This series of guitar chord theory lessons will give you a crash course
how chords are constructed.
I've spent a lot of time refining and condensing this course so you
only learn what you really need
The benefits of learning chord theory
Guitarists often learn chords by using
chord charts, which is fine for knowing where to put your fingers,
but it's also beneficial to understand what's happening "behind the
scenes", the mechanics of why chords sound the way they do. That way,
you'll be able to get exactly the sound you want from your music.
However, in my opinion, the main practical
benefit of learning chord theory is that you'll see a
between scales and chords, as they're both made
same building blocks (intervals). You'll be able to hear a chord and
know exactly which notes to target in a soloing phrase.
why, when guitarists ask me "how do I apply scales over chords?", the
first piece of advice I offer them is to "learn chord theory!".
The bottom line is, this course will cut your improvised "trial and
time in half, so you can focus more of your time on making music that
A chord is a type of musical structure,
built from 3 or more
notes. For example, C major contains the notes C, E and G.
C, E and G are therefore the building
blocks of the C major chord.
However, when learning chord construction,
it's far more effective to think of these building blocks as intervals rather
It means you only have to learn each chord once and simply move the
formation of notes to a new fret to play a higher or lower sounding
version of that same chord. This will become clearer as we progress...
The chromatic scale
Just like scales, chords are built from a
series of intervals. As mentioned earlier, you ideally need a
basic understanding of intervals before you take this course, but to
recap, there are 12 intervals in total that make up what is known as
A chord can be built by first selecting
note. This is called the root note
as it is the 1st note in the scale. You could see this as the
foundations of the chord structure.
We then select two or more
from the scale (e.g. the 3 and 5) and build them on the root note to
create the chord (so in our example we'd have 1 3 5).
Click to hear 1 3 5 played as a chord
- listen closely, I use three
root notes - G, E and C#. Notice how each chord has exactly the same
quality, we're just playing the 3 and 5 in
relation to different root notes.
(sometimes abbreviated as R)
is always the
reference note when writing a chord, so when you see Gmaj, Gm or G7,
know the root note is G.
Emaj, Em or E7, you'll know the root is E.
C#maj, C#m or C#7, you'll know the root
is... yep, C#.
It's the different combinations
of intervals stacked
above that root note that give us the different chord
We'll be looking at some of the most common chord types throughout the
That, in a nutshell, is how chords are
constructed. Now, let's lift open the hood and get into the mechanics
behind different types of chord you'll come across...
Major chord theory - major triads
A major triad consists of a major 3rd (3)
and perfect 5th (5)
above the root (1).
These intervals make up a
in its simplest form.
The root (1)
is always the note by which the chord is referenced (letters A
through to G).
For example, G major is so-called because its root note lies on G.
We can abbreviate this chord as G
or Gmaj. E
major would be abbreviated E
or Emaj. C#
major would be abbreviated C#
Here's how a major
chord would typically be mapped out on the fretboard...
As you can see, all the notes of the major
triad are included in the
chord form. We could play from the low E 6th string, the A string (the
root doesn't have to be the lowest sounding
note in the chord!), D string or G string, basically any set of strings
that include the 1 3
5 triad structure.
Again, let's create a
familiar R 3 5 major chord
with the bass root on the A
allowing us to play the same chord in a different position on the
So again, we could play from the A string,
D string or G string, as
each would include the major triad.
See the bigger picture
to the E and A form barre chords just
because they're the most commonly used. The below video shows you how
you can pull chord voicings (such as 1 3 5) right out of
a scale pattern. This is your first step in connecting chords and
chord theory - minor triads
major triad was
made up of the root,
major 3rd and 5th.
triad is made up of the root, minor
3rd and 5th. The word "minor" in the context of a "minor
to the presence of the minor/flat 3rd.
So technically it's that minor 3rd
above the root which gives minor chords their sound. The 5th is
neutral, which is
why it's used in both major and minor chords. Think of it as adding
more meat to the chord.
All that we change from major triads is flatten
the 3rd a half step - in other words,
move it down one fret.
This gives us what is abbreviated as a ♭3 (a minor 3rd
If we use the same chord form as before,
but with a minor 3rd, we get this...
See how that 3rd has been
flattened/moved down 1
its major 3rd interval?
Remember, the letter used when
is determined by the root note,
the root was positioned on the note B,
the chord would be B
or Bm for
string chord? We can see how it's the same as the major chord but with
flattened one fret position (one semitone)...
chord theory - sus4 and sus2 chords
refer to any chord that does
not contain a major or minor 3rd. This
means suspended chords are neither major nor minor, as the 3rd is
responsible for making a chord major or minor.
elements of a suspended
(e.g. Gsus4, Fsus4, Esus4)
So basically, the 3rd is replaced by
the perfect 4th
The 4th lies one half step/semitone higher than the major 3rd - the
equivalent of one fret, as we can see in the E and A string forms from
That's a suspended
chord and would be written as Bsus4 if, for example, the
root note was B.
When playing these chords, try and internalise their
What mood do they convey?
also have suspended
2nd (e.g. Bsus2. Csus2)chords where the
3rd is omitted and a major
2nd interval is used instead.
"sus" as meaning "no 3rd". This means suspended chords
are neither major nor minor.
whenever the 3rd
part of the chord, you effectively have a major/minor neutral
sound. Incidentally, that means both
major and minor scales will work
The below video looks at a few ways
you can use
suspended chords in
for a break...
how the basic major, minor and suspended chords are constructed. You
may not realise, but countless hit songs exclusively use the three
chord types we've studied on this page!
and review this lesson if you
need before moving onto the next part.