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Augmented Guitar Chords - In Theory & Practice

This lesson will do two things - show you how to play augmented guitar chords and teach you some common functions these chords can serve in your songwriting.

A lot of guitarists don't know when or how to use augmented chords in a progression. Unlike major and minor chords, augmented chords have a more specific and arguably limited function (similar to diminished chords). Don't use them for the sake of it. Use them sparingly and when it feels "right" to use them.

When played on their own (there are audio samples below), they lack context or a tonal centre. In other words, they're better used as links between major and minor chords in a progression. An exception to this is when you're creating more ambient styles of music, where drawn out augmented chords can create a tense and unstable atmosphere.

Augmented chords basic theory

Augmented is another way of saying "sharpened by one semitone". In the context of chords, the word refers to the sharpened 5th (#5) interval from its regular triad position (a perfect/natural 5th).

For example, a major triad consists of 1 3 5, whereas an augmented triad is 1 3 #5 (as learned in the guitar chord theory series).

So, when people use the term "augmented chord", they'll most often be referring to some kind of #5 major chord. There are other chords with augmented in their name, such as augmented 6th chords, but as the 6th is expressly stated after "augmented" we know it's the 6th that is being sharpened and not the 5th!

We can identify three main types of augmented chord, detailed in the table below...

Full chord name Abbreviations Tones Hear it
Augmented triad aug (Caug, Eaug)
(C+, E+)
1  3  #5 click here
Augmented seventh chord aug7 (Caug7, Eaug7)
+7 (C+7, E+7)
1  3  #5  b7 click here
Augmented major seventh chord maj7#5 (Cmaj7#5, Emaj7#5)
+M7 (C+M7, E+M7)
maj+7 (Cmaj+7, Emaj+7)
Δ+7 (CΔ+7, EΔ+7)
1  3  #5  7 click here

As the tones column shows, the most important intervals in any augmented chord or scale is the root (1), major 3rd (3) and augmented 5th (#5).

So, think of an augmented triad as a major chord with a sharp 5th.

An augmented seventh chord is the above augmented triad with an added minor/flat 7th.

An augmented major seventh chord is an augmented triad with an added major 7th.

Why no minor augmented chord? Good question! This is because if we played a 1 b3 #5 chord (a minor triad with a #5), it would actually be better described (in terms of harmony) as a major chord inversion. If you don't know what that means, just ignore it for now!

Each one has its own sound, so get to know the difference between these three types. To help, I've included a chord chart below.

fingers numbered from 1 (index) to 4 (pinky)

Augmented guitar chords chart

Below are the most common augmented guitar chord forms with their fingerings. The root (1) is the note we reference when writing the chord. For example, if we built one of the following shapes on the note C, the chord would be Caug.

Augmented triad chord chart

E string root note
augmented triad intervals with E string root

fingering for E string root augmented triad
A string root note
A string root augmented chord intervals

augmented chord fingering with A string root

D string root note

aug chord triad on D string root

fingering for D string aug triad

Augmented seventh chord chart

E string root note
Augmented seventh intervals - E string root

fingering for augmented 7th chord with E string root
A string root note
A string root augmented seventh chord

aug7 chord fingering A string root

A string root note #2

A string root aug7 variation

fingering for augmented 7th chord variation on A string

D string root note

augmented 7 chord with D string root

D string root fingering for augmented 7th chord

Augmented major seventh chord chart

As you can hear by playing any of the shapes below, this particular type of augmented chord has a very dissonant quality (although I find it quite hauntingly beautiful!). However, if you're interested in jazz harmony, you should know this chord.

E string root note
Augmented major seventh chord intervals E string root

fingering for augmented major seventh chord with E string root
A string root note
A string aug7#5 chord

fingering for augmented major 7th chord on A string

A string root note  #2

Augmented maj7 variation with A string root

fingering for A string root variation of aug7#5 chord

D string root note

D string root augmented major seventh chord

augmented major seventh D string root chord fingering

Augmented chord function

So how do we actually use augmented chords in a progression? However you want! As always, don't be afraid to use a bit of trial and error. Experiment and let your ears be the ultimate judge.

However, there are some "tried and tested" functions you can use in your own songwriting.

