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How to Read Guitar Chords

When you know how to read guitar chords you’ll think how easy it is. They’re not hard to figure out, it’s a simple system.

I’m not talking about images I means C9, Fmaj7 or D7. These are symbols you will see in sheet music and song books. Without a diagram you need to find out to make these chords.

They also get more complicated like C7b5 E7+9 and can be confusing to the beginner until you understand how chords are made.

The Major Scale and Chords

The major scale is the basis for most chords you will come across. Below is the C major scale and numbers that correspond to the notes. This is where the numbers on those chords you see come from. It’s also how a lot of them are named.

C

D

E

F

G

A

B

C

D

D

F

G

A

B

C

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

Chord Structure
How to Read Guitar Chords

This is the beginning of how to read guitar chords.

Every other note is how chords are made. This amounts to stacking major and minor third intervals together to make chords.

Before you go any farther you should know what intervals are and how we use them for scales and chords.

Take a look at the intervals page.

Every new chord starts with 1 no matter what position it is in the scale.

This makes it easier to remember and build chords using the major scale as a base.

This lets us build chords without being in a particular scale.

This is a chord building tool and has nothing to do with music keys.

Chord Formulas Based on Major Scale

This is the basic scale for how to read guitar chords.

All chord formulas are based on the major scale. The formula for a major triad would be 1 3 5. The formula for a minor chord would be 1 3b 5, the formula for a minor 7th chord would be 1 3b 5 7b.

This is because the major scale has a major 3rd and a major 7th and these notes have to be flatted to make the chord formulas work. This is a tool for making chords and has nothing to do with keys or scales. This is a separate little tool someone thought up a long time ago.

The Third Intervals

These are very important intervals as they tell us if our chord is a major or a minor. That one little note makes a huge difference.

Major Thirds

A major third interval is 4 notes or frets from the first note. If your chord has this in it it’s a major chord.

Major chords are just shown as C or F no major added to it unless it has a major 7th in it. Explained down below.

Minor Thirds

A minor third interval is 3 notes or frets from the first note. If your chord has this in it it’s a minor chord.

Minor chords use a small m after them to tell you it’s minor, like this Am or Dm

7th Intervals and Chords
How to Read Guitar Chords

There are two types of 7th intervals and chords.

A major 7th interval is 11 notes or frets from the first note. If your chord has this it’s a major 7th chord.

A minor 7th interval is 10 notes or frets from the first note. If your chord has this it’s a plain 7th chord.

An easy way to remember these is to think 1 note back from the root or root octave for the major 7th and 2 notes back for the minor 7th.

A Cmaj 7th would have a B in it and a C7 would have a B♭ in it.

Major 7th Chords

The major 7th will have some form of major in the chord symbol name usually maj like this Cmaj7. It it has the maj in it this means it has a major 7th in it. The chord could be Cmaj9, this means it is a 9th chord with a major 7th in it.

Minor 7th Intervals

A minor 7th interval just uses a 7 after the chord name like C7 or Dm7.

Any chord can have a minor 7th interval in it not just minor chords as the name seems to imply.

Here is a page on 7th chords Seventh Chords

If a chord has a “major 3rd interval” in it. It’s a Major Chord It won’t have maj after the note unless it has a “major 7th interval.”

If a chord contains a “minor 3rd interval.” It’s minor. It will have a m after the chord note like Cm.

If a chord has a “minor 7th interval” it there will be a “plain 7” after the chord note.

These are the main rules on how to read guitar chords. The rest of it is just adding notes to basic triads, 3 note chords.

Augmented and Diminished Chords

These two are variations of the major and minor triads. They both vary the fifth of a major or minor chord.

The Augmented Chord
How to Read Guitar Chords

There isn’t an inversion named augmented but the augmented chord is made from two major intervals, 1 to 3 and 3 to 5# or C to E and E to G# for the C+ chord

The + sign or aug is used to show an augmented chord like this C+, also other notes can be targeted like C7+9. This Chord would be built 1 3 5 7b 9#. The notes would be C E G Bb D#.

Let’s Analyze this. The C is the root, the E is a “major 3rd”, the G is the 5th, the 7th is a “minor 7th” and the D# is the augmented 9th.

