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Transcript
Alan Lowe
Know Your Chords
Guide to Understanding Chord Construction
Copyright © Alan Lowe 2013
For Ronny, Kev, Steve, Troy and Cam
Know Your chords
Alan Lowe
Contents
Introduction........................................................................................................................................................ 7
Intervals ............................................................................................................................................................. 8
Diatonic Scales .............................................................................................................................................. 9
Major Scales ................................................................................................................................................ 10
Sharp and Flat Notes ................................................................................................................................... 10
Circle of Fifths .............................................................................................................................................. 14
Minor Scales ................................................................................................................................................ 15
Interval Names ............................................................................................................................................. 17
Minor, Diminished and Augmented Intervals ................................................................................................ 19
Minor Third or Augmented Second? ......................................................................................................... 21
Examples of a Range of Intervals................................................................................................................. 23
Modes ............................................................................................................................................................. 24
Chords............................................................................................................................................................. 26
Chord Spelling ............................................................................................................................................. 29
Chord Sequences in the Scale ..................................................................................................................... 31
Primary Chords ............................................................................................................................................ 31
Seventh Chords ........................................................................................................................................... 32
Minor Major Seventh Chords........................................................................................................................ 33
Sixth Chords ................................................................................................................................................ 34
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Alan Lowe
Augmented Chords ...................................................................................................................................... 35
Diminished Chords ....................................................................................................................................... 37
Suspended Chords ...................................................................................................................................... 38
Chord Classes ................................................................................................................................................. 39
D-Class Chords............................................................................................................................................ 40
D Major (D) ............................................................................................................................................... 41
D Major Seven (Dmaj7) ............................................................................................................................ 41
D Dominant Seven (D7)............................................................................................................................ 42
D Major Six (D6) ....................................................................................................................................... 42
D Minor (Dm) ............................................................................................................................................ 43
D Minor Six (Dm6) .................................................................................................................................... 43
D Minor Major Seven (DmMaj7) ............................................................................................................... 43
D Minor Seven (Dm7) ............................................................................................................................... 44
D Minor Major Six (DmMaj6) .................................................................................................................... 44
D Suspended Second (Dsus2) and D Suspended Fourth (Dsus4, Dsus) .................................................. 45
D Augmented (Daug) ................................................................................................................................ 46
D Minor Seven Flat Five (Dm7♭5) ............................................................................................................. 46
D Diminished Seventh (Ddim7)................................................................................................................. 47
A-Class Chords ............................................................................................................................................ 48
A Major (A) ............................................................................................................................................... 48
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A Major Seven (Amaj7) ............................................................................................................................ 48
A Dominant Seven (A7) ............................................................................................................................ 49
A Minor (Am) ............................................................................................................................................ 49
A Minor Seven (Am7) ............................................................................................................................... 49
A Suspended Second (Asus2), A Suspended Fourth (Asus4, Asus) ........................................................ 50
A Augmented (Aaug) ................................................................................................................................ 50
A Diminished (Adim) ................................................................................................................................. 50
Doubling-up Chord Tones......................................................................................................................... 51
E-Class Chords ............................................................................................................................................ 52
E Major (E) ............................................................................................................................................... 52
E Minor (Em) ............................................................................................................................................ 52
E Major Seven (Emaj7) ............................................................................................................................ 52
E Dominant Seven (E7) ............................................................................................................................ 53
E Minor Seven (Em7) ............................................................................................................................... 53
E Suspended Fourth (Esus4, Esus) .......................................................................................................... 53
E Augmented (Eaug) ................................................................................................................................ 53
F Major ..................................................................................................................................................... 55
Chord Translation ........................................................................................................................................ 55
Naming Conventions .................................................................................................................................... 56
C-Class Chords............................................................................................................................................ 58
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Alan Lowe
C Major (C) ............................................................................................................................................... 58
C Minor and C Suspended (Cm, Csus)..................................................................................................... 58
C Augmented, C Six and C Seven (Caug, C6, C7, Cmaj7) ....................................................................... 59
C Seven Suspended, C Minor Seven, C Minor Six (C7sus, Cm7, Cm6) ................................................... 60
Extended Chords ......................................................................................................................................... 62
Nine, Eleven and Thirteen Chords ............................................................................................................ 62
C Thirteen (C13) Construction .................................................................................................................. 64
C Add Nine (Cadd9) ................................................................................................................................. 65
C Dominant Nine (C9) .............................................................................................................................. 65
C Major Nine, C Minor Nine (Cmaj9, Cm9) ............................................................................................... 66
C Major Eleven (Cmaj11) ......................................................................................................................... 66
C Minor Eleven (Cm11) ............................................................................................................................ 68
