Chord Flow, The Skeleton of a Key

Ask a typical music or guitar teacher what chords are in a given scale and they’ll start by showing you the chords in the key of C. Which looks like this:

I’m just kidding. They’ll probably begin by explaining the steps and half-steps in the C major scale, then talk about how to build chords, and then somewhere between a half hour and a few weeks later, they’ll get to something like the diagram above. If you want to talk about chords in different keys, the process repeats itself.  

With Chord Flow, you can skip right to the chords that play well with each other. Chord Flow is this pattern of chords BEADGCF, which you can remember with the phrase B.E.A.D. Guides Chord Flow.  

How Chord Flow organizes the chords in a key

This is the key of C organized by Chord Flow:

Chord Flow places the major and minor chords into two groups of three. Minor chords first. Major chords second. The middle chord in the group of majors is a C and names the key.  

Meanwhile, the diminished chord plays by a different set of rules than the rest of the chords. We’re going to ignore it for now. That explains the key of C, but what about other keys?  

Other Keys:

We need to know two things to find the chords in other keys. 

1. Chord Flow is a repeating pattern.  
2. So is the pattern of three minor and three major chords. 

Chord flow is a repeating pattern. The BEAD Guides Chord Flow pattern repeats with flat notes and chords on the right side.   

On the left, the Chord Flow pattern repeats with sharps.

The pattern could repeat with double flats or double sharps beyond this, but don’t worry about that; no one’s asking you to play a D## chord.

Now that we’ve expanded the Chord Flow pattern, we choose six chords in a row, two groups of three. The first group of chords will be minor, the next major.

If we choose B E A D G C as our six chords, we get Bm Em Am and D G C.

We just found all the major and minor chords in the key of G. The middle chord in the set of major chords names the key. 

What if we start on G#?

We get G#m C#m F#m B E A, the middle of the major chords is E. These are the major and minor chords in E major. What about a key with flat chords? Let’s start at Bb.

Bb Eb Ab Db Gb Cb becomes Bbm Ebm Abm Db Gb Cb. These are the chords in Gb. 

What about the chords in minor keys?   

 This is so easy it’s silly. Minor and major keys share the same chords. The middle chord of the three minor chords names a minor key.  
A minor and C major share the same chords. 

E minor shares the chords of G major.

C# minor shares the chords of E 

Explaining how a group of chords sounds either major or minor gets complicated, but a good rule of thumb is most songs starting with a minor chord are in a minor key. Most songs starting with a major chord are in a major key.

Bonus: Related Chords

Stack the major and minor chords from a key, and it aligns major and minor chords that are related to each other. This gives you more chords that love playing with each other, as well as possible chord substitutions, which I explain more about here.


Unfamiliar with BEAD Guides Chord Flow?

Here’s an intro: BEAD Guides Chord Flow Intro
Here’s how it works in the Key of C: BEAD in the Key of C
Here’s how it maps chord substitutes in the key of C: BEAD Substitutes

The Prompt:

Art by Demond Melancon. Find out more about Demond’s work here.

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