Augmenting the tonic major chord

This is simply where we play the tonic major chord as usual and then augment it, on the same root. This works with any three of the augmented chord types (triad, seventh, major seventh).

For example, in the key of D major, first moving to the IV chord (from which we can continue the progression however we wish)...

Dmaj  /  Daug  /  Gmaj  /  Gm  -  click to hear

Moving to the ii chord...

Dmaj  /  Daug  /  Em7  /  A7  -  click to hear

In jazz, a major 7th augmented chord is often used in the tonic position, for a very unstable "resolution"...

Em7  /  A7  /  Dmaj7#5  -  click to hear

In the example above, I "stabilise" the tonic by turning that maj7#5 into a more relaxed maj9 chord.

Augmented 5 chord

The 5 or V chord (also known as the dominant chord) is often augmented to enhance its natural tension, before a return to a major or minor tonic. This function is most commonly used in blues and jazz.

An example in the key of D major again...

Dmaj7  /  Em7  /  Aaug7  /  Dmaj7  -  click to hear

Gmaj7  /  Aaug7  /  Dmaj7  -  click to hear

And we can do something similar with a minor tonic...

Dm  /  Bbmaj7  /  Aaug7  /  Dm  -  click to hear

Gm7  /  Aaug7  /  Dm  -  click to hear

Tip: if you're learning scales, harmonic minor would be the choice over minor key progressions like the above two. The augmented 5 chord is the natural dominant chord of this scale.

The major 7th augmented chord also works very nicely (albeit in an unusual way!) in the dominant position, as it carries a lot of tension. You'll hear it mostly used in jazz. This time, in the key of A major...

Bm7  /  Emaj7#5  /  Amaj7  -  click to hear

Augmented 3 chord

In major keys, the III chord is naturally a minor chord, but we can substitute this with an augmented triad or augmented 7th (although augmented major 7th doesn't really work in this position).

Key of E major, moving to the IV chord (that's one half step above the III chord)...

Emaj  /  G#aug7  /  Amaj7  -  click to hear

Moving to the vi chord...

Emaj  /  G#aug7  /  C#m  -  click to hear

Augmented 6 chord

The 6 or vi chord's natural function is as the relative minor of the major tonic. Let's augment the shit out of it!

It's often used in this way to prepare a  ii V I  (2 5 1) turnaround. In the key of C major...

Cmaj7  /  Aaug7  /  Dm7  /  G7  -  click to hear

When using these functions in your own songwriting, try linking them with different chords, both before and after the augmented chord. Experimentation is the most important thing. There are no rules!

The symmetry of augmented chords

Similar to diminished chords, augmented chords are made up of intervals an equal spacing apart. To be specific, each interval in an augmented triad is separated by a major 3rd interval. Let's break it down...

1 > major 3rd > 3 > major 3rd  #5 > major 3rd > 1

This gives the chord what is known in music as symmetry.

Tip: Playing these intervals separately gives you an augmented arpeggio.

Note, this symmetry only applies to the triad form, not the 7th or major 7th forms (they are not symmetrical, since the 7th in both forms is not a major 3rd from the #5).

So what can we do with this symmetry?

Well for one, you can play an augmented triad shape in any of its interval positions. In other words, if you were playing Gaug, you could also play Baug (as B is a major 3rd above G) or Ebaug (as Eb is a major 3rd above B and a major 3rd below G). Because each interval position uses the same notes as the root chord, you'll get the same augmented sound, but with a different voicing.

This is useful for things like voice leading, which is where you play a particular note in a chord higher or lower to create a smooth, connected harmony through the chord changes. There'll be a separate lesson on voice leading so don't worry too much about it right now!

Some more examples of this symmetry...

Gaug > major 3rd  Baug > major 3rd  Ebaug > major 3rd > Gaug
Daug > major 3rd  F#aug > major 3rd  A#aug > major 3rd > Daug
Bbaug > major 3rd  Daug > major 3rd  Gbaug > major 3rd > Bbaug

Tip: You can learn how to move fluidly in major 3rds and other intervals across the entire fretboard using this interactive software.

It also allows you to move between these related positions and create an ascending or descending chord pattern as follows...

Click to hear example (Aaug)

I hope this lesson has somewhat demystified the function of augmented chords and given you some ideas to play/write with. Keep experimenting with using augmented guitar chords in different ways.

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