Basic Chord Structures - Guitar Lesson 3
Written by philip   
Thursday, 26 November 2009 08:57

 

If you are acquainted with basic scale theory, then chord building is just one step further.

 

 

[In this lesson it might help you to zoom in (normaly Ctrl+ or Ctrl+scroll mouse up) to see tiny simbols better]

 

 

A major chord consists of any combination of notes 1, 3 and 5 of the major scale built on the root-note of that chord.  The root-note of any chord is indicated by the name of that cord, e.g. the root note of F7 is F (where F=1), or the root note of D9 is D (where D=1).

 

 

Let’s start with a C Major Chord.  A Major Chord on the guitar will consist of any combination of notes 1, 3 and 5.  Since the scale of C consists of the notes C (1), D (2), E (3), F (4), G (5), A (6) and B (7), a C Major Chord will consist of any combination of notes C, E and G, where the lowest note of the chord is preferably a C – the root note.  Remember this principle when you build chords.  It normally sounds better and richer if the root note of your chord is played as the lowest note of the chord.  Let’s revisit the C scale quickly:

 

 

Note where notes 1, 3 and 5 lie.  Note no. 8 in the above picture is a C again, and would count as 1 in the chord formula.  The open E (6th string) could be played as is, since E is note 3 in the scale of C.  The C Major chord will therefore look like this:

X    3    2    0    1    0
( X = do not play      0 = open string      no 1-13 = fret number)
Notes:     X     C     E     G     C     E
Fingering (where thumb = 1… little finger = 5):  X   4   3   0   2   0

 


Now let’s look at the E Chord.  It will also have the same basic formula (1, 3 and 5), but in the scale of E,

E = 1
F# = 2
G# = 3
A = 4
B = 5
C# = 6
D# = 7.

 

 

So, an E Major chord will consist of E, G# and B (1, 3 and 5), and will look like this:

0     2     2     1     0     0
( X = do not play      0 = open string      no 1-13 = fret number)
Notes:     E     B     E     G# B     E
Fingering (where thumb = 1… little finger = 5):  0   4   5   3   0   0

[Do not play fingers 342, since we want to pave  the way for bar chords]

 

 

Let’s look at the A Major Chord.  Again we must look for notes 1, 3 and 5 in the scale of A.  That will be A, C# and E.  It will look like this:


X     0     2     2     2     0
( X = do not play      0 = open string      no 1-13 = fret number)
Notes:     X     A     E     A     C# E
Fingering (where thumb = 1… little finger = 5):  X   0   3   4   5   0

[You could play fingers 234, but the transition to bar chords will be easier if you play with fingers 345.  Some can play all 3 with finger 5 only, leaving the bottom note open.  If you can, this is best]

 

 

These three chord formations (C-type, E-type and A type chords) are the easiest chords that can work as bar chords or moveable shapes.  E.g. if you look at the E Major Chord above, and move every note up by one bar, you get F Major:


1     3     3     2     1     1
( X = do not play      0 = open string      no 1-13 = fret number)
Notes:     F     C     F     A     C     F
Fingering (where thumb = 1… little finger = 5):  2   4   5   3   2   2

 

 

In the same way as the E Chord can be moved up a fret to play an F, the C-Type Chord and the A type chord can be played higher up the neck of the guitar for a different chord, while your second finger presses down all the strings at the back of the chord simultaneously.

 

 

A Minor chord consists of any combination of notes 1, b3 (flattened 3'd) and 5 of the major scale built on the root-note of that chord.  Em (E minor) would have an E, G (not G#) and a B.  G# is the 3d note of the Major scale. The b3 will therefore be one semitone (fret) lower – a G:


0     2     2     0     0     0
( X = do not play      0 = open string      no 1-13 = fret number)
Notes:     E     B     E     G     B     E
Fingering (where thumb = 1… little finger = 5):  0   4   5   0   0   0


See how the third note (G) of the E Major Chord has been lowered 1 semitone (fret), to become open.  If you understand the basic principle how major and minor chords with different root notes are formed, you will be able to play any major and minor chord in any key.

 

 

Visit our COMPLETE GUITAR CHORD PAGE to learn each major and minor chord.

 

 

Let's now move on to extended chords.  You don't need to know all the chords to move on to the next lesson.  Some of these chords are used in fairly advanced jazz.  You might want to bookmark this page and use it as basic reference for all chords.