C Major Thirteenth Chord (Cmaj13) .......................................................................................................... 69
C Minor Thirteenth Chord (Cm13) ............................................................................................................ 70
C Dominant Thirteenth Chord (C13) ......................................................................................................... 71
C Minor Eleven Flat Thirteen (Cm11♭13) .................................................................................................. 72
C Major Thirteen Sharp Eleventh (Cmaj13#11) ........................................................................................ 73
C Minor Eleven Flat Nine Flat Thirteen (Cm11♭9♭13) ............................................................................... 73
G-Class Chords ........................................................................................................................................... 76
G Major (G) .............................................................................................................................................. 76
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G Suspended, G Minor (Gsus, Gm) .......................................................................................................... 76
G Augmented, G Six, G Seven, G Major Seven (Gaug, G6, G7, Gmaj7) .................................................. 77
G Seven Suspended, G Minor Seven, G Minor Six (G7sus, Gm7, Gm6) .................................................. 77
Bar Chords ...................................................................................................................................................... 79
Chord Scales ................................................................................................................................................... 81
6/9 Chords ....................................................................................................................................................... 88
Alternative Chord Layouts ............................................................................................................................... 91
Simplified Chord Shapes ................................................................................................................................. 92
Slash Chords ............................................................................................................................................... 93
Chord Inversion............................................................................................................................................ 94
Ambiguous Chord Names ............................................................................................................................ 95
Determining Chord Root .............................................................................................................................. 98
Altered Tone Chords ..................................................................................................................................... 102
Power Chords................................................................................................................................................ 103
Soloing With Modes ....................................................................................................................................... 105
Fretboard Layouts for Mode Patterns ......................................................................................................... 105
Mode Names and Patterns ........................................................................................................................ 106
Ionian ......................................................................................................................................................... 106
Dorian ........................................................................................................................................................ 107
Phrygian..................................................................................................................................................... 107
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Lydian ........................................................................................................................................................ 108
Mixolydian .................................................................................................................................................. 108
Aeolian ....................................................................................................................................................... 109
Locrian ....................................................................................................................................................... 109
Modes of Melodic Minor ............................................................................................................................. 111
Modes of Harmonic Minor .......................................................................................................................... 113
Which Mode? ............................................................................................................................................. 113
Modulation ................................................................................................................................................. 115
Moving Modes within the Key..................................................................................................................... 116
Pentatonic Scales ...................................................................................................................................... 118
Pentatonic Modes ...................................................................................................................................... 120
Blues Scales .............................................................................................................................................. 121
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Introduction
Chords are one of the first things you learn on a guitar. They don’t seem to make much sense; they are what
you play while singing your favorite songs. As you learn more songs, you are confronted with a bewildering
array of chord shapes with sometimes cryptic names. After a while you start to get used to which chords work
together and maybe you start putting your own words and tunes to them.
Yet there never seems to be anything intuitive about them and not much information about where to put your
fingers to make any particular chord. There have been many publications of chord charts with little or no
information on how to compose the chord shapes.
This guide exposes the secrets behind chords and gives you an understanding of what they are, where they
come from and how to construct them. With this information, you should be able to identify and construct
well over 2000 chord shapes and even make modifications to those chords on the fly.
The main purpose of this guide is to provide an understanding of chord construction and identification. It
does not require the ability to read music, however, it does require an understanding of scales and modes so
these are addressed in a graphical way before exploring chord construction.
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Intervals
Chords are based on scales, so it is essential to know your scales beforehand. Many chords can be extracted
from the modes of scales as well. Also, an understanding of intervals will be helpful to visualizing scales and
chord structures. This guide gives a preliminary explanation of intervals, scales and modes before discussing
the secrets of chords. If you are well-versed on scales and modes, you may skip to the chapter on Chords.
Chords are formally defined as three or more tones played simultaneously. They were once defined as two or
more tones, however, two tones are known as an “interval” and don’t produce the kind of colour or flavor
that is made by the combination of three or more tones.
An interval is the musical difference in pitch between two different tones. An interval from one pitch to a
pitch of exactly twice the frequency is an octave. Simple intervals are contained within the compass of an
octave. Compound intervals typically consist of an octave plus a simple interval.
The octave is divided into twelve equal intervals called semitones or half-steps. Two semitones make up a
tone or whole step. The semitone is the smallest interval in Western music and is the unit of measurement of
difference in pitch in music. The frets on a guitar are one semitone apart. On a piano, it is the difference in
pitch from any key to the next key, black or white.
Figure 1
Figure 1 shows the common note names of the white keys. There is a semitone between the white key
marked “C” and the black key between C and D. Then there is a semitone from this black key to the white key
marked “D”. The white keys, “E” and “F”, with no black key between them are also a semitone apart. In total,
there are twelve keys; seven white and five black. This represents an octave of twelve semitones. This
pattern is repeated over the length of the piano keyboard.
Figure 2
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Alan Lowe
Diatonic Scales
The division of an octave into twelve semitones results in a collection known as the chromatic scale. While
there has been significant use of the chromatic scale, the music typical of Western culture does not use all of
the tones of this scale at one time. In general, some tones are used and others are not.
There are subjective reasons why some tones sound pleasant when heard simultaneously and others don’t.
We can start on any of the twelve semitones in the chromatic scale but from there we maintain a particular
interval pattern of tones and semitones that sound harmonious.
The most basic arrangement is the tetrachord, an arrangement of four notes with the interval pattern, whole,
whole, half (WWH) as in the following example:
When two such tetrachords are separated by a whole step (disjunct), the result is the major diatonic scale.
The notes of this scale are numbered from 1 to 7 (or 8 if you include the octave) and in this regard, are called
degrees of the scale. The note names attached to these degrees depend on the key, the starting note from
which the scale takes its name. This first note is called the Tonic or root note. Other important notes of the
scale include the fifth degree called the Dominant, and the fourth degree, the Subdominant.
The interval pattern of the diatonic scale is an ordered group of five tones and two semitones. The diatonic
scale is the basis for Western music in all genres. The exceptions are so few that you could search through
tens of thousands of albums and never find one that is not based on the diatonic scale or its modes. This
includes the Major, the Natural Minor and the minor variants, the Harmonic and Melodic.
