Tag Archives: notes

Most of the Music Theory You’ll Ever Need to Know!

18 Jan

The title of this post might be a little grandiose, but it’s (somewhat) true. Last post, I made reference to a cheat sheet that I had dreamed up for yall and I neglected to explain how to use it!

What a jerk I am.

So, I thought I’d clue you in about how to use this nifty resource. The cheat sheet consists of three different sections: Keys, Chords and Chord Construction.



Click to Biggify

The columns of this section correspond to different notes of the scale, the rows correspond to different keys. All the black boxes represents notes that sound good in that key. So, if you’ve got a song in the key of D, you find D in the leftmost column and you check that row to see what notes will go well together. This series of notes that sound good together is called a scale.

F#? Yes. A#? Hell no. Pretty nifty, right?

Of course, you can do the opposite, as I’ve done in the last post, and figure out what key a melodic phrase is in by finding what key contains those notes. I like to do this when I just have a few notes in an idea.

Example: I hum a simple melody into my iPhone while in the car, let’s say A, G and F#. When I get home, I see which key contains those notes. Turns out it’s a few. From there I can get ideas about which key to use and which chords to use and, finally, where to put my Grammy when I write my next song for Travis Tritt (just kidding [the cheat sheet can’t give interior decorating advice]).

BONUS POINTS: Pick a row and play the notes corresponding to the black boxes, left to right. Make sure to start on the box/note that corresponds to the key. So, if you’re playing the notes of the D row, start with D (duh?). Now, play the same notes, but start 2 black boxes to the left. In the key of D, start with B. You should get a B minor scale. Thank me later.


Click to Biggify

As go the notes, so go the chords. Every key has a set of chords that goes with it whose roots correspond with the notes of the chords. A root is the note that a chord is named after and, usually, is the lowest note in the chord (D major’s root is, you guessed it, D [you’re so smart, I should tell you that more]).

The root is the easy part. The hard part is knowing whether each chord is a major or a minor chord or a diminished chord. The chart includes not only the root notes, but also whether each chord is a Major (M, Green), Minor (m, Red) or Diminished (dim, Blue). It should be said that, in a pinch, a minor chord can take the place of a diminished chord. We’re learning so much!

Chord Construction

Click to Biggify

Now, you know what notes and chords to use with each key, but how on God’s green earth do you make a C# minor chord in Ableton?

No problemo, compadre.

The EZ Chord Construction area of the cheat sheet shows you how to make the three major chord types: Major, Minor and Diminished. Each row corresponds to the rows of Ableton’s piano roll. Now, all you have to do, is find the right root and then do a little counting. How to count will be covered in a different cheat sheet.

And if you are interested in learning more about music theory, why not sign up for the Ableton Cookbook Live Course? There’s a module just about music theory and its application in Ableton Live!

I hope that this comes in handy! Let me know in the comments if you have any other questions.