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Guitar Chord TheoryChord Making Made Easy

Guitar chord theory is a study on how to make chords from scales. They are basically made by combining every other note in a scale. However understanding intervals will help with larger and altered chords.

Understanding chord theory will save you a lot of time memorizing separate chords. When you see how they are made you only have to remember one formula for each chord.

Chords come from scales. There are a lot of different scales but the major and minor scales are the main sources for chords.

The difference between a major and minor chord is only one note. The minor chord has a minor 3rd and the major chord has a major 3rd in it. Simple.

There are four main types of chords.

Major

Minor

Augmented

Diminished

Each of these especially the major and minor chords have a lot of related chords.

You have most likely seen C7, Dm7 and other chord symbols. Learning how to make them will give you chords all over the guitar neck.

Chord Basics
Understanding Music Intervals

Intervals are the distance between two notes. Most chords are built using major and minor 3rds stacked on top of each other. This is for the root position chord which is where we start and learn the notes and degrees of each chord.

I suggest you open these next few links in a new tab or window to make it easy to switch back and forth. They may help you understand guitar chord theory as I explain it.

It seems complicated at first but it is really just simple math. The better you know the guitar fretboard the easier it will be.

Music Intervals

Guitar Fretboard

Learning where all the notes are will make playing and learning new songs much easier. You won’t be searching for the notes you’ll know where they are.

Guitar fretboard

Major Scale Primer

This is a good page to get an understanding of the major scale and chord building.

Major Scale Primer

How to Read Chords

Here is a page that explains the chord symbols like Cma7, Dm7 or Cma7+5.

You will see these in most music written for piano. learning what they mean is fairly easy.

How to Read Guitar Chords

How to Read Guitar Chord Diagrams

This page will explain the chord diagrams for those of you who are new to guitar diagrams.

Reading Chord Diagrams

Guitar Chord Theory

Chord Types

Here are chords that get used quite a bit in everyday music of all types.

Slash Chords

Sounds like heavy metal chords doesn’t it? It’s actually because of the / in the chord name like name like C/G. This means a C major chord with a G bass note.

About Slash Chords

Suspended Chords

These chords suspend the third of a chord with a second or a fourth note. Usually for a couple beats and then they resolve back to the third.

More on Suspended Chords

Sixth Chords

These chords are popular. A major 6th chord is also a minor 7th chord. C6 is equal to an Am7 chord.

Learn about Sixth Chords

Minor 6th Chords

These don’t get as much play time as the major 6th but they have a couple different names and uses.

More on Minor 6th Chords

The 7th Chords

The following link will tell you all about the different 7th chords.

All 7th Chords

Major 7th Chords

This is a nice mellow chord. It’s made from a major and a minor triad combined.

Maj 7th Chords

Dominant 7th Chords

These chords come from the 5th note of the major and minor scales.

Dominant 7th Chords

Diminished 7th Chords

This is a unique chord. It repeats itself every 3rd fret and has some other uses.

Diminished 7th Theory

Altered Chords

These are the chords with the really confusing names like C7♯5♭9

Altered Chords Explained

Chord Formulas

Here is a page that explains how to make chords using the major scale as a tool.

Chord Formulas

The Chord Types
Guitar Chord Theory

Major

Minor

Diminished

Augmented

The Major Chords
Guitar Chord Theory

The major chords are formed on the I, IV and V degrees of the major scale.

The Minor chords are formed from the ii, iii and vi notes.

The vii is a diminished chord when it is a triad, a three note chord.

Major chord degrees are written in upper class I, IV and V. This format will be used in many but not all guitar lesson books.

Minor Chords and the diminished, because it has a minor third as it’s first interval are written in lower case ii, iii, vi and vii.

A major chord is composed of a major third and a minor third interval.

  • C to E is a Major 3rd
  • E to G is a Minor 3rd

This makes a C chord from the I note, it skips the D and the F.

  • F to A is a Major 3rd
  • A to C is a Minor 3rd

This makes an F chord from the IV note, it skips the G and the B.

  • G to B is a Major 3rd
  • B to D is a Minor 3rd

This makes a G chord from the V note, it skips the A and the C.

This is how all major triads are made in the major scale.

The Minor Chords
Guitar Chord Theory

A minor chord is made from a minor 3rd interval and a major 3rd interval. The opposite of the major chord the minor interval is first and the major one is second.

The minor chords are made from the ii, iii and vi notes of the major scale.

  • D to F is a minor 3rd interval
  • F to A is a major 3rd interval

This makes a D minor chord from the ii note.

  • E to G is a minor 3rd interval
  • G to B is a major 3rd interval

This makes an E minor chord from the iii note.

  • A to C is a minor 3rd interval
  • C to E is a major 3rd interval

This makes an A minor chord from the vi note.

The Diminished Chord – vii

The diminished chord is made from two minor intervals.

  • B to D is a minor 3rd interval
  • D to F is a minor 3rd interval

This makes a B dim(diminished) chord. It is also written B°

The Augmented Chord

The augmented chord is made from two major intervals

This chord actually comes from the minor scales, it is a major chord with a raised 5th

  • C to E is a major 3rd interval
  • E to G♯ is a major 3rd interval

Major Scale with Numbers
Guitar Chord Theory

Below is the major scale written twice. This is where chords get those numbers you see in chord symbols.

C

D

E

F

G

A

B

C

D

E

F

G

A

B

C

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

You will see the numbers 2, 4, 6, 7, 9, 11 and 13 used with chords

The number 2 and 9 are the same note only an octave apart.

The number 4 and 11 are the same note only an octave apart.

The number 6 and 13 are the same note only an octave apart.

Just add 7 to a lower number or subtract 7 from a higher number

Inverting Chord Tones
Guitar Chord Theory

Inverting chord tones is simply placing the lower note one octave higher.

All the chords above came from the root note.

These different ways of playing the same chord are called inversions

For the C major chord you have three notes.

There are as many inversions to a chord as there are notes.

The C chord Inversions
Guitar Chord Theory

  • C-E-G is the root position
  • E-G-C is the 1st inversion
  • G-C-E is the 2nd inversion

The intervals change as the notes are moved

  • C-E-G is a major 3rd + a minor 3rd intervals – root position
  • E-G-C is a minor 3rd interval + a 4th interval – 1st inversion
  • G-C-E is a 4th interval + a major 3rd interval – 2nd inversion

These are not the only way to play these chords. Any combination containing all three notes is a C chord. You can have multiple notes, and will on most major and minor chords.

In other words a 1st position C chord could be C E G C E. Two C’s and two E’s the second C and E are one octave higher then the first one.