While you may come across collections of some very exotic scales, there is more than enough freedom of
movement within the diatonic scale to explore musical creativity with combinations of sounds that have never
been heard before. The potential for new music is limitless.
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Alan Lowe
Major Scales
The interval pattern of whole (W) and half (H) steps are arranged in the order “WWHWWWH” in the Major
Scale as shown in Figure 3. The disjunct tetrachords are easy to see in this arrangement and may serve as a
memory jogger, but we should try to memorize the complete pattern.
Figure 3
This is the C Major Scale showing the twelve semitone markers that fill one octave. As shown, there is a whole
step (two semitones) between C and D, then a whole step between D and E. There is only a half step (one
semitone) between E and F. There is a whole step between F and G, G and A then A and B. Finally there is a
half step between B and C.
This guide will use the following sample diagram, with a compass of one octave, to represent scale patterns.
The letters represent the musical tones that are played in this scale. The blank squares are semitone markers
for the tones of the chromatic scale that are not played in this scale.
Sharp and Flat Notes
If a note is increased by one semitone, it is said to be sharp (#). The space between C and D in the diagram
could be called C sharp (C#) because it is a semitone higher than C. If a note is decreased by a semitone, it is
said to be flat (♭). The same space between C and D could be called D flat (D♭) because it is a semitone lower
than D. In this way, the note between C and D can have one of two names, in this case C# or D♭. This is called
an enharmonic equivalent. The tones sound identical but have different names and notation.
Figure 4 - Major Scale Interval Spacing
Figure 4 is a representation of a guitar fretboard. The notes of the C Major scale have been marked to
illustrate the tone/semitone spacing of the major scale.
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Alan Lowe
The interval spacing is identical in all major scales; the only thing that changes is the starting note.
The notes in the indicated positions remain constant. They never change as long as the tuning of the guitar
remains constant. However, the interval pattern of the scale indicated by the circles on the frets in the
diagram is moveable so that the scale can begin anywhere on the fretboard. For example, let’s move all of the
circles 2 frets to the right:
Figure 5 - Relocating the Interval Spacing
The notes on the string remain the same but now the scale markers in Figure 5 fall on different notes. The
interval pattern is identical to the earlier pattern, only the position has moved.
Now the scale markers start on D. Another point to notice is that some of the scale markers now fall in
between some of the named notes.
For example, the third marker in the scale falls in between F and G. This note could be named F-sharp (F#) or
G-flat (G♭) but since the G note is already occupied by a scale marker and the F note is available, we will call
the unnamed marker F#.
There is also an unnamed marker between C and D on the right hand side of Figure 5. This marker could be
called C-sharp (C#) or D-flat (D♭) but since D is already taken and C is available, we will call the unnamed
marker C#.
Figure 6 - D Major Scale Interval Spacing
Figure 6 shows the note names that belong to the new “key” that we created by moving the scale markers to a
new start position. The new key is D Major. Each new key introduces another altered degree of the scale in
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Alan Lowe
order to fit the Major Scale interval pattern. The C Scale requires no alterations as all of the scale degrees
match the interval pattern perfectly.
However, from there on, alterations of one or more notes have to be made. If we started on G and used the
natural notes of C Major to create the same pattern, the seventh degree, “F” would not line up with the scale
degree numbers on top of the chart.
To make the G Major Scale match the interval pattern of C Major, we have to move “F” up one semitone to
“F#”:
If the new key is viewed as two disjunct tetrachords, it may be easier to see the pattern. The second
tetrachord has the same interval pattern as the first; that is, whole, whole, half (WWH). The second
tetrachord then becomes the first tetrachord in the next key.
Let’s try that with D as the starting note:
You notice here that both “F” and “C” don’t line up with the scale degree numbers for the major scale, so we
have to move “F” up to “F#” and “C” up to “C#”.
The new key is D Major. Notice the tetrachords D,E,F#,G and A,B,C#,D and their interval patterns.
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Alan Lowe
The key of C# has an interesting feature. Every note is sharp with respect to the C Major scale. You may have
been expecting the note F where E# is located:
In this key, ALL the notes are sharp, including B and E. In most keys where F is sharp by default, the otherwise
“natural” position of F is vacant. If you raise E by a semitone, the new note is E#, not F. We are, in fact,
sharpening E, therefore the note name is E#. It doesn’t matter that this note is equivalent to F in some other
key; in THIS key, F does not exist since all Fs are sharp.
Some keys have flat notes rather than sharp. F Major, for example, has one flat. In this key, the fourth degree
“B” would not line up with the numbers for a major scale. Notice that B falls between degrees 4 and 5:
We had to use B♭ to fit the pattern:
The next key is B♭ Major where both B and E had to be modified to fit the pattern. In this key we started on a
modified tone, B♭, and constructed the scale from there.
The next key, E♭ Major, contains three flats, and so on.
The interval pattern is what defines a scale type. The only difference is the tonic, the note on which the scale
begins. The scale takes its name from this starting note, e.g. C, G, D etc.
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Alan Lowe
Circle of Fifths
We can also determine the next key in the series by use of the
Circle of Fifths, moving clockwise around the circle in steps of a
perfect fifth from C to C# in the outer group, and from C♭ back to C
in the inner group. When moving in a counterclockwise direction,
we move in steps of a perfect fourth.
