Mike Moxcey ©2005

Chord Theory

In addition to Scales, there are Chords.
Chords are 3 or more different notes played simultaneously. There are actually things called “power chords” which only have two notes.
If you play the notes of a chord separately, it’s called an “arpeggio.” Many melodies are built on arpeggios. Many more songs are built on chords.

One way to think of Chords is that they are built on underlying scales.

The Major Chord

A chord that is just given as a note, such as C or A or Bb, is a major chord.

The Major Chord is built out of the I, III, and V notes of the major scale.
For example, the C chord is built out of the notes: C, E and G.
You can play these together in any fashion you wish: C-E-G or C-G-E or E-C-G or E-G-C or G-E-C or G-C-E.

The different ways you play them are called inversions.

You can also play doubled-up notes.
The guitar plays 6 distinct notes, one on each string, for most chords. The basic C chord on the guitar has the notes: E-C-E-G-C-E.

The E major chord is composed of the notes: E, G#, and B. The basic E chord on the guitar plays those notes in this order: E-B-E-G#-B-E.

As long as you have the three notes, you can play them in any possible combination.
This is true of any chord. As long as you have all the notes (or the important ones), you can play them in any combination you can figure out on your instrument.

The Minor Chord

The Minor Chord is built out of the I, III, and V notes of the minor scale.
It is designated with an “m” after the chord name such as Cm or Am.

Another way to think of this chord is that it is built out of the I, flat-III, and V notes of the major scale. The flatted third is also a major component of the blues scale.

      C major chord: C E  G		A major chord: A C# E
      C minor chord: C Eb G		A minor chord: A C  E
The difference between a major and a minor chord is the flatting of the third note.

The Power Chord

The power chord is made up of only two notes: the 1st and 5th notes of the scale. Because it ignores the third, then it works for either the major or the minor scales and for almost any other scale, hence its usefulness.

It is shown as a 5 after the note such as C5 or A5 (because of the 5th note).

The Seventh Chord (aka. Dominant Seventh)

This is one of the main chords in modern music.
It is marked by a “7” after the chord name such as C7 or A7.

Unlike the previous chords, it is made of four, count ‘em, four notes.
To make the chord, you begin with a regular major chord and add the flatted seventh of the major scale. Thus a C7 chord is composed of the notes: C, E, G, and Bb (in any order whatsoever).

An A7 chord has the notes: A, C#, E, and G.

You will use this chord a lot so learn to make them out of all your regular major chords.

Major Seventh

If you add the regular 7th note instead of the flatted seventh, then you get the Major seventh chord which is shown by adding an “M7” or “Maj7” to the chord.

CM7 notes: C, E, G, B Amaj7 notes: A C# E G#

Minor Seventh

If you add the dominant (flatted) seventh to a minor chord, then you end up with what is called a Minor Seventh (m7) chord such as Am7 or Cm7.

Cm7 notes: C, Eb, G, Bb Am7 notes: A C E G


You can also add the regular, non-flatted seventh to a minor chord to get the Minor-Major chord which has a cooler sounding name than its sound (I think).

Sixth Chord

Instead of adding the seventh note to the basic three note chords (also referred to as triads), you can add the 6th note.

This is used often in swing music.

To indicate a Sixth chord, you add a “6” after the major or minor chord.
C6  chord: C E  G A		A6  chord: A C# E F#
Cm6 chord: C Eb G A		Am6 chord: A C  E F#

Suspended Chord

Instead of adding the seventh note, you can add the 4th note of the scale.
This is usually only done with major chords and gives an unfinished or “suspended” feel to the song. It is indicated by the suffix “sus” after a chord.

Csus chord: C E F G Asus4 chord: A C# D E

Some people don’t use the 3rd or don’t use the 5th note when playing this chord.

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