chord patterns:
C – 032010 slide to 054030 (this makes a Dsus type chord)

Or, you can take a C/G and slide it up to form a D/A:
C/G – 332010 slide to 554030


Who’s Driving?

Who’s Driving?

As a musician in a church band, you need to know who’s taking the lead in each song so that you musically don’t step on each others toes.  In general, songs can be classified as being either guitar-driven or piano-driven.

Guitar driven songs are usually in the “sharp key signatures” such as E, D, A and G while piano driven music is usually in the flat keys such as F, Bb, Eb and Db.  We fight tooth and nail over the key of C (just kidding but they can go either way).

Guitar driven songs usually have only one or two chords per measure and the guitarist is usually doing something other than strumming chords, while in piano driven music the chords are usually complicated and can even sometimes change on every beat.

An example of a guitar driven song would be “Everlasting God” by Brenton Brown and Paul Baloche.  You can hear Brown teach this song in the video below and pay particular attention to the driving rhythm that he describes, and shows, on the guitar.  This particular guitar part can also be played by a keyboard player but never should you both be doing it together.

An example of a piano driven song would be “Be Lifted High” by Leeland Mooring.  You can hear and watch it here:

During a guitar driven song, the keyboardist should be embellishing the song by adding runs, fills and doing some “donut playing” – playing some bass notes and upper keyboard notes but not so much in the middle range where the guitarist will most likely be (frequency wise).  The guitarist needs to be driving this song.  He needs to set the beat, the tone, the mood, the tempo and should also start the intro.

For a piano driven song, the pianist needs to set the beat, the tone, the mood, the tempo and should also start the intro.  The guitarist takes the back seat and adds support, maybe by picking some chord arpeggios or inversions or blending in the background by softly strumming or finger picking the chords or adding an occasional bass run between the chord changes.  The guitarist can get away with just striking the chord at the beginning of the measure and letting it sustain until the next chord change since he or she is not responsible for the main beat.

The bottom line is that it helps to know if the songs that you are playing are either guitar or piano driven before you start them and to set your support levels from each band member accordingly.  Remember that not every band member needs to be playing all the time.

With just a little bit of practice, you should be able to listen to your favorite worship CD and identify the guitar driven and the piano driven songs.  One of my favorite albums, I mean CD, I mean digital download (come on Steve, get with the program) is Matt Maher’s “Empty & Beautiful.”  I do recommend this CD.  Here’s my assessment of the songs on this CD:

  1. Look Like a Fool – Guitar Driven
  2. Your Grace is Enough – Guitar Driven (we’ve used this one in worship; consider using it when you are covering the story of Paul’s thorn in the flesh)
  3. Maranatha – Piano Driven
  4. Leave a Light On – Piano Driven (beautiful song for Ascension)
  5. For Your Glory – Guitar Driven (based on Ecc 3:1-8)
  6. Lay it Down – Guitar Driven
  7. I Rejoice – Guitar Driven
  8. Empty & Beautiful – Piano Driven
  9. Unwavering – Guitar Driven (based on the Beatitudes)
  10. As it is in Heaven – Piano Driven (based on the Lord’s Prayer)
  11. Shine Like the Son – Guitar Driven (and WOW!)
  12. Great Things – Guitar Driven

By now, I may have angered a few church bass players and drummers.  We struggle without you guys; I know, because we don’t have either at our church.  The bass and drums establish and keep the beat and the groove going.  You guys are our backbone and our musical foundation.  We build our rhythms and melodies off of your back drop.  We rely on you to keep the timing throughout the song and to fill in some frequencies (especially the bass) that we would otherwise miss.  I miss the drummer so much that I’ve been known to strap a tambourine to my foot and tap it while singing and strumming in worship.





1.  “an inflection of the tone or pitch of the voice ; specifically : the use of stress or pitch to convey meaning

2.  “a change from one musical key to another

This past Sunday we sang the song “You Are My All in All” by Dennis Jernigan.  It’s a song from our songbooks (the Best of the Best in Contemporary Praise & Worship), and the editors decided to modulate the last chorus from the key of F to the key of G.  It’s a nice effect, and I found that it drew my attention more closely to what we were singing.  Further, I came to the realization that we rarely, if ever, use this musical tool in the context of hymns, although it’s used often in choir arrangements.  It’s something that you might want to explore and use with your congregation every once in a while.

In fact, you can write your own modulations.  Here’s a simple rule of thumb.  Use the forth chord of the scale that you are moving into as the transitioning chord.   For example, in “You Are My All in All”, we used the C chord to transition from the key of F to G because the C chord is the forth of the G major scale (G1, A2, B3, C4).  If we were moving into the key of A, we would use the D chord (A1, B2, C#3, D4).  Just be careful that you are not modulating to a key that makes the highest or lowest notes unreachable to your congregation.  You will find that most people can sing from low C to high C, while enough people can reach from low A to high Eb to carry the congregation but a sparse few can reach beyond these limits.  Once you’ve decided on a modulation, you will also need to transpose the chords into the new modulated key.

