series of guitar chord theory lessons will take you
through how to construct chords. Guitarists often learn chords by using
a chord chart, which is fine,
but it's also important to know what's happening behind the
scenes and why the chord sounds they way
Equipping yourself with the
knowledge in these lessons will make breaking down chords second
nature. You'll find that your songwriting and improvisation takes on a
edge, as you'll be able to use voicings and progressions precisely how
them - no more guess work or
copy-cat playing. You'll also find soloing over chords easier,
connecting scale tones with chord tones.
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See the contents below for
this guitar chord theory series and work
through the areas you need in your own time. Note that this is not for
beginners, which is why I've included links to some important
First, we need to know where the elements
of a chord come from.
Think of a scale with seven tones - 1 2 3
4 5 6 7 - this is in fact the major scale.
A chord can be built by first selecting
note. This is called the root note as it is the 1st note in the scale.
We then select two or more additional
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).
The root is the
reference note for the chord, so when you see Gmaj, Gm or G7, you'll
know the root note is... G.
It's the different combinations of scale tones/intervals stacked above
that root note that give us the different chord types. We'll be
looking at these different chord types throughout the series.
That, in a nutshell, is how chords are constructed. Those scale tones can
also be seen as intervals - the distance between the root note and other notes in the scale/chord.
Major chord theory - major triads
A major triad consists of a 3rd (3)
and 5th (5) above the root (1).
These tones 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 typical R 3 5 major
chord would be mapped out on the fretboard...
As you can see, all the notes of the major
triad are included in the
A major triad
referenced simply with the
letter of the note used for the root
(the 1st tone in its
For example, if the root of the chord lies on the note A,
it's an A major
In the above chord
root actually appears three times, the
5th twice and the 3rd once - but as you can see, it still
only consists of the three
Again, let's create a
familiar R 3 5 major chord
with the root on the A string,
allowing us to play the same chord in a different position on the
So again, although there are more than 3 strings being played in the
there is still only the Root,
triad making up the chord.
to the most common E and A form chords just
because they're the most commonly used. The below video shows you how
you can pull several chord voicings (including inversions) 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,
3rd and 5th.
triad is made up of the Root, flat 3rd (or minor
3rd) and 5th. The word "minor" in the context of a "minor chord" refers
to the presence of the minor 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
play an E
chord like before, but as a flat 3rd minor, we get this...
See how that 3rd has been
flattened/moved down 1
fret (which is the
same as 1 semitone) from
its major 3rd interval?
Remember, the letter used when
is determined by the root note,
so if the root was positioned on the note B,
the chord would be B
or Bm for
chord? We can see how it's the same as the major chord but with the 3rd
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 interval.
The 4th lies one half step/semitone higher than the 3rd - the
equivalent of one fret...
That's a suspended
chord and would be written as Bsus4 if, for example, the
root note was B.
It's common to use sus4 chords as
tension chords as they have an unresolved feeling attached to them.
also have suspended
2nd (e.g. Bsus2. Csus2)chords where the
3rd is again not present and the 2nd
note in the major scale 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 three basic
triad chords are constructed. Go back
and review this lesson if you
need before moving onto the next part.