The chart below shows all of the available major scale keys and the notes that belong to those keys. Note that
these are listed in the order taken from the circle of fifths. The heading shows the Italian syllables from the
Sol-Fa system that names the degrees of the Major Scale.
In the diatonic scale, each degree has a unique identifier taken from the seven letters of the musical alphabet,
A, B, C, D, E, F and G. Every key of the major scale is made of all seven identifiers. This is why you see F♭ in a
position where you might expect to see E. In that key, E is also flat so F♭ is a valid identifier.
To write out the notes of any key, start with all seven note names beginning with the key note, then fill in the
sharps or flats. For example, E Major consists of all the identifiers, E, F, G, A, B, C and D. Now add the
appropriate sharp (or flat) symbols to the note names; E, F#, G#, A, B, C# and D#.
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Alan Lowe
Minor Scales
The minor scale is taken from the major scale. It contains the same notes but starts on the sixth degree of the
major scale. For example, the key of C Major has the following structure:
If we start at the sixth degree, A, in this scale, using the same intervals between notes, we get the A Minor
scale:
These two scales are said to be relatives of each other. A Minor is the relative minor to C Major, and C Major
is the relative major to A Minor. They have the same notes, just a different starting point.
In musical history, the application of minor scales has resulted in some variations. There are three minor
scales, the Natural Minor, the Harmonic Minor and the Melodic Minor.
Table 1
The Harmonic Minor is the Natural Minor with a raised seventh degree.
The Melodic Minor is the Natural Minor with raised sixth and seventh degrees. In classical music theory, the
Melodic Minor is only played when ascending; and reverts to the Natural Minor when descending.
The so-called Jazz Minor scale is the Melodic Minor ascending and descending.
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Alan Lowe
The following chart lists all major scales and their relative minor scales. It pays to understand your scales well
enough to be able to construct this chart by yourself. The first scale, C, is relatively straightforward. Each of
the other scales should follow the same interval pattern with appropriately placed sharps and flats.
The top row begins with “C” and is therefore called the C Major Scale. Its relative minor, also in the top row,
begins with “A” and is therefore called the A Minor Scale.
The second row begins with “G” and is called the G Major Scale. The relative minor for G Major begins with
“E” and is the E Minor Scale.
The third row begins with “D”, the D Major Scale. Its relative minor begins with “B”, the B Minor Scale.
The remaining rows follow the same naming process. In each case the Major and Minor scales are named
after the note on which they begin.
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Alan Lowe
Interval Names
We can specify any given interval by the number of semitones it spans. There are names given to intervals of
specific length that are based on a note’s position in the scale, i.e. second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and
seventh. These scale degrees fall a specific distance from the root note in the major scale.
For example, the second note of the major scale is two semitones above the root note. The interval of two
semitones is called a Major Second. In the following diagram, a Second spans two notes; C and D.
The interval from the root note to the third note in the major scale is called a Major Third and consists of four
semitones (two whole steps). The Third in this diagram spans three notes, C, D and E.
The interval from the root note to the fourth note in the major scale is called a Perfect Fourth. A perfect fourth
consists of five semitones (two whole steps and a half step). The Fourth in this diagram spans four notes, C, D,
E and F.
The interval from the root note to the fifth note in the major scale is called a Perfect Fifth. A perfect fifth
consists of seven semitones (three whole steps and a half step). The Fifth in this diagram spans five notes, C,
D, E, F and G.
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The interval from the root note to the sixth note is a Major Sixth, consisting of nine semitones (four whole
steps and a half step). The Sixth in this diagram spans six notes, C, D, E, F, G and A.
The interval from the root note to the seventh note is a Major Seventh, consisting of eleven semitones (five
whole steps and a half step). The Seventh in this diagram spans seven notes, C, D, E, F, G, A and B.
The interval of twelve semitones is an octave, also referred to as a Perfect Octave. The Octave spans all eight
notes.
These interval names will be used whenever a musical distance is specified. We could (and sometimes do) just
say that a note or chord is seven semitones above or below a given note but calling the interval a Perfect Fifth
has a reasonable chance of being understood by most musicians. It is part of the language of the art.
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Alan Lowe
Minor, Diminished and Augmented Intervals
All of the intervals discussed so far may be increased or decreased by a semitone. Any interval that is
increased by a semitone is “augmented”. A major second increased by a semitone is called an augmented
second. A major sixth increased by a semitone is an augmented sixth.
Similarly, any perfect interval becomes an augmented interval when increased by a semitone. For example, a
perfect fifth plus one semitone is an augmented fifth.
When decreasing a major interval by one semitone, it becomes a minor interval. For example, a major third
less one semitone becomes a minor third.
The same goes for the major sixth and major seventh. An interval just one semitone less than any major
interval is a minor interval.
The name changes when referring to the perfect fourth and perfect fifth. An interval just one semitone less
than perfect is a diminished interval. A perfect fifth is seven semitones. A diminished fifth is just six
semitones.
When a minor interval is decreased by one semitone, it also becomes a diminished interval.
The Diminished Fifth is known as a “tri-tone” because it spans three whole tones. Because of the dissonant
sound that this interval makes, it has been known in earlier times as the “devil’s interval” or the “devil in
music”. It is, however, this interval that gives dominant seventh chords their character.
An augmented fourth such as F-B is also a tri-tone.