Using Your Guitar in the Key of C

Using Your Guitar in the Key of C

 Key of C

The key of C is unique in that it has no sharps or flats.  Shown above are three different configurations of the C-major scale drawn on the guitar fret board and a combination of all three scales shown in the right-most column.  You can use these scales to create improvised solos for use over a song played in the key of C major.  In our church, we don’t do much improvising except for the hymn of the day (the song preceding the sermon), for this particular song, we will often add one instrumental verse for congregational reflection during the instrumental break.

Here are the notes for the major scale as well as several other popular scales in the key of C:
Chromatic Scale:              C Db D Eb E F Gb G Ab A Bb B C (not used much, except academically)
Major Scale:                      C       D      E F       G      A       B C (all musical styles)
Minor Scale:                      C       D  Eb   F       G Ab     Bb    C  (all styles in the minor key)
Blues Scale:                      C            Eb   F Gb G           Bb    C (blues, rhythm & blues)
Pentatonic Scale:             C       D      E          G       A          C (rock, Country & Western)

To use the scales, first, you need to practice playing through them.  Start with the scale in the left column (scale – I) and practice playing it ascending, then descending.  When playing this scale, keep your hand in one position, and follow the one finger per fret rule (first finger on the seventh fret, second finger on the eighth, etc.).  Scales II and III are a bit more difficult because they cover more than four frets so you will therefore have to slide your left hand accordingly to reach all the notes or stretch with your pinky.  Play through these until you have committed them to memory and until your movements are fluid.  After practicing all three scales, you can create your own solos using the right hand column which is a combination of all the scales.  Once you know this combination, you can move the same shapes up or down the neck to get the other major musical scales.

If you are trying to figure out the chords to a particular song by ear, and the song happens to be in the key of C, you can use the following formula to determine the typical chord shapes that might be used:
1major, 2minor, 3minor, 4major, 5major, 6 minor (usually minor seventh)

In the key of C, the typical chords will therefore be: C, Dm, Em, F, G and Am7.  This knowledge is also helpful when composing your own music, and the formula works for all keys; i.e. chords go numerically like this: major, minor, minor, major, major, minor.  The key of D would therefore use: D, Em, F#m, G, A, Bm7.

Next, consider adding some color to your mix and obtain that “thick” contemporary sound by modifying a few chords.  You can typically change any of the major chords to a “second” chord and get a great sound.  Here are the chord shapes in the key of C:
C2 – x3203x
F2 – 3×3211
F2 (no 3) – x33011
G2- 30023x

These above chords work especially well with an acoustic guitar, if you’re playing an electric guitar, consider dropping the third of the chord and letting it sustain throughout the measure.  Here are the so called “power” chords:
C2 (no 3) – x30033 or x35533 (bar your first finger across the third fret)
F5 (no 3) – 133xxx
G5 (no 3) – 3×0033 or 355xxx

Similarly, you can usually change all the minor chords to a minor seventh:
Dm7 – xx0211 or xx0565
Em7 – 020030 or 020000 or 022030
Am7- 002013 or x02010 or x02213

Also consider experimenting with different chord inversions and voicings.  Here’s an alternate fingering of the C chord that I sometimes use:
C – 030050  (the chord is made up of E,C,D,G,E, E so it’s technically a Csus2)

Here are the notes that make up the two inversions of the C major chord:
Root version of the chord:                     C E G  (xx10 9 8 x)
First Inversion:                                        E G C  (xxx 9 8 8)
Second Inversion:                                   G C E  (x 10 10 9 x x)

I am depicting them high up on the neck.  Picking through these notes will sound nice if you have two guitarists; one strumming the C chord while the other player picks these higher notes.  In this way, the guitarists won’t be invading the same frequency domain.

Also, suspended chords are great at the end of a musical measure as you transition from one chord to another.  Here are the three major suspended chord shapes used in the key of C:
Csus – x33010
Fsus – 133311 (bar the first fret with your first finger)
Gsus – 300013

Other chords that you might stumble across in this key are:
C/G – 332010 or 032013
Cmaj7 – 332000
C7 – 032310 or 335353 (first finger barred at the third fret)
C9 – 33233x (jazzy sound)
G7 – 320001 or 323003

Now, how to end your song!  Try strumming the fourth chord of the key that your song happens to be in.  If you are playing in the key of C, that means ending on an F chord, or better yet an F2 chord (see above), which is the F chord with an added G note.   You can even alternate back and forth between the 4 chord (F) to the 5 chord (G) for a little variation; you might also want to resolve back to the root chord as the last sound (C).