The Diminished Chord
How to Read Guitar Chords

The Diminished chord is made from two minor 3rd intervals 1 to 3b 5b or C to Eb to Gb.

There are only two diminished chord forms the diminished triad and the diminished 7. The diminished 7th chord is made from 3 minor 3rd intervals.

The Diminished 7th chord has 4 names, one for each note and each chord form repeats itself every 3rd fret apart

The formula would be 1 3b 5b 7bb/6 or C Eb Gb A. This is how it works out using the major chord formula. It’s still called a 7th even though it’s a 6th.

The symbol for the diminished chord is dim or the degree symbol C°.

The list below will sum up how to read most guitar chords.

There’s 1 fret difference between the major 7th and minor 7th.

A major chord will be plain like C or F

Maj – This means the chord will have a major 7th in it

7 – A 7th chord without major means it has a minor 7th

aug or + – It has a sharp 5th or another note raised note

dim or ° – This means a minor 3rd and a flatted 5th

A minor chord will have min or m after the note

A Long Chord Example

The 13th chord has the most notes in it. We also leave many notes out so it can be played.

How to make a 13th Chord

We will use the C scale from above to make a Cmaj13th chord

G – 5th – These 3 notes are a major triad

D – 9th/2nd – supposed to be in a 13th

F – 11th/4th – this note is usually left out of a 13th chord

There are too many note to play so we play the necessary ones.

The root can be eliminated especially if there is a bass player but it makes it harder to remember the chord.

The 3rd is needed to tell the difference from major and minor.

The 5th can be left out of any chord unless it’s altered, sharp or flat

The 7th is like the 3rd when it comes to major and minor. It stays

The 9th should stay in a 13th chord

The 11th goes it gives a suspended 4th sound, not good for a 13th chord.

The 13th has to stay or we’ll have to change the chord name.

This leaves us with C – E – B – D – A . I kept the root for this chord

If you have read the above and know a major scale or two you should be able to understand what these symbols mean even if you don’t know how to play the chord.

You will at least have a basic understanding of what chord type it is, major, minor 7th etc.

Thank You for visiting our How to Read Guitar Chords page.

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Discovering Blues Guitar

Blues guitar is what you hear BB King and Eric Clapton play. It’s a style of music that has influenced many other music styles like Rock and Jazz

The blues music comes from the plantation workers(slaves) in the southern states of the U.S. As slavery was abolished many sought out new places to live. This is what gives Blues music it’s different styles.

Blues music is about having the Blues or depression. Many songs are about cheating spouses or being treated mean by another person.

Blues music from Texas is different than Blues music from the Chicago, Illinois area and the Delta area of Mississippi.

Blues Guitar Playing Styles

Slide Guitar

There are many playing styles but the slide guitar style is very popular. I don’t think they know who started this or if this idea was stolen from Hawaiian music.

Elmore James was one player who’s style is still kept alive by players like Johnny Winters. Elmore James style is also used in books for teaching slide guitar.

Duane Allman from the Allman Brothers was a very popular slide player who died before his time. He didn’t play in a strict blues style but more of a cross between Blues, Rock and Country music.

Dobro Slide

Bonnie Raitt comes to mind for this style. A dobro is a guitar that has resonators built into it.

The resonators are similar to the little metal discs on a tambourine. This give the guitar a unique “steely” kind of sound. Dobro’s are usually tuned to an open tuning like E, D or G.

Finger Style playing

Finger picking is good for blues on an acoustic guitar but can be used on an electric as well.

I believe Robert Johnson played using his fingers although his songs don’t sound like they were finger picked.

David Hamburger is another good acoustic blues slide player

Blues Scales

The Blues scales are essential for playing blues music but they are easy to learn after you understand the Pentatonic scales.

They have a major and a minor version just like the Pentatonic scales and their patterns on the guitar neck are almost identical.

Here is a link to the Blues scales page.

Blues Scales

Three Chord Blues Progression

This progression is the basis for all the different blues progressions. It’s a major chord usually a dominant 7th chord progression. There are many variations to it and it gets used in Rock and Country music which don’t really sound like a blues progressions

Here is a page to learn more about this progression.

