Please can you help me describe the transition between these two sets of notes in theoretical terms:


(For clarity, on the guitar: open D string, g string 2nd fret, b string 3rd fret, e string 5th fret)


(Guitar: d string 2nd fret, open g string, open b string, e string 3rd fret)

DADA isn't a chord as only two notes but could be described with as an interval: a perfect fifth (D to A). EGBG could be described as an Em chord (EGB) but that's missing the important high G note.

How do I describe these two sets of notes and transition between them? Does playing these two chords in different orders change the key? (Minor v Major)

  • 3
    Can you explain what you mean by "missing the important high G note"? EGB is an E minor chord regardless of what order the notes come in or whether they are low or high. Jun 22, 2018 at 15:06
  • EGBG, with two Gs sounds a little different.. adds that element of unison for example. Wasn't sure whether I just consider both EGB and EGBG the same chord or not
    Jun 22, 2018 at 15:17
  • 3
    Yes, the doubling of notes in a chord does not change what kind of chord it is. EGEEBGEBBEG is still an E minor chord. Jun 22, 2018 at 15:20
  • 3
    I believe what you are describing here are different "voicings" of the same chord. For example, the Em chord played in the open position on a guitar equates to EBEGBE. See, for example guitarplayer.com
    – gamma
    Jun 22, 2018 at 17:20

2 Answers 2


Taking D and A notes as a sort of D chord, which could be just about construed as D maj (more chance of hearing an F# harmonic than an F), then the transition between the two could be I>ii, as the other chord is definitely Em.

However, playing the Em first, followed by the D could put things into Em key, as Em and D both emanate from that key.i>VII would be RNs.

So, either scenario works, but adding a 3rd chord would clarify things. With an A(7) chord, it fits firmly into D, whereas with a B(7)it fits firmly into Em.

Incidentally, there is no 'important high note'. As Todd says, three notes such as 1,3,5 will constitute a triad chord, no matter what order, and no matter how many different 1s, 3s and 5s are played. Where did that idea come from?

  • Thanks for the insight! Just personally - I thought playing two Gs in the chord an octave apart, made for a different sound when moving between the two shapes. Was keen to explore the interpretation in theory (clearly I'm not very knowledgeable on the theory front!)
    Jun 22, 2018 at 15:44
  • so 1s, 3s, 5s and Octaves.. I didn't realise that the octave just gets considered as 1.
    Jun 22, 2018 at 15:48
  • 1
    Since it's the same name as the 1, it simplifies things! Although, for chords which have extra notes, 9, 11, 13, those numbers represent notes above '1' - (or '8').
    – Tim
    Jun 22, 2018 at 16:44
  • Actually I would think the other way around. D > Em alone sounds more like VIIb > Im, and Em > D, like a plagal cadency IIm > I.
    – coconochao
    Jun 22, 2018 at 19:40
  • @DVCITIS It sounds different because the voicing and voice leading are very different. That doesn't make it a different chord, but you're right in that the same chord with a very different voicing can generate a radically different effect in a musical context :) Also take note that we usually place extra importance on what note is the bass note of the chord, and sometimes this could cause us to choose a different chord name (but not always!)
    – Some_Guy
    Jun 24, 2018 at 11:18

It's ambiguous. Here are merely some of the diatonic possibilities:

Em: VII i

D: I ii

G: V vi

C: ii iii

Am iv v

The reason why these are the first possibilities is twofold: First, the D-A interval first suggests a D chord. It's literally a D5 chord, which is a D chord but is ambiguous in terms of flavor - major or minor. Depending on context, D-A could be heard as an Asus4 chord, but we don't have any reason to hear that in this case.

The second factor is the E minor chord. That is not ambiguous at all - it's an E minor chord. Since it is a major second away from the likely D chord, it tends to imply the D chord is major, because the only diatonic pair of minor chords a major second apart are ii - iii in a major key or iv v in a minor key, which are less common, but possible.

Since there isn't a firmly established key implied by just these two chords, playing additional chords wouldn't necessarily be heard as a key change. Changing the order in which you play these two chords doesn't do very much at all. It's still ambiguous, you would just reverse the order of all the possible interpretations.

  • Thanks for the response. My question wasn't about playing the notes back and forth it was about where things ended.
    Jun 22, 2018 at 15:20
  • 1
    @DVCITIS Changing the order doesn't change the "key" when there is no key in the first place. Playing the E minor chord first might make some listeners hear a ii I progression in D major, but it's going to be ambiguous in both directions. Jun 22, 2018 at 15:22

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