C Major

Chord Workshop is a versatile chord-chart generator for a range of fretted instruments in standard or custom tunings, and for right- or left-handed players. Chord selection is broken down first by key, then by chord root and finally by chord quality or type. A unique three-stage algorithm then generates a comprehensive set of alternative voice-patterns at any position on the fretboard.

Charts may be displayed in a variety of styles and sizes, and selected charts copied to the Sequence Area. The whole sequence may then be displayed in a separate web-page, suitable for printing. Chord Workshop is flexible but, above all, it is fast; tight JavaScript code, executed locally, generates virtually instant charts.

The current chart is defined by the two columns of controls, below left. Menus are dynamic and inter-dependent; a new selection in one menu can affect others further down the line, and always results in a new chart. The horizontal row of five buttons, below right, enables charts to be collected in the Sequence Area. The whole sequence may then be copied to a new, plain web-page suitable for printing.

Instrument determines the number of strings and how each is tuned.

A new instrument initiates a new set of voice patterns.
Lefty reverses the standard tuning for left-handed players.

Custom tunings can be added for any instrument: select Custom from the Instrument menu to launch the Alternative Tuning pop-up window. The previously selected instrument is used as the starting point for the new tuning. If your instrument is not shown in the menu, select one with the required number of strings or stages, see table right, prior to Custom.

Custom tunings may either be named explicitly in the Alternative Tuning pop-up or given a default name comprising their open-string note names, reading left to right. For example, to add DADGAD tuning, select Guitar, then Custom to launch the Alternative Tuning pop-up. Lower the tuning of strings 1, 2 and 6 by two semi-tones each, then click OK. DADGAD tuning will be fully integrated into Chord Workshop until the page is refreshed.

key legend

Key determines the key-signature shown right, the scale, and chord-root menu.

Mode determines the keynote menu.
Keynote determines the scale, key-signature and chord-root menu.

The key provides the context for a given chord, but it is not essential to know it when choosing a chord-root; so why bother? Key selection is provided in Chord Workshop because it simplifies chord-root selection and makes it musically relevant. Mode selection restricts the choice of keynote (to one of fifteen), and the keynote further restricts the choice of chord-root to one of seven scale notes.

You may prefer to ignore the key and set your desired chord root independently but this restricts the choice of chord-root. The work around is to select your desired chord-root in the keynote menu.

There are in principal twenty-one possible chord roots comprising seven notes A to G, with each one either flat, natural or sharp. However, most of these are unlikely to be played together since chord roots in an harmonic progression are invariably scale notes, as defined by the key. So we first select a key, as that would usually be known, and then build our chord sequence with roots selected from the relevant scale notes.

Keys are usually either Major or Minor, but in general may be any one of seven distinct diatonic modes: Ionian (or Major), Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian (or Minor), and Locrian. The structure of diatonic scales is such that, in any mode, only fifteen distinct key signatures are possible comprising up to seven sharps or flats. The scales associated with the six remaining keys would necessarily include either double sharps or double flats since music notation demands that each scale note is assigned a unique letter A to G.

A change in mode causes a switch to the relative key with the same key signature. For example C Major would switch to A Minor, D Dorian etc.

Each of the fifteen key signatures is associated with a different keynote depending on the mode. When a new mode is selected, Chord Workshop generates a new keynote menu from the appropriate keys, and initially selects the relative key to leave the key signature unchanged.

Enharmonic note names are usually restricted to the five 'black' notes. In that case any key that includes B♯, C♭, E♯ or F♭ should be avoided. The number of distinct key signatures is thus reduced to eleven containing up to five sharps or flats. In a Major scale, the keys to avoid are C♭, G♭, F♯, C♯ and in a Minor scale, avoid A♭m, E♭m, D♯m, A♯m. As the keynote menu is arranged in Circle of Fifths order, from seven flats through to seven sharps, the keys to avoid in any mode are always the first and last two entries in the keynote menu.

Chord selects the chord root and its quality or type.

Chords types are sub-divided into four groups to facilitate easy selection. A new Root or Group resets the Type with the appropriate triad stem: maj, min or dim, and initiates a new set of voice-patterns.

The Australian group Axis of Awesome accompany a medley of 36 popular songs with the same generic progression I-V-vi-IV.

Basic chords are triads that comprise three scale-tones in intervals of a third. These always sound good together in any key. The two types of diatonic third, major (III) and minor (iii), combine to give four types of triad: major (III + iii), minor (iii + III), diminished (iii + iii) and augmented (III + III).

Triads built on each of the seven scale-tones in a major key are respectively: maj, min, min, maj, maj, min and dim, often written generically as I, ii, iii, IV, V, vi and vii˚. Certain generic progressions are used repeatedly in popular music, albeit in different keys and tempos.

A tri-chord is any three notes, not necessarily in intervals of a third.

The basic triads are often altered, to give a progression an edge, by including a non-scale tone. For example: a minor triad (ii, iii or vi) might be changed to major triad (II, III or VI respectively), a dominant (V) triad changed to a dominant seventh (V7), or any basic triad altered to a non-tertian tri-chord: sus2, sus4 or ♭5.

The latter three tri-chords are added to the four basic triads to form the extended triad group menu. The extended triad group is then essentially repeated in the other groups with an added (minor) seventh, major seventh or major sixth respectively.

Fretboard specifies the area of the fretboard occupied by the voice-pattern.

A new position (fret) or span initiates a new set of voice patterns.

Chord chart libraries are usually restricted to a standard set of open-chord voice-patterns that occupy the first few frets on the fretboard. In contrast, Chord Workshop can determine every possible voice-pattern at any position on the fret-board, from fret one to fret twelve.

The span, initially set to four frets, may be varied between two and seven frets. Increasing the span will usually generate extra patterns although these may not be useful if the stretch becomes too great.