Three Chord Blues

Beginner Blues

You have to crawl before you walk. The blues can be very simple or very complcated as with all music.

The page below kind of sums up the above links on scales and progressions giving you a simple progression and scales to use. There is also a video link for beginning blues.

Beginner Blues

Minor Blues Progression

This progression is the minor version of the three chord blues progression. The only difference is the I and IV and sometime V are replaced with minor chords.

These also have many variations. The song “The Thrill is Gone” is one that has a variation from the base progression.

Here is another page with some more info.

Minor Blues Progression

There is a very good product to make learning and how to use pentatonic guitar scales much easier

It has a day by day practice guide for 150 days. You should be pretty good by then

It also has over 270 example licks written in notation and tab with audio so you know your’re playing it right.

You also get detailed instruction on bending and playing hammer ons and pull offs in time with the music and not just random

You will learn how to use the scales not just learn the scale plus lots more on creating ideas for your leads and playing with the chords and not over them

You can also use this course along with your teacher if you are taking guitar lessons.

There is One Catch – You Have to Practice – No Two Ways About It

This is a good course to use and get your basics down before going on to the blues course.

Pentatonic Power

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Blues Guitar

This course has text,audio and video to aid your learning

It tells you how and when to use the major and minor blues scales.

It’s pretty straight forward all you have to do is apply yourself and get the patterns embedded into your brain. Learn and practice little bit every day. This approach works good.

Check out my page on how to practice to make the most of practice time.

It’s written by guitar teacher/performer, Griff Hamlin from southern California. You probably have seen him in Videos around the web. Good guitarist, likes the Stratocaster.

Playing Through the Blues

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How to Play Slide Guitar

Learn how to play slide guitar. This technique will add a whole new sound to your guitar playing even using the same notes as a regular lick, it will sound like a new lick.

Slide guitar will fit into most music styles but it is used in Country, Blues and Rock most often. Slide guitar is often called bottle neck guitar because that’s what they used to use as a guitar slide.

This style started out as a tool for singers to answer their lyrics like background singers or to give that lonesome train whistle sound and mood.

Slide Steel Guitar
How to Play Slide Guitar

Don’t confuse slide guitar with the Steel guitar used in Country music. Steel guitars have more strings and use pedals to change some of the strings pitch. These are usually played sitting down because a Steel guitar is like a guitar neck on a small table some have two necks on one table tuned differently.

Steel guitar players bend notes as they use a slide. We are limited in this area because we can’t bend and slide at the same time however two guitars could get close to this sound with some practice. One sliding and one bending into the same note or notes or harmony notes.

Steel guitars sound really good in Country music. There are some licks we can get on slide guitar that sound like some of the Steel guitar licks.

The Hawaiian slide sound is believed to be the first slide guitar before the Steel and Bottleneck versions.

Dave Mason does a version of his song Every Women using a steel guitar in it.

Slide Guitar Set Up
How to Play Slide Guitar

To be able to play slide guitar you may have to make some changes to your guitar and strings.

You need to use medium to heavy strings to get a good slide sound, thin strings don’t work good.

You might need to adjust the height of your strings so you don’t get fret buzz or banging sounds.

Usually an acoustic guitar can used the way it is without changing things unless you have extra light strings on it.

For electric guitars you need one that can sustain a note which is any guitar nowadays with all the electronic goodies out there.

The preferred guitars by slide players are the National resonator guitar , Gibsons’ Les Paul and the Fenders’ Stratocaster.

Any guitar if set up right will work, the above guitars are preferred by top slide players because they can afford them.

Slide Guitar String Height
How to Play Slide Guitar

If you are going to fret notes as well as play slide you have to set your string height so you can do both.

If you set the strings too high you will have a hard time fretting notes and chords.

If you are going to use the guitar for strictly slide the string height won’t matter. This also limits your playing on this guitar. I like to be able to fret chords and notes as well as play slide.

Another thing you need to check with your strings on electric guitars is that sometimes the strings are set to the curve of the fingerboard. Your strings need to be inline for the slide to hit them all. You can adjust them at the bridge.

