Chord formulas will let you make any chord using the major scale as a basis. By learning this simple process you will always be able to figure out what notes are in a particular chord using simple math.
Knowing the notes in a chord is also the way you play lead guitar, without this knowledge your solos are going to be limited to pentatonic scales.
Gaining this knowledge will enable you to play more than just the standard chords. If a song has 4 measures of a C chord in it you will be able to add some chord variations in the rhythm by understanding chord structure.
Chord Making Tool
We use the major scale as a tool for making chords. Some chords will come from the minor scales but we can still use the major scale to make them.
This tool will let you make any chord for any key as long as you know the major scale anf guitar fretboard.
Chord Formula Basics
All of the major scale notes also have numbers that go with them like below.
All notes are a whole step(2 frets) apart except for 3 to 4, 7 to 8, 10 to 11 and 14 to 15(not shown) which are a half step(1 fret) apart.
Symbols and Numbers
This symbol means sharp ♯ 1 fret or note higher.
This symbol stands for flat ♭ 1 fret or note lower.
Just Reference the numbers for any major scale.
Here is a list of all major scales and the note numbers.
Some notes have two numbers 2/9, 4/11 and 6/13.
Major Scales List
Triad Chords – Three Note Chords
These three note chords are the basis for all the other chords.
Suspended chords suspend or replace the 3rd of a chord. They usually don’t last long and resolve to the original chord.
Suspended chords are neither major or minor because there is no 3rd.
Suspended 2nd Chords
Suspended 4th Chords
The next few chords are suspended slash chords. These chords contain a suspended note and an extra note with it. They are shown by a slash.
Suspended 4 note Chords
Slash Chords – Chord Formulas
The following chords are called slash chords because of the slash in their symbol not their sound.
The slash can tell you to add a note or it can tell you what bass note is wanted like C/G or C/v. This would mean you play a C chord with a G or the 5th(v) in the bass or lowest note.
Suspended 2/6 Chords
This chord may also be called an F add 9 chord. This is another case of plurality in chord names.
Suspended 4/9 Chord
Three other suspended chord formulas have a dominant 7th in them.
7th Suspended 2 Chord
This is also a G minor with a C bass note.
7th Suspended 4 Chord
7th Suspended 4/6 Chord
When you have this many notes in a chord it is common to leave out non essential notes.
In this chord you need the 7, 4 and 6. These notes give the chord its character or overall sound.
Even the root can be considered non essential because the root is implied or a bass player will usually play the root.
Major 6th Chords
Major 6th chords are also minor 7th chords. A C 6th(C-E-G-A) is equal to an Am7(A-C-E-G) chord.
This chord can be made by combining a major chord(C-E-G) and a minor chord a 6th higher(A-C-E) or add a 6th to a major chord. I’m just giving you different ways of thinking about these chords.
You can interchange these chords most of the time depending on the song. A C6 usually means they want a C bass and a Am7 usually means they want an A bass but nothing is written in stone. Try switching them on different songs and see what you think.
Just think a minor 3rd back from a 6th chord and think a minor 3rd up from a minor 7th chord.
Minor 6th Chords
This chord can be an F 9th chord(F-A-C-E3♭-G without a root.
Major Add 9 ChordsChord Formulas
You can hear this chord in the Rolling Stones song “Waiting on a Friend”
Jimi Hendrix uses this chord in Castles Made of Sand. Start this on the 1st fret and move it up 3 frets at a time. Similar to the diminished chord sound raised in minor 3rds.
Minor Add 9 Chords
Yes this is just one note away from the chord above but it is a totally different sound.
You can hear this chord in Creams song Badge with Eric Clapton. You have to play it on the 5th fret though it’s an Am add9. It’s right after the line “…layed on my table”
Badge – mp3
Badge – Sheet Music
(Opens New Window)
Major 7th Chords
This chord is a C major(C-E-G) and an E minor(E-G-B) put together
Any chord that has maj in the name will have a major 7th note in it.
If it has a plain 7 the 7th will be one semitone or fret lower than a major 7th.
With the major 7th chord forms the root has to be before the maj7th otherwise it will sound bad
This chord just gets a plain 7 after the note name.
This chord is made from a major chord(C-E-G) and a Diminished Chord(E-G-B♭).
This is good to know for improvising, you can use the diminished scale along with the major scale, mixolydian and the pentatonic scales.
Minor 7th Chords
This is also an E♭ 6th chord
Minor 7th Flat 5 Chords
This Chord is also an E♭m6 and A♭9th no root.
Major 7/6 Chords
This is a short version of a major 13th chord but there isn’t any 9th(D) so it’s not really a major 13th.
The 6th and 13th notes are the same.
This chord might give you a problem getting your 4th finger to lay down right but if you just keep at it and relax your hand you will get it.
Minor 7th/11th Chords
The reason this chord isn’t a minor 11th chord is because there is no 9 in it. By rights an 11th chord must have a 9th in it although you may see versions of minor 11th chords without it.
This chord could also be an E♭6/9(E♭-G-B♭-C-F) chord also. Think relative major.
The relative minor of a major scale is a 6th above or a minor 3rd behind. C major = A minor relative minor and vice-versa.
The scale created from the 6th note of the major scale is a natural minor scale containing the same notes as the major scale just starting from a different point, also called the Aeolian mode.
If this is confusing to you check out the page on music intervals to learn more.
Major 9th Chords
Minor 9th Chords
Minor 9th chords can replace a major 7th chord and vice-versa. The Cm9(C-E♭-G-B♭-D) can be replaced with an E♭maj7(E♭-G-B♭-D). It contains all the notes of the Cm9 except for the root
To remember how to replace them for a minor 9th think major 7th; a minor third(3 frets) up.
To remember how to replace them for a major 7th think minor 9th; minor third(3 frets) down.
Major 13th Chords
With this many notes you will see a lot of shorter chord forms keeping the 3, 7 and 13. This is unavoidable as we only have 6 strings two of which have the same notes. Octaves don’t count in chord making theory. An E is an E no matter what octave it’s in. Your ears are what tells you it’s right.
Minor 11th Chords
Any chord built from the 5th note of the major scale is considered to be a dominant chord. That is the name of that note. Notes in the major scale have names and numbers.
There are no major 7th chords built from this note only dominant 7th’s which are 1/2 semitone or one fret down from a major 7th.
All dominant chords have a major 3rd and a flatted 7th in them.
There are no dominant minor chords. The minor 7th chord isn’t a dominant chord because it has a flatted 7th in it.
All of these chords are C roots which puts you in the key of F. C is the 5th note of the F scale.
This chord was also above after the major 7th. I put it here to introduce you to the dominant chords.
This is the main chord for many funky rhythm sounds in music, using muted and none muted rhythm combinations.
This chord might take a little practice. The tip of your index finger will play the E on the 4th string while the side of it will play the F on the 1st string.
Keep at it until you get clear notes on all strings. This is a movable chord with the root on the 5th string.
This is a movable form and is sometimes combined with the C9 chord in funky rhythms because you only have to move your 4th finger on and off the note.
Altered chords are chords that have had their 5th, 9th or 11th note altered.
By altered we mean raised or flatted by 1/2 tone or 1 fret for us guitar players.
I have a separate page on altered chords right below