Part Three

ii, iii, and vi Chords, The Simple Map

Concept #5 - ii, iii, and vi

The ii, iii, and vi chords are minor chords built on notes 2, 3, and 6 of the scale. They have a different sound than the three major chords we have already discussed. This adds many new possibilities to your music.

First, let's fill in the rest of the table (shown at the right).

Now answer this question. In the key of D, can you name the three major chords and the three minor chords?

Answer: the three major chords (I, IV, and V) are D, G, and A, and the three minor chords (ii, iii, and vi) are E minor, F# minor, and B minor.

What do the new chords look like? In the right column, you will see one way each of these chords can be played, first on a keyboard and then on a guitar.

Concept #6 - The Simple Map

This is where the big question begins to emerge. We now have six chords available. How do they flow from one to another?

There are two answers. The simple answer goes like this. It doesn't matter which chord comes next as long as it sounds good. In some ways, this answer is correct. All six chords come from the same scale, and they work together well enough to just bounce from one to another. But there is a better answer, though it takes a little longer to understand.

The better answer is this one. Chords are flowing through the song, but they are also flowing into the minds of your listeners. To the listener, chords have an effect. Some chords feel stable and strong while others feel like they're leaning or going somewhere. Some chords create tension, waiting for another chord to come along and relax the tension. Sometimes a chord is meant to surprise the listener. Sometimes a chord is intended to soothe. And there is also a kind of guessing game going on. The audience is wondering what chord comes next. Sometimes they guess right. Sometimes you throw them a curve.

I came across this analogy once: you want to throw enough curves to keep your audience guessing, but not so many that they start striking out. The listeners feel better when they "hear" chords coming, and guess right, but not all the time. They want to be surprised some of the time.

What I'm going to show you next is a map. The map has one very simple purpose. It shows you chord sequences that your audience will tend to "guess in advance." These chord sequences sound natural, like walking down the stairs, with no sudden jumps or unexpected turns. A lot of music is created with simple sequences like these.

Concept #7 - Using the Simple Map

To use the map, remember two things. First, you may jump anywhere from I. Second, if a chord appears at more than one location, there is an "imaginary tunnel" connecting both places, so you can move freely from one location to the other.

With the map you can do exercises like:

  1. 1.Write a long "loop," starting with the I chord. Jump from I to wherever you like. Then work your way back to I by following the arrows.

  2. 2.Write several three or four chord sequences. Start anywhere on the map. Follow the arrows.

Here are some possible answers.
I - iii - vi - IV - ii - V - I is a "loop."
It starts and ends on I.
IV - V - I is a three-chord sequence.
vi - ii - V - I is a four-chord sequence.
ii - V - iii - vi is another four-chord sequence.
You can find a lot more.

An Observation

It doesn’t necessarily take a lot of chords to create the background for a song. There are quite a number of songs that repeat the sequence I - V - vi - IV over and over. I’ve heard some songs that used only I and V, or I and ii. And we’ve already mentioned that a lot of songs have been written with just I, IV, and V.

Remember the Map’s Purpose

The Map doesn't write a song for you, but it helps you find natural, smooth-sounding chord patterns. If you experiment with these natural-sounding patterns, you will automatically start using them in your music. When you do, your listeners will relate well to these sections. This is good for them. They want to "hear" chord changes coming in advance and guess right, not all the time, but a good percentage of the time.

So here's your homework. See how many short progressions you can create. Start anywhere. Then follow the arrows.

Review of Part Three

We began this section discussing the three minor chords. We call them ii, iii, and vi. These chords come from the same scale as I, IV, and V. All six chords work well together. We created a table with the six chords in twelve major keys.

Though you may use any chord in any order if it sounds good, we recognize that our listeners are part of the process, and they need to hear some natural-sounding patterns and some surprises. In order to generate chord sequences that sound smooth and natural, we introduced The Simple Map. Following the arrows gives us many short phrases that work well.

This way to Part Four.

The Em Chord

The F#m Chord

The Bm Chord

On a Guitar




Music Tools for People
An Interactive, Playable Version of 
The Big Map (for Windows computers)

Allows you to hear and see the chords
presented in The Big Map.

Free Trial available to test on your computer.
When buying the Full Version, choose your own price.


Copyright 1998 - 2019 Stephen Mugglin

Permission is given to make not-for-profit copies of this material.

The materials presented in Section 1 (Parts 1-12) are available as
a downloadable PDF eBook. Click here for more information.
First Steps in Keyboard PDF eBook Series is available. Learn to play 
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Learning and Remembering The Circle of Fifths 
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