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Chord Formation: How Guitar Chords Are Made

By Edited Jul 5, 2015 0 0

guitar chord(81741)

What is a chord?

Knowing what a chord is, is the first step to understanding them fully.  Chords allow for more colorful sounds and creative progressions.  A guitar chord is the combination of 3 notes played together to create harmony.  Each of these notes come from the major scale of the chord that is to be created.  For example, a C major chord uses only notes that come from its major scale (specifically C, E, & G). 

Some Chords contain a 4th or even 5th notes, but that's a more advanced topic for another day.

Basic Chord Formation

As Mentioned in the preceding paragraph, chords consist of three notes played simultaneously. So naturally, the first question is, how do I know what three notes to play?  

First, we need to know the notes of the major scale.  Knowing what notes are in each key is necessary when looking at chord formation.  For a simple example, we will look at the C chord and major scale.  

Notes of the C major scale:

C D E F G A B C (octave higher)

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1

 

I've numbered each of the notes in the scale to make the next part easier to explain.

Choosing the notes:

All major chords consist of the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes of the major scale.


So based on the example above, the C major Chord consists of C(1th), E(3th), and G(5th).

 

As a second example, let's look at the formation of the D major chord.

Notes of the D major scale:

D E F# G A B C# D(octave higher)

2 3   4 5 6 7 1

 

So what notes will be used?

Correct!  We will use the notes: D, F#, and A.


Notes on the Fretboard

How to Play the Chords

Now that you know what notes to uses, we can take a look at where, on the fretboard, these notes are and which ones to play together.

Let's go back to the C chord from the first example.  We know that we are going to use the notes C E and G.  We shall refer to the picture above to see where specific notes lie on the fretboard.  Let's find the first instances of each note (C,E & G) on the neck.

There are no specific rules as to which notes to play and where to play them, however, in general, the lowest note played should be the first note of the major scale (aka the "root" note).  Other than that, you have complete freedom to choose.

Let's take a look at the notes typically played in the C chord:

Note Played

High E string: Open (E)

B string: 1st Fret (C)

G string: Open (G)

D string: 2nd Fret (E)

A string: 3rd Fret (C)

Low  E string:  Not Played (Muted)

 

Looking at this we can see that only the three notes: C, E, & G are played, and that the lowest note is the root note, C.

Minor Chords

Minor chords can add a more melancholy sound in a progression.  For the most part, chord formation is the same as a major chord with only one exception.  Minor chords have a flattened 3rd note.

For this example, we will look back at the D chord.

Notes of the D major scale:

D E F# G A B C#

1 2 3  4 5 6 7

So the notes used to from a D minor chord are: D, F, & A.  Notice that the F# is flattened a half-step to an F.  Reference the picture again to located these notes.

(High) E string: 1st Fret (F)

  B string:  3rd Fret (D)

  G string:  2nd Fret (A)

  D string:  Open string (D)

  A string:  Not Played (muted)

(Low) E string:  Not Played (Muted)

 

Note that again, each of the notes (D,F, & A) are used, and that the lowest note is the root note (D).

Diminished Chords

Diminished chords are formed similarly to minor chords, except that they have a flattened 3rd and 5th note.

Let's go back to the D scale once more:

D E F# G A B C#

1 2 3b 4 5b 6 7

 

The notes used in the chord are: D, F, & G#.  (note that the F# and A were both flattened by a half-step).

How it's played:

(High) E string:  1st Fret (F)

 B string:  3rd Fret (D)

 G string:  1st Fret (G#)

 D string:  Open string (D)

 A string:  Not Played (muted)

(Low)  E string:  Not played (muted)

Once again, only the three notes are played and the lowest note is the root note (D).

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Let's Review!

Let's take a look at what we've learned:

  • Chords consist of three notes played simultaneously.
  • The 'root' note is typically the lowest note played.
  • Major chords consist of the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes of the major scale (1, 3, 5).
  • Minor Chords have a flattened 3rd note (1, 3b, 5).
  • Diminished Chords have a flattened 3rd and 5th note (1, 3b, 5b).

This is only the surface of chord theory.  There are many more ways to alter chords to make different sounds.  Hopefully this introduction was a good foundation for further pursuits of musical knowledge.

Rock on!

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