Chords

Chords are groups of three or more tones that blend harmoniously when sounded together. The basic building blocks of chords are triads. A triad consist of a root, its third and fifth.

In common harmony chords are built from stacks of thirds -i.e. superimposed intervals of major and minor triads. Now, because every other note in a (diatonic) scale is an interval of thirds, chords can be view as generated from scales.

The C Major Scale (Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Ti-Do) is these notes: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C.

The first triad build from every other note in the C Major Scale is C-E-G, which is the C Major Chord. It is a major chord because the interval between the root (C) and third (E) is a major third. The next triad, D-F-A, is a D Minor Chord. The interval between D and F is a minor third. Similarly, the interval between E and G is a minor third, so the E-G-B stack is an E Minor Chord.

In principle a chords may comprise an infinite number of separate tones. The harmoniousness of chords vary from the consonant - like major and minor triads - to the highly dissonant chords. This is because even though intervals of thirds are considered consonant, combininations of thirds create dissonant intervals. A combination of two minor thirds create a diminished triad, and a combination of two major thirds is an augmented triad, both of which is considered dissonant.

A chord consist of a single and given set of tones. Looking at triads for instance, is easy to define by simple table:

Major Chords
Interval 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
G Major Scale G A B C D E F#
F Major Scale F G A Bb C D E
C Major Scale C D E F G A B
D Major Scale D E Gb G A B C#
A Major Scale A B Dd D E F# G#
E Major Scale E Gb Ab A B C# D#
B Major Scale B Db Eb E F# G# A#
Minor Chords
Interval 1 2 3b 4 5 6 7
G Minor Scale G A Bb C D E F#
F Minor Scale F G Ab Bb C D E
C Minor Scale C D Eb F G A B
D Minor Scale D E F G A B C#
A Minor Scale A B C D E F# G#
E Minor Scale E F# G A B C# D#
B Minor Scale B C# D E F# G# A#

How to construct chords

Chord charts are useful, but you needed to learn how to build chord for yourself.

First you need a more general way to talk about tones in a scale. You can get that by numbering the notes of the major scale.

Scale C D E F G A B
Scale degrees number 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Scale degree name tonic supertonic mediant subdominant dominant submediant subtonic or leading tone

Here's the C Major Scale on the fretboard, by the numbers.

 
C Major Scale on the guitar fretboard 
3|-4-|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|-7-|-R-|---|-2-|---|-3-|-4-|---|-5-|---|-6-|   
7|-R-|---|-2-|---|-3-|-4-|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|-7-|-R-|---|-2-|---|-3-|   
5|---|-6-|---|-7-|-R-|---|-2-|---|-3-|-4-|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|-7-|-R-|   
2|---|-3-|-4-|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|-7-|-R-|---|-2-|---|-3-|-4-|---|-5-|   
6|---|-7-|-R-|---|-2-|---|-3-|-4-|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|-7-|-R-|---|-2-|   
3|-4-|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|-7-|-R-|---|-2-|---|-3-|-4-|---|-5-|---|-6-| 
           |       |       |       |           |           |       | 
           3       5       7       9           12          15      17  

If you use b's for in between tones, you have a precise and abstract way of referring to all of the 12 chromatic tones. The tone between tones 1 (C, tonic) and 2 (D, supertonic) is a b2 (C# or Db).

Now let's define a Minor Chords on the guitar fretboard from these numbers. A minor chord consist of a Root note 1 (R), a minor third, and major third: R-b3-5.

||---|---|-5-|---|---|---|---|-R-|---|---|b3-|---|---|---|-5-|---|---|   
||-R-|---|---|b3-|---|---|---|-5-|---|---|---|---|-R-|---|---|b3-|---|   
5|---|---|---|---|-R-|---|---|b3-|---|---|---|-5-|---|---|---|---|-R-|   
||b3-|---|---|---|-5-|---|---|---|---|-R-|---|---|b3-|---|---|---|-5-|   
||---|---|-R-|---|---|b3-|---|---|---|-5-|---|---|---|---|-R-|---|---| 
||---|---|-5-|---|---|---|---|-R-|---|---|b3-|---|---|---|-5-|---|---| 
           |       |       |       |           |           |       | 
           3       5       7       9           12          15      17 

Notice the distance in frets between the notes of the chord. There's 3 frets between 1(R) and b3. That's a minor third. There are 4 frets between b3 and 5. Thats's a major third. There are 7 frets between R and 5. In the pattern above, the root note is a C. So what you get from it is Cm chords.