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Alan Lowe
Intervals can be referred to in an absolute sense; that is, an interval of a specific number of semitones is
known by a standard name. For example, a minor third is accepted as being three semitones in length. This
does not take into account the actual note names that the interval spans, only the number of semitones.
Table 2 shows the standard interval names and the number of semitones they span:
Table 2 - Interval Names
An interval does not specify a starting point. The names of the intervals were derived from the corresponding
location in the major scale but any two notes that are separated by four semitones are generally said to be a
major third apart. In the key of C Major, E is a major third above C but A is also a major third above F. We are
only referring to the musical distance between notes without regard to where those notes lie in the scale.
Figure 7 - Major Thirds
Figure 7 shows some major third intervals on a guitar fretboard. How many other major thirds can you find?
Can you identify any major seconds? What other intervals can you find?
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Alan Lowe
Minor Third or Augmented Second?
In music theory, an interval may be considered a minor third if it spans three semitones. For example, the
interval from E to G is a minor third but not just because it describes a three-semitone interval. It is also
considered a third because it contains three separate notes. The notes enclosed by this interval are E, F and G.
Consider the interval from F to G#. This interval also spans three semitones but it only encloses two notes; F
and G and is therefore a second of some kind. The notes may be sharp or flat, we are only referring to the
note name. This particular interval is an augmented second. The interval from F to G is a major second.
When G is sharpened, the interval becomes an augmented second.
This is how we distinguish an augmented second from a minor third; or an augmented fourth from a
diminished fifth. By counting the number of notes that the interval spans, we can determine what kind of
interval it is.
Some level of ambiguity can sometimes sneak into the picture. For example, the following diagram shows an
interval of three semitones. The first note may be C# but it could also be D♭. With no further information on
how the starting note came to be, you could not say for certain which interval it is. If the note was C#, then
the interval spans the three notes, C, D and E, making it a minor third.
If the note was called D♭, then the interval spans only the two notes, D and E, making it an augmented second.
So, is the starting note C# or D♭? Knowledge of scales can help. If the key was D Major or A Major for
example, then C# and E are natural notes of those scales. The interval would then be a minor third, spanning
C, D and E.
Any key containing D♭ also contains E♭ as a natural note. These keys could be A♭, D♭, G♭ or C♭. The note “E”
does not exist in those keys. The note name would be “F♭” (F-flat) which means that the interval spans three
notes, D♭, E♭ and F♭, making it a minor third.
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Without exploring all the possibilities for the interval having “E” as one end point, the most likely answer is
that the interval spans natural notes of some particular key. The best guess in that case is that the interval
spans “C#” to “E” making it a minor third from any of the keys, D Major, A Major, E major or B Major.
The same principle applies to intervals like an augmented fourth and a diminished fifth. Simply count the note
names that the interval spans to get the basic interval type and then apply the appropriate quality (major,
minor, augmented, or diminished).
Almost all of the intervals appear in some scale. Minor seconds can be found in any scale where two notes are
separated by a semitone, such as B and C, or E and F in C Major. Major seconds can also be found between
almost any two notes of C Major, like C and D, D and E or F and G for example.
An augmented second can be found in the A Harmonic Minor scale between F and G# where the notes span
three semitones but only two notes are involved.
Minor thirds can be found between the first and third degrees of any minor scale. Major thirds are found
between the first and third degrees of any major scale.
The diminished fourth can be found in the A Minor Harmonic scale between G# and C; an interval spanning
four notes, G#, A, B, and C in only four semitones.
Perfect fourths are found in the major scale between the root and fourth degrees. Augmented fourths can
also be found in the major scale, for example F to B.
Minor sixths, major sixths, minor sevenths and major sevenths exist in the major scale.
There are some invented (or imagined) intervals such as a diminished second which amounts to a unison. It
could be viewed as the interval from B to C♭ for example that consists of the required number of notes
spanning zero semitones but you would be unlikely to find such a thing on a music staff.
Augmented thirds and augmented sixths don’t exist naturally in any diatonic scale. Augmented sixths can be
found in the whole-tone scale but this is not diatonic.
Diminished sixths and diminished sevenths can be found in the diminished scale. The interval from B to G♭ in
the A Diminished Scale has a compass of seven semitones spanning six notes. The interval from B to A♭ in the
same scale has a compass of nine semitones spanning seven notes.
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Examples of a Range of Intervals
To count the number of semitones between notes, just count the vertical lines inside the dark boxes. For
example, the minor second spanning one semitone from E to F has one vertical line between E and F. The
major second has two vertical lines between D and E, thereby spanning two semitones. The number of notes
contained by the dark boxes gives the type of interval, e.g., second, third, fourth etc.
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Modes
The diatonic scale may be viewed as either major or minor. The relationship between them can be displayed
as follows:
The minor scale has the same notes as the major; we just started from the sixth note of the major scale and
finished an octave higher. The key of A Minor is called the relative minor to C Major.
Although the major and minor scales consist of the same notes, they have a distinctive quality about them
when the tones are played simultaneously (harmony) or separately (melody). A major scale has a bright
cheerful sound to it. In contrast, a minor scale has a sadder, more solemn sound.
A different arrangement of tones and semitones with common note values related to a given key is called a
mode. The major scale is the first mode. The relative minor scale is the sixth mode.
We don’t necessarily have to start on the sixth note of the scale to create a new arrangement of tones and
semitones. We could start on the second degree of the major scale and do the same thing:
We could also start on the third degree:
In fact, there are seven different modes of the major scale:
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Each mode still has five whole steps and two half steps but each interval pattern is different.
