Changing keys is a simple process that requires very little musical knowledge.
This easy guide will enable you to play Irish folk songs in any key with minimal effort. It’s written primarily for guitarists but the principles will apply equally well to other stringed instruments such as banjos and mandolins.
Five most important guitar keys
First a few basics. As far as guitarists are concerned, there are five principal keys which provide most of the chord shapes used in folk and most popular music. These are C Major, D Major, E Major, G Major and A Major.
Some players may add F Major but that’s as far as most people go.
The reason for this is that guitars are tuned in such a way that favours these keys if you want to use chords that include open strings, and most folk guitarists do want to use open strings because they provide so much scope for interesting accompaniments.
Highly accomplished players produce tremendous music without ever straying outside the chord shapes provided by the principal guitar keys.
That doesn’t mean you won’t hear them playing in other keys like E flat or A flat – but when they do they will almost certainly be using a capo which enables them to change key while continuing to use chord shapes from the same basic five keys.
The chart below shows how to change between the principal guitar keys without using a capo.
See the links below for information about changing keys using a capo.
How to change key using the chart
Let’s look at how to change between the principal guitar keys using this simple chart.
It only takes a moment to work it out and it is very easy to use.
Most important chords in the principal guitar keys
The keys are presented in the first column. The main chords in that key are shown reading from left to right across the page.
Suppose you want to play a song where the chords are given in C Major but you want to play it in G Major because that suits your voice better.
All you have to do is look at the chords we’ve given in the key of C, typically this might be C, F, G7 and Am.
To find out what those chords should be in the key G Major, simply go down the list to G Major and read across to the names of the chords that correspond to the ones given in C Major.
On this basis, you will see that:
– the chord of C becomes the chord of G
– the chord of F becomes the chord of C
– the chord of G7 becomes the chord of D7
– the chords of Am becomes the chords of Em
The same principle applies up and down the chart. It may seem strange at first but you’ll soon get the hang of it.
Explore the use of the capo
No matter how good you get at playing in the five prominent keys, you should still explore the advantages of using a capo.
Click on the links below for more on using the capo and transposing keys.
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