Slide Guitar String Gauge
How to Play Slide Guitar

You need to use a medium to heavy gauge string to get clean slide notes. This is true even if you use distortion, you won’t get the right basic sound to distort.

If you are used to extra light strings you may have to get used to this extra pressure you have to use to play notes. Slow down because you won’t be able to play as fast until you get used to them and strengthen your muscles.

You don’t need real heavy strings just heavy enough to give you clean sound on all strings. Every guitar is different so you will have to experiment to get a set you like.

Guitar Slide Types
How to Play Slide Guitar

There are several different types of slides each one gives a different tone.

  • Steel = Loud – Good for Heavy Metal
  • Brass = A little more mellow than Steel
  • Glass = A very Smooth sound
  • Ceramic = A slightly different sound than glass

The best way to find out what you like is to try them. Every guitar is different and will produce different results with various slides.

The slide should be long enough to cover all the strings. It should fit just right, not too tight and not too loose.

Most players use them on the little finger so they can still play chords and notes. This may take a little practice to be able to finger a chord with the slide on your finger. Keep at it and you will get it. Relax your fingers.

How to Hold a Slide
How to Play Slide Guitar

This is better to show you in a short video.

How to Use a Guitar Slide

The picking hand in traditional slide usually plays a steady bass line with the thumb and a melody line with the fingers.

This is a good way to introduce yourself to fingerpicking.

You can use a thumb pick which helps accent the bass notes.

Finger picks are for Steel guitar and Banjo players because the strings are heavier and tuned with more tension.

Pick Picking

You can use a pick also especially with electric slide where someone else is playing the rhythm and you are only playing the lead or fill-ins.

You can hybrid pick too. This is where you play a note with the pick and also play another one or two notes with your fingers. This lets you play just the strings you want like finger picking actually because it’s half finger picking.

Slide Guitar Tunings

Standard Tuning

You usually have your guitar tuned to an open chord when playing slide guitar but not always.

George Harrison from the Beatles played slide in the standard tuning. It’s a good way to add a little something to normal playing without changing tunings.

Standard Tuning Open Chords

In standard tuning the 2, 3 and 4 strings are a major G chord and the 3, 2 and 1 strings are an E minor chord.

Open Tunings

There are two open tunings that are used most of the time. The E tuning and the G tuning.

Both of these tuning can be tuned a whole tone away from E and G. The E can be tuned down to a D tuning and the G tuning can be tuned up a whole tone to the A tuning.

The E Tuning

The E tuning is the same as the E major chord. E B E G♯ B E from heavy E to light E.

The D tuning is the same except one whole tone lower. D A D F♯ A D – 6th string to 1st string.

The G Tuning

This tuning is based on another barre chord type. The tuning is one octave lower than this chord.

The 2, 3 and 4 strings stay the same as the standard tuning. Keep track of the 3rd string to know which chord you are on. I find this easier than trying to remember the A is now G.

The A tuning is one whole tone higher than the G tuning. That’s the only difference except it’s harder on the guitar neck.

Than You for Visiting Our How to Play Slide Guitar Page

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The Circle of 4ths

The circle of 4ths is how chords change in most music. They can be major, minor, 7th’s or anything else. This is how it’s not that hard to remember songs.

The parts of a song that are different than the 4th movements are what makes it different.

If you are reading this page you should know about music intervals the link below will open a new window so you can go back and forth if you need to.

Music Intervals

Not Every Song

Not every song follows this 4th movement but it is quite common.

You will find a lot of songs that use this movement for about 75% of the song.

The chords can go from or to a major, minor, 7th’s or any other chord form. It’s the root note of the chord that follows the circle of 4ths movement.

In a song you will not go through all the cycle of 4ths only one or two changes but it is good to know the whole circle to make it easier to remember chord changes to songs, because this movement will become automatic.

Circle of 4ths

You can start anywhere and follow across the list down to the next row back to your starting point.

Two Five One – Circle of 4ths

Many Jazz songs are based on the ii V I(two-five-one) progression. These are the two five one chords of the major scale.