The modes apply to all of the keys of major scales and if you overlaid all the keys in this manner, they would
be identical as far as interval patterns go. However, we will continue to use the C scale for convenience
because there are no sharps or flats that may be confusing.
As we viewed the modes initially, there was not a great deal of useful information. However, if they are
aligned as in the following chart, some useful properties begin to emerge:
The first point to notice is the interval between the first note and the third note in each mode. The difference
between a major scale and a minor scale is determined by this interval. If it is four semitones (a major third)
then the scale is a major scale. If this interval is only three semitones (a minor third) then the scale is a minor
scale.
In Mode 1, the original major scale, there is a major third between C and E, making it a major mode.
In Mode 2, there is minor third between D and F, making it a minor mode.
Mode 3 is a minor mode because of the minor third from E to G.
Modes 4 and 5 are major, and Modes 6 and 7 are minor.
The chords of a scale can be easily extracted from these mode patterns.
The modes of scales have Greek names that make them easier to identify. There is more information on how
to use these modes in the section on Soloing With Modes (see Mode Names and Patterns).
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Chords
Chords are built on the diatonic scale and generally consist only of tones taken from that scale. The basic
chords are constructed by taking the first, third and fifth degrees of each of the modes of the scale. Extended
chords include the seventh, ninth, eleventh and thirteenth degrees.
The scale diagrams used in this guide show all twelve semitone positions. In any major scale, some of these
semitones are not a part of the scale. On a guitar they may be viewed as the frets that you don’t use in that
scale. Any particular note of the twelve may be used in other scales but each major scale consists of notes
that are played and others that are not. In these diagrams, the unplayed notes are left as blank squares.
Figure 8
Figure 8 shows the scale diagram and a representation of those notes played on a guitar string. This provides a
visual sense of how the scale diagrams relate to the actual notes played on the instrument.
Chords are illustrated with a chord chart. This is a basic representation of the
guitar fretboard showing the nut where the strings are supported in a slotted
guide near the head of the guitar. The horizontal lines represent the frets
and the vertical lines represent the strings.
Fret markers are used to indicate where your fingers should be positioned in order
to play the chord.
Open strings that are used in the chord are very often left unmarked. Many chord charts place an ”X” on the
open string that should not be played. Alternatively, an “O” is placed on the nut for strings that should be
played open. Sometimes, the open strings are simply not indicated at all. For clarification, this chord
construction guide will use the “O” to indicate open strings. Unmarked strings should not be played.
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Most chords can be thought of as stacks of thirds. In these diagrams, note that the intervals between the
notes are either major or minor thirds, that is, the intervals are either three semitones or four semitones
apart. The major or minor nature of a chord is determined by the interval from the root note to the third note
in the scale mode. The modes of a key also provide a basis for extracting the chords of that key.
In the first mode, the notes are C, E and G which form the C chord.
If you are familiar with the open C chord, you may think it strange to have a
chord consist of just three notes. However, you can play as many of these three
notes as you like, as long as all the notes are included. If you take away any of
those three then it is no longer a C chord. In the open C chord, there are two Cs,
two Es and one G. The open low E string is typically not played.
In the second mode, the first, third and fifth notes are D, F and A which form the
D minor chord. It is called D Minor because of the minor third from D to F. The
open low E and A strings are typically not played.
In the third mode, the first, third and fifth notes are E, G and B which form the E
minor chord. It is called E Minor because of the minor third from E to G. The
low E is played because it is the root note for the chord.
In the fourth mode, the notes F, A and C form the F major chord. It is called F
Major because of the major third from F to A.
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In the fifth mode, the notes G, B and D form the G major chord. It is called G
Major because of the major third from G to B.
In the sixth mode, the notes A, C and E form the A minor chord. It is called A
Minor because of the minor third from A to C.
In the seventh mode, the notes B, D and F form the B diminished chord. Up until
now, the fifth degree has always been a perfect fifth above the root note. In this
chord, however, the interval from the root to the fifth is only six semitones
spanning five notes, a diminished fifth. There are no Es in this chord so the open
E strings are not played.
This is another view of the basic chords that are extracted from the C Major scale. You can see the difference
between the major and minor chords by the number of empty squares between the first and third degrees.
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Chord Spelling
The chord spelling or chord formula is a group of numbers that represent the scale degrees that make up that
chord type. The spelling for a major chord is “1, 3, 5” because it takes the first, third and fifth scale degrees to
make that chord.
Chord types can be identified by their formula. This is always referenced to the major scale. The diagrams
above used an absolute reference in the identification of the chord tones for each chord. In each case, the
first, third and fifth scale tones were selected. However, when spelling any general type of chord, each tone is
referenced to the major scale.
The minor chord has a flat third in relation to the major scale and is therefore spelled 1, ♭3, 5. This is read as
“one, flat three, five”. It still uses the first, third and fifth degrees of the minor scale or mode but we spell it
as though the notes are in the major scale so we refer to the third as a flat third. In either case it is a minor
third, just three semitones.
Note the position of the third (3) in the major and minor chords below.
The spelling of a diminished chord is 1, ♭3, ♭5 or in words, “one, flat three, flat five”. Again, it is still the first,
third and fifth notes of the seventh mode of the major scale but is spelled relative to the major scale itself.