In the above example, the numbers 1 through 13 indicate notes in the scale of C on the piano.  This numeration is used as reference for all the C-chords – not chords in the key of C, but C-type chords, like C, Cm C7, C7b9, etc.  The same principle is applied to all chord types of a certain key signature.  For example, for the construction of all E-chords, the scale of E major is used as reference.  For all E-chords then, the following numeration would apply:
E (1)   F# (2)   G# (3)   A (4)   B (5)   C# (6)   D# (7)   F# (9)   A (11)   C# (13)

 


The 9th, 11th and 13th notes are essentially the same as the 2nd, 4th and 6th notes respectively, but:
A 9th chord is distinguished from a 2nd chord, for it includes a 7th or a b7.
An 11th chord is distinguished from a 4th chord (suspended), for it includes a 7th or a b7, as well as a 9th.
A 13th chord is distinguished from a 6th chord, for it includes a 7th or a b7, a 9th and in some cases an 11th (but not necessarily).

 

 

Major formulas:

Major     1   3   5
7             1   3   5   b7
9             1   3   5   b7   9
11           1   3   5   b7   9   11
13           1   3   5   b7   9   (11)   13 (11th normally omitted)

maj7       1   3   5   7
maj9       1   3   5   7   9
maj11     1   3   5   7   9   11
maj13     1   3   5   7   9   (11)   13 (11th normally omitted)

 

 

Minor Formulas:

m            1   b3   5
m7          1   b3   5   b7
m9          1   b3   5   b7   9
m11        1   b3   5   b7   9   11
m13        1   b3   5   b7   9   (11)   13 (11th normally omitted)

min7       1   b3   5   7
min9       1   b3   5   7   9
min11     1   b3   5   7   9   11
min13     1   b3   5   7   9   (11)   13   (11th normally omitted)


If you understand these basic chord structures, you should be able to work out any chord.

 

 

Take time to understand this...

 

 

See if you can visualize where the notes lie on the neck of the guitar.

 

On the first string:

E (open)
G (third fret)
A (fifth fret)
B (seventh fret)

 

On the second string:

A (open)
B (second fret)
C (third fret)
D (fifth fret)

etc.

 

 

Try and memorize the basic moveable shapes, especially E, Em moveable shape, the A and Am moveable Shape, the C Major moveable shape.  The same shape can be applied to 7’ths, m7’s etc.

E.g.

 

or

 


See  if you can work out the chord formations for other Minors and Major Chords.

 

 

Use our GUITAR CHORD PAGE for an extensive list of Chords with diagrams.

 

 

Some exercises:


Of what notes would a D9 consist of?

 

Hover to see the answer.

 


Of what notes would a Am13 consist of?

 

Hover to see the answer.

 

 

Other formulas:

sus (or sus4)       1   4   5 (3d occurs occasionally in jazz)
6                             1   3   6
m6                         1   b3   6
aug (or #5)            1   3   #5 (also occurs in combination with other altered notes, e.g. aug7 or 7#5 = 1   3   #5   b7)
dim                        1 b3 b5 bb7 (minor thirds, e.g. Cdim = C  D# F# A)

 

All other altered notes are normally indicated, e.g.:

Add9 or 2               1   3   5   9 (or 2)
7 b9                         1   3   5   b7   b9
7#5 b9                    1   3   #5   b7   b9
13 b5 b9                  1   3   b5   b7   b9   (11)   13   (11th normally omitted)
7 b9#9#11 b13        1   3   5   b7   b9   #9   #11   b13

 

 

Alternative notation:

Long chord descriptions become clumsy (last example), and many jazz musicians prefer shorthand for some of the longer chords:

 

7Alt instead of 7 b9#9#11 b13 (some notes are omitted occasionally)
Phryg (Phrygian chord) instead of sus b9
M instead of maj7
Some prefer lower case for a minor chord (e.g. c instead of Cm)
Some prefer + instead of # (e.g. +5 in stead of #5)
Some prefer - instead of b (e.g. m-5 in stead of m b5)
Some prefer ø instead of dim
Some prefer ½dim7 or ø7 instead of 7 b5

 

 

Use our GUITAR CHORD PAGE for an extensive list of Chords with diagrams.

 

 


Advance to:

 

Lesson 4 - Learn to Play Two Songs

 

 

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