The primary chords are the 3 most commonly used chords in music. Lots of songs and many pieces of music that you will hear will be built around them because they work well together.
If you are starting to try to compose your own music then an understanding of the primary chords is going to give you a big head start.
How to work out the Primary Chords
It’s easy to work out the primary chords in any key – they are simply the chords (or triads) built on notes 1 (I), 4 (IV) and 5 (V) of the scale. (Note how Roman numerals (I, IV and V) are used to indicate the chords).
Listen to how these chords seem to “belong together”. Just by playing them one after the other you get a sense of the key you are in.
Primary Chords in Every Key
To make things easy for you I have done a table of the primary chords in every major and minor key so it’s really quick to work them out. (The root note of the chord is in bold and the other notes that make up each chord are in small type):
Primary Chords in Major Keys
Primary Chords in Minor Keys
Composing using Primary Chords
Primary chords are a great starting point for composing a song or instrumental piece.
Try the following step by step guide to get you started:
- Choose a key to write in (if it’s your first attempt choose C major; if you want to write in a minor key try A minor)
- Start and end on chord I
- Play the other chords (IV and V) in whatever order you want (you can use guitar or piano to play the chords – whichever instrument you play)
- Now try improvising a melody over the top of the chords. If you are a singer you can start to hum a tune (don’t worry about the lyrics yet – you can work on those later)
- Record your idea (you can use anything – the quality of recording doesn’t mater at this stage). A phone works well because then you have got your ideas on you all the time.
Listen back to your idea and try tweaking it.
Hope this helps – have fun composing!
Next, we are heading for Secondary Chords.