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Chords may also be described by the combination of thirds. For example, the major chord consists of a lower
major third and an upper minor third. The C chord has a lower major third between C and E, and an upper
minor third between E and G. It is called a major chord because the lowest third is a major third. All major
chords consist of thirds that add up to a perfect fifth:
Figure 9 – Major Chord
The minor chord, by comparison, has a lower minor third and an upper major third. The Dm chord has a lower
minor third between D and F, and an upper major third from F and A. It is called a minor chord because the
lowest third is a minor third. All minor chords consist of thirds that add up to a perfect fifth:
Figure 10 – Minor Chord
The diminished chord consists of two minor thirds. The Bdim chord has a minor third from B to D and a minor
third from D to F. It is called a diminished chord because the thirds add up to a diminished fifth:
Figure 11 – Diminished Chord
The only other combination of thirds is two major thirds, forming an augmented chord. The augmented chord
doesn’t appear in the major scale. We can find an example from the third mode of the Minor Melodic scale.
The C Augmented chord consists of the notes C, E and G#. There is a major third between C and E, and a
major third from E to G#. It is called an augmented chord because the thirds add up to an augmented fifth:
Figure 12 – Augmented Chord
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Chord Sequences in the Scale
The chord type sequence in any major scale is the same; Major, Minor, Minor, Major, Major, Minor, and
Diminished. A chord’s position within a scale is represented by Roman numerals. By convention, if the chord
is a major chord, the Roman numeral is upper case, (I, IV, V). If the chord is a minor or diminished chord, the
Roman numeral is lower case (ii, iii, vi, vii). Referring to chords by their Roman numerals makes it easier to
describe a chord sequence without specifying the chords of any particular key. So if a chord sequence is ii-V-I
for example, you can play those chords from whatever key you choose. You don’t have to name the chords if
you don’t know what key you will be playing, only the chord positions within the key.
Table 3
Primary Chords
The chords, I, IV and V are known as the Primary Chords in a key. Many songs are written using only these
three chords. An example is the 12-bar blues progression which has been used in countless rock’n’roll songs.
One technical aspect of this is the IV and V chords move to the I chord with a satisfactory sound. This is
described as “cadence” in music theory where the effect of various chord combinations can either close a
passage or leave it open with a sound of being incomplete or “hanging” as though waiting for something
further. The IV and V chords close to the I chord with a sense of completion.
Other chords in the scale can move to the I chord as well but not with the finality of the IV or V chords.
Other progressions like ii-iii-iv never seem to end; at least not with satisfactory closure. These songs are
often simply faded out. This may not be possible in a live situation so one solution is to finish the sequence on
the I chord to close the song.
This is not to say that all songs finish on the I chord; there are many examples that don’t. Sometimes the
composer likes to simply leave the song hanging. The choice is ultimately yours but if you find that you can’t
seem to close the song, or a passage in the song, check out the chord sequence that you are using to close it.
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Seventh Chords
So far, we have described simple major, minor and diminished chords. There are only twelve unique major,
minor and diminished chords. These are A♭, A, B♭, B, C, D♭, D, E♭, E, F, G♭ and G. Some of these may also be
known by their enharmonic equivalents like C# and F# but they describe the same chord.
Each key has only three major chords, three minor chords and one diminished chord.
If we now add the seventh degree from each mode, the variety of chords begins to fan out. Seventh chords
are made up of the first, third, fifth and seventh degrees of the mode.
Using the modes of the C major scale again:
Table 4
∅
The minor seven flat five chord is also called “half-diminished”, often designated by the symbol “ ”.
The formation of seventh chords is exactly the same as for major, minor and
diminished chords. Taking the first, third, fifth and seventh degrees of the C
Major scale, we get the notes, C, E, G and B for a C Major Seventh:
Formation of the D Minor Seventh chord, for example, is the same. The chord
tones are D, F, A and C:
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Minor Major Seventh Chords
This looks like a contradictory name for a chord. You may now be familiar with minor chords and major
chords but how can it be both?
When “minor” is used in a chord name, it always refers to the third in the chord. C has a major third; Cm has a
minor third and so on.
“Major Seven” (maj7) is a phrase when used in a chord name that specifies a natural seventh degree.
The C chord (or any major chord) can sometimes be referred to as Major even in the absence of any seventh
at all. This is occasionally used to distinguish a major chord from a minor chord.
“Major” can also be used to indicate a major seventh. In that case you may see a chord named “Cmaj”. Any
sheet music that specifies this chord may have a footnote or other indication that they are using this practice.
It would be unusual for anyone to use “Cmaj” in sheet music to indicate a simple major chord when “C” by
itself means the same thing. Just be aware that practice can easily vary from convention. There are also
shorthand practices when naming chords. The delta symbol “∆“ may be used to indicate a major seventh as in
C∆. The seventh may also be explicit with this symbol, e.g. “C∆7”
So the Minor Major Seven specifies the minor third and the major seventh. Shorthand methods may even
include “C-∆” where the “-“ sign indicates minor. Other examples of the minor symbol include C- (C Minor)
and C-7 (C Minor Seven).
The Minor Major Seventh chord is derived from the Melodic Minor scale.
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Sixth Chords
Instead of adding the seventh note of each mode to the first, third and fifth, another type of chord can be
constructed by adding the sixth. When this is applied to the modes of the scale, some interesting
combinations result:
Table 5
In summary, sixth chords will have the root note, a major or minor third, a perfect or diminished fifth and a
major or minor sixth.
