Using Chords Not in the Key...

When studying the guitar, chords are generally taught in a very isolated way. And, upon introduction to harmony, chords will yet again seem isolated - only this time to their keys (this is called diatonic harmony). To be able to benefit from chords further, it is important to study "non-diatonic" chord application. This lesson explores the fantastic sound of the world related to rare /specialty chord harmony...

This lesson will begin with an overview of diatonic chords. After that, we will study some rare non-diatonic chords that make up a few of the ways related to altering chord harmony.

Combining diatonic and non-diatonic chord harmony will end up producing chord progressions that sound great and are found across many different types /styles of music...


In getting started, we will cover the standard diatonic movement of a chord harmony that is located from within a major key signature.

I will use the key of “C Major” for all demonstrations

NOTE: Keep in mind that all of these chord qualities (within the exact same order and sequence) will exist not only within our demonstration key, but also within every other major key signature.

The only thing that changes when switching to other keys are the root notes. 

Below is the diatonic harmony breakdown from the key of C Major:

The first four chords within the "C Major" harmonized scale:

The remaining chords found within the "C Major" harmonized scale:

Next, let’s take a collection of these chords and apply them into a chord progression.

By using these chords within a progression, you can hear how these chords come together to form a typical major key chord harmony…

(1). Example - Diatonic Progression:

Now that we’ve worked through standard diatonic harmony, next we will study working on adding 'rare' chords that do not exist within the diatonic key center...

When we include “other” chord types, that don’t exist within an established key, they are referred to as “Non-Diatonic.”

A couple of common non-diatonic chords can be found used as minor replacements of the 4th and 5th steps.

Using minor chords to replace the standard major chords can create interesting harmonic effects.

Learn these basic minor chord patterns for "F Minor," and "G Minor."

Below is an example of how these minor 4th and 5th chords could work in a progression…

(2). Example - Non-Diatonic (Minor 4 and 5 chord) Progression:

Another example of a common non-diatonic harmony application are shifting to lowered 3rd 6th and 7th steps and then setting their qualities as reversed.

In the key of, “C” two of the most common of these "Quality Shift" chords would turn out to be “Eb and Bb” major chords replacing the diatonic, “Em and “B dim” chords.

Notice the quality flipped from "Minor" and "Diminished" to "Major" and they each dropped down a half-step as well.

Learn these basic chord patterns for "Eb," and "Bb Major."

Another popular shifted chord relates to the diatonic "A Minor." This chord will also act in a similar way to what we saw happen with the "E Minor." The quality shifts from minor to major and it drops by way of a half-step.

Learn this basic chord pattern for "Ab Major."

Here’s an example of how these chords could come together within a chord progression…

(3). Example - Non-Diatonic (shifted 3rd, 6th, 7th chords) Progression:

these examples only scratch the surface of what is possible with non-diatonic application. If you’d like to learn more about how to zero in on specific areas of guitar playing that apply specialized concepts like this one, join my web-site as a free member and start taking a look at my “Guitar” Courses.

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