Guitar chord theory is studying 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.
There are four main types of chords major, minor, augmented and 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.
Understanding Music Intervals – Chord Basics
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.
Major Scale Primer
Intervals are used for scales and chords
The guitar is tuned in 4ths except for the 3rd(G) to 2nd(B) string which is a major 3rd
You may find these pages useful as well as the above links.
How to Read Guitar Chords
The Chord Types – Guitar Chord Theory
There are four main chord types
The Major Chords
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
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 an 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.
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
- 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.
This is the beginning of guitar chord theory. There many more chords and aspects to learn.
I have fretboard training software on my computer that I bought several years ago.
It will get you reading music and knowing where the notes are on the guitar at the same time in a fairly short time if you are willing to do some work
This software won’t become obsolete after you learn the neck. You can then use it to get you playing faster and more accurate.
I should use it more often myself because it’s not just knowing the notes but also the speed that you can recognize and play notes and the different positions.
You also learn to read music while you learn where the notes are on the guitar.
It takes the boredom out of memorizing notes.
Use it for 10 – 20 minutes a day and in no time you will have the fretboard down pat.
Once you know the fretboard you can use the software to increase your playing speed.
It’s very good inexpensive software with a lot of features.
Most important is it gives you a starting point and an organized method of learning the guitar fretboard
Check it out for yourself Absolute Fretboard
This will also work for the bass guitar, up to a six string bass
You will also learn to read the bass clef. Sheet music with bass lines for a real bass not piano is becoming more popular. Learning to read music is always a plus for a musician.
All you have to do is set the software for your bass guitar and you’re ready to go
Learning scales all over the neck will make your playing more interesting. It will enable you to create your own bass lines easier
Here’s the link to check it out.
Top of Guitar Chord Theory
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