Finding the chords of a song

When I started playing the piano, I had absolutely no clue about chords. Infact, I used to wonder how do people play using both their hands, when I struggle to play with just one. One fine morning, I felt it's about time I learn chords. I was so enthusiastic that I even placed holds on a couple of books in the library that teach you how to play chords in less than a week! Read exhaustively on chords, rhythmic patterns and stuff, only to realise its too much for me. Since I'm just a "bathroom singer" kind of keyboard player :), I thought I'll play chords as and how I like. I sat down for about two days, read some material, the basics I should say and devised a chord-determination algorithm. Surprisingly, it yields good results most of the time. And that's why I decided to share it with my visitors.
Here you go!
Step 1: Identify the notes of the song corresponding to the tune. The song will include only those chords which are combinations of these notes.
Step 2: Analyse the song, line-by-line. Divide each line of the song into logical segments, call each segment a measure. There's more to a measure of a song that what is mentioned here. For simplicity, I'm calling a segment a measure. A measure can typically include 3-6 notes of the tune. Now the question is, where do you set the break points inorder to get measures of a line of song? Here's the simple rule of thumb: Follow your intuition! How I look at it is, I set the breakpoint at the transition of the song from one scale to another. Now, "scale" is yet another technical term like "measure". Pls note that all these terms are used in a very general sense in my context.

Lets take an example. "Yeh mera dil" from Don.
Yeh mera dil pyaar ka deewana
------------ -------- -------
Deewana deewana pyaar ka parvana
------- ------- -------- -------
Aata hai mujhko pyaar mein jaljaana
--------------- ---------- --------
Listen to the song keeping an eye on the segmentation above. Sounds right?
I play the first line ("Yeh mera dil pyaar ka deewana") using only three chords. The original song might include many more, but the tune can be contained in three chords. I guess I'm sure of that.
Step 3: Having identified the measures, the next task is to map each measure to a chord. The rule for this is, the chord that correctly maps to the measure should include as many notes of the measure as possible. For instance, look at this:

Yeh mera dil
D   E D    E C
The chords C and Aminor include both the notes E & C. But how ironical, I play Dminor chord for this measure. An exception in the very beginning! Well, its like this. Generally, the note with which the song begins determines the "scale" of the song. Most of the chords would be centered around this note.
Try playing this measure with C, Aminor and Dminor. You'll see the difference yourself.
Here's what I do. I have this simple chords table which I drafted out.

Step 3.1: Given a measure, using the table above, I identify all possible chords (only major, minor and flat) that include the notes of the measure. I then set the "accompaniment" of my keyboard to ON, and play the notes of the measure with each chord. The chord that perfectly carries the tune of the measure is the one I go with. Somewhat a brute force approach, but for a layman like me, it sure works.
Step 3.2: Once you get a rough idea of the chords for a line (like "yeh mera dil pyaar ka deewana"), play them in sequence without playing the notes. If you can identify the tune by playing just the chords, your chords are right! Otherwise, use your judgement and tweak the chord combination by reconsidering those chords that you've discarded in step 3.1 above.

Repeat steps 3.1 and 3.2 for each line of the song.

Step 4: That's the end of the algorithm!
Powered by intuition, Driven by sharp ears (Quotation courtesy: Infosys :D)


Post a Comment

Dhaval said...

You're doing a really great job through this blog. Please keep it up! I loved the way you've explained everything.

Manjusha said...

Thanks Dhaval!

Nilesh said...

Me and my wife, we are beginner in learning the piano. while searching on Internet, I came across your blog site. I have read almost 80 percent of your blog. I was reading to the Chord Algorithm stuff on your site and I could not understand (may be its high for me!). Basically I don't understand how to compose a line of any music, I mean which are right keys to play. At the moment I am just stealing notes from sites and paying in my free time.
I appreciate your time in this blog. Would you please eloborate on Chord Algorithm stuff, as this seems to be very useful and something I wish to understand the first...

Thank you

Arindam Mukherjee said...

Nice job. Try reading about Circles of Fifth. It's not a very difficult theory. You first play the top-line melody of a song - single notes. Next based on what notes you play, you determine which scale it fits - major or minor (to begin with). There might be a few deviant notes. Finally, corresponding to each note of a particular scale - there is a unique chord. For example for the C Major scale - the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, B - and the corresponding chords are C, Dm, Em, F, G or G7, Am, Bm7b5 (b5 = flat 5). This can be transposed to any scale. Likewise for minor scale. So if you want to play the C major scale on chords, you'd play these chords. If a song on C major has the corresponding notes, you'd play these chords on the appropriate notes.

Happy playing!

Manjusha said...

@ Nilesh,

Thank you for your comment. As I said, the way I find the chords is more by intuition, rather than theory. Let me read more about music, and then I'll post a better algorithm.