If you were in C the chords would be Dm7 G7 and Cma7. D to G is a 4th and G to C is a 4th. When you start over from Cma7 to Dm7 it’s a major 2nd. However the Dm7 is also an F6. So it’s technically a 4th.

Major Chords – Minor Chords

Every major chord can become a minor 7th chord by adding a 6th to it. A C6(C-E-G-A) has the same notes as an Am7(A-C-E-G) just with a fifferent bass note.

Also every minor chord can become a major 6th by adding a flatted 7th to it, the reverse of the above.

I to IV Chord Movement

You will find the I chord to the IV chord a very common 4th move. Some songs are based on this move. The Rolling Stones song You Can’t Always Get What You Want is almost entirely I(C) to IV(F).

A two-Five(ii-V) move is a common 4th movement. This one uses a minor as the first chord. In F it would be Gm7 to C. This is the basic chords for Evil Woman by Santana.

If you need to know more about major scale structure this link will open a new window so you can go back and forth if you have to.

Major Scale Primer

Starting Point – Circle of 4ths

When following the 4ths you need to go back to your 1st chord(In Your Mind) and not forward if the songs calls for it.

In other words if you move from C to F this is a 4th forward, C-D-E-F If you went forward again from the F chord it would be a 5th, F-G-A-B-C.

If you move back you are going down a 4th F-E-D-C. You are still going to C but it can cause confusion sometimes as to whether you are moving five notes or four.

The 4ths circle starting with C will take you thru the keys starting with the flat keys.

Understanding the circle of 4ths can be confusing also because some call this back peddling through the circle of 5ths.

The Bottom Line

The main thing is that you know these chord changes on your guitar by heart because they will be in all types of music.

You will find that songs go into and out of this circle in the course of most songs.

Here is a short circle of 4ths progression using major chords


Flash

QuikTime

Windows Media

Circle of 4ths progression using major chords

If you aren’t used to barre chords take your time and get good clean notes on all your notes. Speed is a bi-product of accuracy. You will get faster but get accurate first. Fast and sloppy is not good guitar playing.

Check out the Barre Chords page.

Guitar Barre Chords

You see why it’s a circle it goes right back to the starting note. No matter where you start if you continue you will get back to the first note or chord.

Short Chords

A good way to learn the guitar neck is by learning 3 note chords in the circle of 4ths.

The first ones will be on the 2,3 and 4 strings.

Give Me an R

The R in the clear finger circle stands for root note of the chord. In case you can’t see it too good.

These 3 chord forms will take you through the cycle of 4ths up the neck

Just go from the 1st form to the 2nd, from the 2nd to the 3rd and start over with the 1st but up the neck where your root note is.

In other words after the G chord you would move up to the 5th fret and play the first form, the A would be a C here.

If you want to learn more about triads go to link below.

Learn Your Triads

More Short Chords

Here are 3 more chord forms. These are on the 3rd, 2nd and 1st strings

Just work these chords up the neck like up above.

These triads exist on the other strings 5, 4, 3 and 6, 5, 4 too but these are most useful because of the easier fingerings and higher pitch.

The lower string sets tend to be muddy but you should still learn them for single string picking and arpeggios. Check out the triads page from the above link.

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Minor Blues Scale

Discover the minor blues scale for improvising. This scale is used for blues and rock licks just as much as the minor Pentatonic.

Blues scales are pentatonic scales with an added note between the 4th and 5th note. However this one note changes the whole scale.

Try this scale along with the pentatonic for more feeling.

In other words an A minor scale would be the same as a C major scale and vice versa.

Here are the two scales first the major then the minor.

Here is what they both sound like. They almost sound identical at first listen. Practice being able to tell them apart.

The major scale is built 1-2-3♭-3-5-6

The minor scale is built 1-3♭-4-5♭-5-7

The major and minor blues in A

Minor Blues

Minor Blues Patterns

The R stands for the root of the scale.

To use the minor blues in the same key as the major you have to move it up 3 frets

The diamonds are the Blue Notes. This is what’s different from the major pentatonic.

The minor blue notes are the flatted 5 and 7.

The 6th string is on your left the nut is on the top

The Minor Blues Scale

Major Blues Scales

I hope you found this page useful.