Here are some contemporary songs in the key of C to experiment with:

Best of the Best Songbook (BOB):
24  Blessed Assurance
33  Change My Heart Oh God
44  Emmanuel
45  Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble?
170  No Other Name
233  We Bow Down

Let All the People Praise You (LAPPY):
38  Change My Heart Oh God
45  Clap Your Hand
59  Deep River
71  the First Song of Isaiah
114  His Eye is on the Sparrow
124  How Majestic is Your Name
154  It is Well with My Soul
168  Lamb of God
178  Let There be Light
188  Listen to My Prayer, O Lord
245  People Need the Lord
266  She Will Be Called Blessed
297  These Things Did Thomas Count

Copyright – “Using Your Guitar in the Key of C”, Steven Brown, June 2009, ©Kenaniah Music

“Worship Ideas You Can Use” –

Music for Holy Trinity Sunday and How to Transpose

On Trinity Sunday, I have chosen the song ”Father I Adore You” as a song choice.  Many congregations use this on Trinity Sunday.  There are other good contemporary song choices, such as “Glorify Thy Name”, but I chose ”Father I Adore You” because there is a portion of our congregation that normally does not sing, but they will be singing this song.  I’m talking about our smallest children, and more importantly, those too young to read.  At our church, this age group knows this song from previous VBS and other children’s activities.  I think it’s important for us as worship planners to include a song that they can join in on every once in a while.

“Father I Adore You” was written by Terrye Coelho Strom, many of us WELS types know it as LAPPY # 67.

Last week, during our monthly contemporary service, a teen in the congregation approached me after worship and offered to play her guitar in future services.  Apparently she has been taking lessons and is ready to use her gifts.  I am very excited about this because it’s a teen showing an interest in participating in worship which for some reason is an age group that we find to be difficult to get involved.

But here’s the problem.  “Father I Adore You” is written in the key of F and includes the chords: F, Gm and C.  Not a big deal for most guitarists, but for a beginner, the F and Gm chords can be difficult.  Here’s the solution: transpose.

In this instance, usually the best thing to do is to transpose down to a more guitar-friendly key, then use your CAPO to lift the pitch back to the original key.  For example, let’s transpose this song down to the key of D.  To find the new chords, we need to write down both of the major scales (F and D) as follows:

Original Key:  F  G  A    Bb  C  D  E    F
New Key:       D  E  F#  G    A  B  C#  D

Next, find the original chords in the original key (upper row), then read the new chords, in the new key directly beneath the original chords.  For example:

F becomes D
Gm becomes Em
C becomes A

The new chords are now D, Em and A which are all very easy to play.

The last thing we need to do is to find the CAPO position.  Remember that we lowered the key from F to D, which is 3 half steps (just count the number of frets between the F and D note on any one string). This means that we need to raise our pitch by 3 half steps so the CAPO needs to go at the third fret.

And here’s a neat trick; if you have two guitarists, let one play in the key of F and have the second guitarist play it in the key of D at the capo 3 position.  This will add some color and different chord voicings to your music.  Also, check your guitar tuning with the CAPO in place as this will sometimes throw your tuning off.

For future reference in transposing, here are all the major and minor keys:

MAJOR SCALE   R   -   2   -   3   4   -   5   -   6   -   7
   C  maj.:   C   -   D   -   E   F   -   G   -   A   -   B
   Db maj.:   Db  -   Eb  -   F   Gb  -   Ab  -   Bb  -   C
   D  maj.:   D   -   E   -   F#  G   -   A   -   B   -   C#
   Eb maj.:   Eb  -   F   -   G   Ab  -   Bb  -   C   -   D
   E  maj.:   E   -   F#  -   G#  A   -   B   -   C#  -   D#
   F  maj.:   F   -   G   -   A   Bb  -   C   -   D   -   E
   F# maj.:   F#  -   G#  -   A#  B   -   C#  -   D#  -  (E#)
   G  maj.:   G   -   A   -   B   C   -   D   -   E   -   F#
   Ab maj.:   Ab  -   Bb  -   C   Db  -   Eb  -   F   -   G
   A  maj.:   A   -   B   -   C#  D   -   E   -   F#  -   G#
   Bb maj.:   Bb  -   C   -   D   Eb  -   F   -   G   -   A
   B  maj.:   B   -   C#  -   D#  E   -   F#  -   G#  -   A#

MINOR SCALE   R   -   2   b3  -   4   -   5   b6  -   b7  -
   A  min.:   A   -   B   C   -   D   -   E   F   -   G   -
   Bb min.:   Bb  -   Cb  Db  -   Eb  -   F   Gb  -   Ab  -
   B  min.:   B   -   C#  D   -   E   -   F#  G   -   A   -
   C  min.:   C   -   D   Eb  -   F   -   G   Ab  -   Bb  -
   C# min.:   C#  -   D#  E   -   F#  -   G#  A   -   B   -
   D  min.:   D   -   E   F   -   G   -   A   Bb  -   C   -
   Eb min.:   Eb  -   F   Gb  -   Ab  -   Bb (Cb) -   Db  -
   E  min.:   E   -   F#  G   -   A   -   B   C   -   D   -
   F  min.:   F   -   G   Ab  -   Bb  -   C   Db  -   Eb  -
   F# min.:   F#  -   G#  A   -   B   -   C#  D   -   E   -
   G  min.:   G   -   A   Bb  -   C   -   D   Eb  -   F   -
   G# min.:   G#  -   A#  B   -   C#  -   D#  E   -   F#  -