Manjusha said...

@ Arindam,

Hey.. How are you doing? Your comment came as a pleasant surprise to me. I'll surely read the Circles of Fifth when I get time.

Arindam Mukherjee said...

The good part is, you kind of worked out most of it. I am alright, I keep playing a lot (guitar and bass, not piano). Keep in touch.

Isaac said...

Hi Manjusha,
This is Isaac (I was your batch mate in AU). I came across your blog randomly and I find it interesting
Your explanation was good. I should say your intuition towards music is impressive. Even though I myself am not an expert, but thought could give you some tips :). Start exploring 7th Chords too (Generally you play them in the end). Try to get an idea of counters (like C family consists of C-F-G, Am-Dm-Em respectively are the counter chords for that family, what I mean is Instead of playing 'C' chord for a long time you can play Am as a surrogate, similarly substitutes for F and G are Dm and Em respectively) also when try to figure out chords to a new tune, you should always play the song along. It's a step by step process. Try to figure out Chords line by line; start paying more attention to the bass guitar in the back ground that will help you out in figuring out chords. I hope my feedback helps. All the Very best, I can say very soon you'll be an expert.


B.V said...


Its great effort. As a begginer I am also facing the same problem.
In fact i was trying for a song "Chaand sifarish" from "Fanaa" where I found that the song starts from G G# C but the chord is C minor. So you are right its all by intuition. Mr. Arindam and Issacs theories can be understood if I can reach these basic first. I will be happy if any body can tell me how to use the standard chord progression in Indian songs.


B.V. Jagdish

Syed Afzaluddin said...

Xcellent work mam.. keep it up.. WIll need more of ur help .. Plz

Nasar Khot said...


Its really good job that ur doing. I was looking for notes and I got ur blog. its really helpful for beginner like me...keep it up

can you please post some more new songs...I am looking for "Tuhi to mera dost hai" From Yuvraaj Movie. I hope others also will ask for same. pls pls pls.....its request

Mandar said...

you r right but its hectic to find out chords from table rather i use simple method find the key note of melody example C then it can com under 3 basic triads Cmaj(1st note),Amin(3rd note),Fmaj(5th note)..and 1 of them fits certainly

Manjusha said...

@ Mandar,

Rightly said. As a beginner, I used to refer to the table but now, I pretty much know which chords include a particular note.

Shashank Balaji said...

This is a very Nice blog... Hat's off for your efforts and sharing your hard learned tips...

sach said...

hii,,i can't understand.i m new & i m starting just to play this piano.
can anyone plz tell me to play this ..send me full tutorials,,& tell me how can i play it...i hve no idea..

lakj said...

Good job . I can actually play the song with right hand, But do not know how to compose chords. Also i am not clear as to what is Cm etc. Can someone help me. Can you explain the table you have again please

pbsl said...

thanks for sharing this site. you can download lots of ebook from here

anshuman said...

hi Manjusha

this is Dr. anshuman of my favourite pass time is to play my piano..I own a professional keyboard of Roland nd hav been playing it since 2 years which includes the semi classics and modern film songs..i wish to share my experience with this community ...and yeah my congrats for the great work on this site.

sameer said...

thnx maam for ur nic lessons. it is nic n helpful. i play keyboard in a band here in india. keep posting. dont stop.

dhru said...

ur simply superb
thanks a lot
ur explanation s simple n easy to understand
thank u so much


Viney said...

i love you for this !!! are you on orkut... i will show u a video which i learnt from your blog... i m a begginer.


anmol kumar verma said... u gave a tutorial for chords....give one to find out the notes of i song.....actually....i can find chords but it's difficult for me to find out the note....plz bhai .....publish a tutorial for find out the notes....plz

anmol kumar verma said... u gave a tutorial for chords....give one to find out the notes of i song.....actually....i can find chords but it's difficult for me to find out the note....plz bhai .....publish a tutorial for find out the notes....plz

Sujata said...

Hi Manjusha, thanks a lots! your tips are really helpful. For others who are beginner can learn about chords/notes from this site:

het said...

hi , we live in doha,qatar gulf country. my son is learning piano-hindi sargam . on internet most of the songs with western notes. me what stands for sa in hindi to western note A-H. send conversion table if possible.reply me on he wants to participate in indpendence day me....neha(mother)

bphilip said...

The way I do is to basically find out which scale the song you are playing is, and then find the chords that matches the song in that scale. It is simple and Easy. For Example, if you figure out the song is in Cmajor, the chord that will fit are C,F,G and Amin. If you know how to play the keyboard, it is much easier to figure out the chords.

Mihir said...

Nijamaga..chala bagundi akka... super.. inka fast ga good songs post cheste i hope every one will feels happy

keshab said...

Great work! Thank you for spending your time for others to learn the piano.
thank you again


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