But since this pattern is abstract, it is movable. What happens if you move it up two frets?

||b3-|---|---|---|-5-|---|---|---|---|-R-|---|---|b3-|---|---|---|-5-| 
||---|---|-R-|---|---|b3-|---|---|---|-5-|---|---|---|---|-R-|---|---| 
||---|-5-|---|---|---|---|-R-|---|---|b3-|---|---|---|-5-|---|---|---| 
R|---|---|b3-|---|---|---|-5-|---|---|---|---|-R-|---|---|b3-|---|---| 
5|---|---|---|---|-R-|---|---|b3-|---|---|---|-5-|---|---|---|---|-R-| 
||b3-|---|---|---|-5-|---|---|---|---|-R-|---|---|b3-|---|---|---|-5-| 
           |       |       |       |           |           |       |  
           3       5       7       9           12          15      17 

The root note is on a D. What minor chords you generate from it depends on where you put the root note.

Exercise: Practice playing both major triads (R-3-5) and minor triads (R-b3-5) all over the fretboard, to get this into your fingers.

Forget about chord charts. If you don't know how to play a Dm chord, then you need to get your basics together. Without that you can become a slave to chords charts for the rest of your guitar playing life. When you understanding the basics, you recognize how stupid and unfruitfull that is. By getting your numbers together, you get the freedom to see possiblilities rather than the restrictions of chords charts.

Chords notation

There are several ways to textually notate chords. The easiest way is the chord written as a one liner listing the fret numbers from the sixth to the first string like this:

Examle chords from a [[Tom Jobim]] style bossa nova tune 
 
Bbm7:  6,x,6,6,x,x 
A7:    5,x,5,6,x,x 
G#m11: 4,x,4,4,2,x 
G7b5:  3,x,3,4,2,x 

Here's a graphical presentation of chords found in news groups

 
    Bbm7       D7        GM7      Bb7/6   EbM7        Am9       D9  
   x_x___    x____x    _x__xx    x__oxx    _x__xx    xx____    xx____  
 5 ||||||  3 ||||o|  3 o|||||  1 |o||||  1 ||o|||  5 ||ooo|  4 ||o|||  
   o|oo||    ||o|||    ||oo||    ||||||    ||||||    ||||||    |||ooo  
   ||||||    |o|o||    ||||||    ||o|||    o||o||    |||||o    ||||||  
     /         /         /         /-.     /=_/_/      /         /  
 
  note durations:  
      /        quarter note  
      /-       eighth note        /-.        dotted eighth  
      /=       sixteenth note  
      /_/_/_/  tied notes  
 

But chord can be fretted, fingered, voiced, inversed, and notes can be repeated (doubled), in a number of ways on a guitar, that's not as neatly definable. Let's take an example. A simple three-note chord, or triad like G Minor can be constructed using any combination of

G, Bb and D.

  • Inversions:
    • Root position: G-Bb-D
    • First inversion: Bb-D-G
    • Second inversion: D-G-Bb
  • fingered: any
E||-----------|-----------|----------|--------0--|-----0--3-|--0--3--8--| 
B||-----------|-----------|--------1-|-----1-----|--1-------|-----------| 
G||-----------|--------0--|-----0----|--0--------|----------|-----------| 
D||--------2--|-----2-----|--2-------|-----------|----------|-----------| 
A||-----3-----|--3--------|----------|-----------|----------|-----------| 
E||--3--------|-----------|----------|-----------|----------|-----------| 
 
 
E||--8--3-----|--3--------|-----------|-----------|-----------|-----------| 
B||--------5--|-----5-----|--5--------|-----------|-----------|-----------| 
G||-----------|--------5--|-----5-----|--5--------|-----------|-----------| 
D||-----------|-----------|--------5--|-----5-----|--5--------|-----------| 
A||-----------|-----------|-----------|--------7--|-----7-----|--7--------| 
E||-----------|-----------|-----------|-----------|--------8--|-----8--3--| 
 
 
E||------------|-------------|--------------|-------------|------------|--------8--| 
B||------------|-------------|--------------|-------------|---------8--|-----8-----| 
G||------------|-------------|--------------|----------9--|------9-----|--9--------| 
D||------------|-------------|----------10--|------10-----|--10--------|-----------| 
A||------------|---------10--|------10------|--10---------|------------|-----------| 
E||--3--8--12--|--8--12------|--12----------|-------------|------------|-----------| 
 
 
 
E||-----8--12--|--8--12--15--|--15--12------|--12--------|------------|------------| 
B||--8---------|-------------|----------13--|-----13-----|--13--------|------------| 
G||------------|-------------|--------------|--------12--|-----12-----|--12--------| 
D||------------|-------------|--------------|------------|--------14--|-----14-----| 
A||------------|-------------|--------------|------------|------------|--------15--| 
E||------------|-------------|--------------|------------|------------|------------| 
 
 
E||--------------|--------------|-------------| 
B||--------------|--------------|-------------| 
G||--------------|--------------|-------------| 
D||--14----------|--------------|-------------| 
A||------15------|--15----------|-------------| 
E||----------15--|------15--12--|--15--12--8--| 

Dominant seventh chords
that is seventh chords built on the dominant (read: the V chord) of a major scale.

b7

Dominant 7th Chords

Major triad with a minor seventh.