Voice selects a voice-pattern from the currently generated set.

Fret numbers are represented in voice-patterns by digits and letters 0, 1, 2, .. 8, 9, a, b, c, .. etc.

A new voice-pattern selection initiates a new chord chart. Open strings are allowed in generated patterns only when Open is checked.

Chord Workshop employs a unique three-stage algorithm to generate every possible voice-pattern in accordance with the control settings. If the full chord cannot be constructed, a null pattern is generated with all strings shown muted. Fewer voice-patterns will be generated at a given position and span if open strings are not allowed.

Chart controls the current chart's appearance and size.

Charts follow the usual conventions: strings are drawn vertically to avoid confusion with Tablature and the first fingered fret is numbered when the top nut is not shown. Notes sounded by each string are identified along the base, and all charts span at least four frets, even if the displayed pattern spans less.

Fretted notes are indicated by the symbol . Unfretted strings are labelled either 'o' for open or 'x' for mute. A chart's appearance can also be modified as follows:

Strings are numbered from right to left but usually increase in pitch from left to right.
  • Barré: if enabled and there are no open strings, notes on the first fingered fret are linked with the Barré symbol .
  • Highlight: either root notes or 'duplicate' notes may be highlighted using a hollow symbol . Duplicate, in this context, means that the complete chord can be voiced on lower numbered stages with strings of higher pitch.
  • Size: allows the chart to be displayed in a variety of sizes with no loss of graphic quality.

The voice-pattern generator includes every stage or string so the complete pattern may be difficult to play on an instrument with more than four stages. Enabling Barré can reduce the required number of fingered frets. To the same end, duplicate notes can be viewed as alternatives to provide different sounds using incomplete patterns, especially when finger picking.

Sequence Area is used to store copies of selected charts.

Adding charts of mixed size to the Sequence Area may provide a challenge to your browser's layout engine.

The Sequence Area, immediately below the control panels, is used to collect selected charts in a complete chord progression or sequence. The area is controlled by the five buttons above the current chart, and expands as charts are added. The whole sequence can be copied to a new, plain web-page suitable for printing.

Copy adds the current chart to the Sequence Area.

Key Chords is a quick and dirty way to display all of the chords in the current key. Charts are added to the Sequence Area, voice-pattern № 1, for each of the seven scale-tones.

Clear Last deletes the last chart from the Sequence Area.

A useful work-around is to dump IE.

Clear All deletes all charts from the Sequence Area.

Launch creates a new web-page with the contents of the Sequence Area displayed on a plain background (alas not with IE9 which launches a blank web-page).

Chart Panel
Chord Chart

Example: The Three Chord Trick

The three diatonic major triads, built on major scale degrees I (tonic), IV (sub-dominant) and V (dominant), are sufficient to accompany most popular songs in any key. In the key of A major, the major triads are Amaj, Dmaj and Emaj, among the more simple open chords on a guitar.

It goes like this:
the fourth, the fifth,
the minor fall and the major lift.
The baffled king composing, Hallelujah

Leonard Cohen

To generate charts for these chords, begin by selecting keynote 'A' leaving everything else unchanged. It only remains to select chord roots I, IV and V. The first scale degree (A) and chord type (maj) are selected automatically. Two possible voice patterns emerge at fret position 1. Choose pattern № 1 as it is the simplest, then click Copy to add the current chart to the Sequence Area and we are done with the tonic.

Complete the sequence by selecting the fourth (D) from the Root menu, then the fifth (E), saving voice pattern № 1 in each case. These patterns happen to be the standard open voicings for Amaj, Dmaj and Emaj on a guitar. String 6 (low E) is often shown mute for Amaj, to ensure that the chord root is the bass-note, as are strings 6 (F♯) and 5 (A) for Dmaj.

Finally click Launch to create a new, plain web-page that displays the three chord charts Amaj, Dmaj and Emaj.

Let me count the ways

With apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, just how many ways are there to play a given chord? One thing for sure is that Chord Workshop will find them all.

The table alongside shows the number of voice-patterns generated for each of the seven key-chords at every position on the fretboard, from fret 1 to fret 12. The footer gives the total for each chord. The table is re-calculated as required for each new selection in the control-panel.

Whatever the current set of selections are, it is clear from the table that there are usually quite a lot of ways to play any sequence of chords. No one can possibly know them all. The point is that Chord Workshop allows you to explore different ways of playing a progression rather than having to settle for standard finger-patterns. Perhaps you would like it easier to play, may be more convenient chord-changes, perhaps further up the neck, a different sound, a different tuning or maybe just plain different. If it can be done, Chord Workshop can show you how.

Sharps or flats?

Notes sounded by each string are identified along the base of each chord chart. Not all chord charts do this, but those that do must decide whether to show enharmonic notes as sharps or flats. Pre-drawn charts usually choose according to the chord root and type, as if it was the key. Sharp major keys such as G, D, A, E, B etc. would use sharps, while flat major keys such as F, B♭, E♭ etc. would use flats.

Double sharps and flats are seldom used in practice, and would be more likely to confuse rather than enlighten.

Chord charts generated in web apps often allow the user to choose either all sharps or all flats, but Chord Workshop automatically selects individual enharmonic notes as either sharp or flat according to their context.

Since chords generally comprise thirds, fifths, sevenths etc., flat thirds, fifths, sevenths and ninths (seconds) are preferred over sharp seconds, fourths, sixths and unisons, and sharp fifths are preferred over flat sixths. Chord Workshop allows B♯, E♯, C♭ and F♭ as the preferred note where appropriate, but not double sharps or flats. The latter can occur in certain exotic keys where the preference would sharpen an already sharp note, or flatten an already flat one.

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