Common note, uncommon music

By Max Canonaco

Sometimes there are principles in music that are very general and simple to use, to create different musical results. Today we will see a way to instantly find different solutions for your compositions, on a harmonic level. This means we will focus on how groups of notes work together to create a certain atmosphere. To do this I have chosen a general principle that is useful to see in music as a guitar player, as a player in general and most of all as a musician. I am talking about the principle of the common note.

This principle is very simple: you want to first focus on a very simple rule to create your next riff. You will simply ONLY choose chords that contain a certain note. This note you choose may be a tonic, a third, a fifth, or whatever grade of the chord.

Let us choose B as a common note. B must be in ALL of the chords you choose. You should do your best to find those chords in the same area of the neck first (if you are a guitar player), or in the same area of your instrument, as much as possible. This will benefit you as a player and as a musician. Please do not worry about the key you are in, doing this.

In the following chart, there are chord examples containing B as any possible grade. There are other possibilities of course, those are only examples. To use the chords in the chart, working on a common note, you do not need to focus on what key you are in. But if you want a certain chord to sound as the most important at a certain point of your progression, begin with that chord (this is not always necessary) and finish on that chord using a perfect cadence. An example is Gmaj ending on Cmaj7, being Cmaj7 the most important chord and the final chord of the progression. Another example is G# dim. ending on Am9, being Am9 the most important chord.


Grades à


1 b2/b9 2/9 b3 3 4/11 b5/#4/


5 #5/b6/






B major B       D     F#        
B minor B     Db       F#        
B diminished B     Db     F          
B augmented B       D       F## (G)      
G# minor G#     B       D#        
G# diminished G#     B     D          
G major G       B     D        
G augmented G       B       D#      
E minor E     G       B        
E major E       G#     B        
Eb augmented Eb       G       B      
C major 7th C       E     G       B
C# minor 7th C#     E       G     B  
C#7 C#       E#(F)     G#     B  
C# semidim. 7th C#     E     G       B  
C dim. 7th * C     Eb     Gb     B    
C augm. 7th C       E       G#     B
A sus 2 A   B         E        
A add 9 A   B   C#     E        
A major 9th A   B   C#     E       G#
A minor 9th A   B C       E     G  
Am add9 A   B C       E        
F# sus 4 F#         B   C#        
F sus #4 F           B C        
F add #11 F       A   B C        
A#m add b9 A# B   C#       E#(F)        
D6 / D add 13 D       F#     A   B    
D minor 6th/

Dm add13

D     F       A   B    
D# min. b6/

D#m add b13

D#     F#       A# B      

*Use this chord to change to the following chords/keys: Db, Dbm, E, Em, G, Gm, C, Cm.

Of course, you do not need to fully understand all those names in the chart to use those chords right now. Neither you need to understand what name has a certain combination or chord you use in a certain context right now. Those chords will work well together in most cases, BECAUSE they have a note in common: this is the only thing that matters, together with what you want to express. There is no limit. The only thing I suggest you is: try as many combinations as you can, and begin to use those that sound good to you. Try to focus on the combinations that sound new to you, compared to other music you created or heard. Then make a list of progressions that express a certain sensation, emotion or atmosphere to you. Use the notes in the chart to create a possible fingering for you on the area of the instrument you want to use. If you are a guitar player, and you want to be able to translate the same fingering in another key, please avoid open chords.

Also, I suggest you to use those chords not only for strumming, but also for your arpeggios and for your melodies, using all the techniques you know. This will benefit you greatly.

You want to be able to use the common note principle in your compositions, also to be able to use the same melody on every chord of the progression, or to be able to use different scales on the same progression. To do this, simply start and finish your melody with the common note (B in this case), but to use different scales be sure that the scale contains the tonic, the third and the fifth of chord you are playing on (unless you are not an expert at using scales in uncommon ways). The chart above already suggests you what scales or modes you can use, based on your current knowledge.

I hope that this article will help you to quickly find new ideas for your musical creations. If you work thinking more about the common note you will surely find uncommon and interesting ways to use chords and harmony.


About the author: Max Canonaco is a professional guitar player and guitar instructor, based in Locarno, Switzerland. If you are looking for  guitar lessons in Locarno, please be sure to contact Max.


© 2017, Massimo Canonaco