  • Dominant 7th: C7
  • Augmented dominant seventh: C7+, C9+, C13+
  • Dominant seventh with a flat 9: C7b9, C13b9, C7b9b13, C7b9#11, C13b9#11, C7b9#11b13
  • Dominant seventh with a 9th: C9, C9b13, C9#11,
  • Dominant seventh with a sharp 9th: C7#9, C13#9, C7#9b13
  • Dominant seventh with sharp 11ths: C7#11, C13#11, C7#11b13, C13#11, C9#11b13, C9#11, C13#9#11, C7#9#11b13
  • Flath fifth: C7b5, C13b5, C7b5b13, C9b5, C9b5b13, C7b5b9, C13b5b9, C7b5b9b13, C7b5#9, C13b5#9, C7b5#9b13
  • Sharp fifth: C7#5, C13#5, C7#5#11, C13#5#11, C9#5, C9#5#11, C7#5b9, C13#5b9, C7#5b9#11, C13#5b9#11, C7#5#9, C13#5#9#11, C7#5#9#11, C13#5#

7
7sus
9
9sus
11
13
IV/V (Bb/C)
7(b5)
9(b5)
ii7/V (Gm7/C)
9(#11)
13(#11)
7(b9)
11(b9)
13(b9)
7(#9)
13(#9)
7(#9b9)
7(b9b5)
7+
9+
7+(#9)
7+(b9)
13(#11b9)
alt
7sus(b9)

#11

See also

Jazz Chords

  • Learn the fundamentals of jazz chords, by writer and musician Dix Bruce at Acoustic GUITAR. You'll learn to play a twelve-bar blues, in three different keys, using typical jazz chord voicings.
  • Dan Coy's simplified Swing Chords: “The first time I remember hearing this type of rhythm guitar playing was on Django Reinhardt records. Django's band used several guitarist to churn out those driving four-to-the-bar rhythms. Later, I discoverd Freddie Green groovin' hard in Count Basie's big band, using some of the same types of chords. One of the great things about this type of chord form, is it's harmonic simplicity. When you're playing with other chordal instruments, or in a big band, these voicings are good for staying out of trouble. Another wonderful feature is that “swing chords” are really easy to play.”
  • Chords
    • Chord House - online guitar chords and scales. Detailed guitar finger settings for any chord or scale you can think of, for the standard or any alternative tuning, both for left and right-handed players.
    • chord house ::: guitar room (easy) - online guitar chords Quickly get detailed finger settings for 1,000+ guitar chords, all clearly displayed in the graphical manner familiar from music books. You can even print out your own selection of chords.
    • chord theory
      • Lesson- What Chord Names Mean - Understand confusing chord names, by guitarist David Hamburger. Acoustic Acoustic Guitar Central offers free guitar lessons from beginner to advanced. Lessons include complete tablature, explanations, and audio examples.
  • Chord voicing
    • Slash Chords, aka. altered bass chords. “C/G” is a C major chord (C-E-G) with G as the bass, pronounced “C over G”, In other words G is used as the lowest note instead of C.
      • How to use slash chords - Learn how to build and use slash chords. Two types: Inversion of the chord itself, this makes the bass note (notated on the right of the slash) the 3rd, 5th or 7th of the chord. In the other type of slash chord, the bass note functions as the actual root of the chord. There is a gray area where these two types of slash chords overlap.

Embellishment

Common notations C D Eb E F Gb G G# A Bb B Db D F A
C 1 3 5
Cm, C-, Cmin 1 b3 5
Cdim, Co, Cmb5, C-(b5) 1 b3 b5
Cdim7, Co7 1 b3 b5 bb7
Cm7b5, Cø 1 b3 b5 b7
C7b5, C7-5 1 3 b5 b7
Caug, C+5, C+ 1 3 #5
C5 1 5
C7 1 3 5 b7
Cm7 1 b3 5 b7
Cmaj7, CΔ7, CM 1 3 5 7
Cm/maj7 1 b3 5 7
Csus4 1 4 5
Csus2 12 5
Csus7, C7sus4 1 4 5 b7
C7sus2 12 5 b7
Cadd2 12 3 5
Cadd9 1 3 5 9
Cadd4 1 34 5
C6 1 3 5 6
Cm6 1 b3 5 6
C6/9 1 3 5 6 9
C9 1 3 5 b7 9
Cm9 1 b3 5 b7 9
Cmaj9 1 3 5 7 9
C11 1 3 5 b7 9 11
Cm11 1 b3 5 b7 9 11
Cmaj11 1 3 5 7 9 11
C13 1 3 5 b7 9 1113
Cm13 1 b3 5 b7 9 1113
Cm13b9, Cm13-9 1 b3 5 b7 9 1113
Cmaj13 1 3 5 7 9 1113
C7#9, C7+9 1 3 5 b7 #9
C7b9, C7-9 1 3 5 b7 b9
C7#5, C7+5, C7+1 3 #5 b7

Slash chords