The major sixth chord is a pleasant-sounding chord that is made up of the first, third, fifth and sixth degrees of
the major scale. The fifth may be omitted from sixth and seventh chords.
The minor sixth chord is a darker-sounding chord that has a quality of tension about it. The tension is
resolved satisfactorily by moving to the major six root chord. This chord type is controversial in its spelling.
While it may make sense to derive the chord from the minor scale and call it a minor sixth in a similar way to
minor sevenths, the practice is to explicitly declare the sixth as flat. Consequently, the chord is derived from
the second mode of the key, rather than the natural minor mode.
The minor flat six chord has a mellow sound similar to the minor seventh chord. The minor flat sixth is
derived from the natural minor scale in the key and as such contains a minor third and a minor sixth.
The minor flat six flat five chord has a surprisingly pleasant tone compared to its darker relative, the minor
seven flat five. The minor flat six flat five chord is derived from the seventh mode of the key. This chord may
sometimes be named “minor flat five augmented” but since the fifth has already been accounted for, and is
flat, the additional chord tone is a flat sixth, not an augmented fifth.
The major sixth chord is usually referred to as a sixth chord. While there is a difference between the seventh
and major seventh, there is no such difference between the sixth and major sixth. They are the same chord.
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Augmented Chords
The augmented chord is constructed from thirds that add up to an augmented fifth; consequently it has a
sharp fifth relative to the major scale. Its spelling is therefore 1, 3, #5. Any chord can be augmented just by
raising the fifth by a semitone.
The major augmented chord, 1, 3, #5 does not appear in the major or natural minor scales. Although there is
no iron-clad rule that a chord must come from a scale of some type, there is a scale that contains an
augmented fifth from which the augmented chord can be derived.
Every scale has modes from which chords may be extracted. Here are the modes of A Melodic Minor:
Table 6
The augmented chord is taken from the third mode of the Melodic Minor scale.
The first, third and fifth degrees of this mode are indicated. Where a C chord is spelled 1, 3, 5 with the notes
C, E and G, this mode provides the chord spelling 1, 3, #5 relative to the Major Scale. The resultant chord is
Caug, sometimes abbreviated to C+. The notes that make up a Caug chord are therefore C, E and G#.
This is the only mode among the diatonic scales that defines the augmented chord. The third mode of the
Harmonic Minor also has a sharp fifth degree but this scale is not included under the title of “diatonic scale”
because of the three-semitone interval between the sixth and seventh degrees. However, the augmented
chord can still be used under this mode of Harmonic Minor as the chord tones fit perfectly.
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Alan Lowe
Table 7
Sometimes a chord may be identified with a different note being augmented. If the “aug” appears by itself,
the fifth is the default. However, sometimes you may see something like Caug4 (or C+4) which tells us that
the fourth is augmented, not the fifth. Any particular chord tone may be augmented but the usual practice
when specifying an augmented tone only refers to a perfect such as the fourth or the fifth. Any other tone
that is augmented is typically specified with a # symbol, e.g. C7#9
There will be occasions when a chord is named incorrectly. For example, you may see a chord named Caug7.
This could be construed as the seventh being augmented if you were not aware that the fifth is assumed.
Augmenting a seventh degree would take it up to the tonic so the chord name makes no sense. The actual
chord name is C Seventh Augmented (C7aug or C7+) which consists of a root note, a third, an augmented fifth
and a flat seventh (1, 3, #5, ♭7).
Anything immediately following the “aug” is assumed to be the tone that is augmented. The name of the
chord should be carefully chosen to avoid ambiguous use of terms. Placing “aug” at the end of the chord
name is the usual practice.
Occasionally, you may see a chord name such as C#5 which may be Caug – C(#5). At the same time, “5” is
used to denote a “power chord”, so this chord name may mean a C# power chord – (C#)5. Do you see the
distinction? Is it C# or #5? There is a stronger probability that this chord is a C# power chord rather than an
augmented C chord but then it should be written as C#(5) so there is no doubt.
Such variations in practice are not uncommon so you should be aware of what the composer or transcriber is
trying to say.
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Diminished Chords
The diminished chord is constructed from thirds that add up to a diminished fifth; consequently it has a flat
third and a flat fifth relative to the major scale. Its spelling is therefore 1, ♭3, ♭5.
This chord is derived from the seventh mode of the diatonic scale.
This chord can also be derived from the diminished scale where the chord tones appear naturally:
It may be strange to see G and G# as identifiers in the same scale, however, the diminished scale contains
eight notes rather than seven as in the diatonic. This is a simple case of having a lack of options in assigning
note names.
The interval pattern for the diminished scale is WHWHWHWH.
Because of this unique interval pattern, there are only two modes for the diminished scale; the second one
being HWHWHWHW.
However, the second mode still describes the same chord, Bdim.
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Suspended Chords
The “suspended” part of this chord always refers to the third degree. The third is completely removed from
this chord, hence the word “suspended”. Then either a second or fourth is inserted in its place. Chords can be
named Csus2 or Csus4 for example but sometimes you encounter a chord like Csus which is the same as
Csus4. Csus2 explicitly identifies the second. Csus assumes the fourth.
The suspended chord can be derived straight from the Major Scale. For example,
using the C Major scale this chord has the first, second and fifth.
In the next example, the chord has the first, fourth and fifth.
In both cases, the third has been omitted. In seventh suspended chords, the rule
is the same with the omission of the third and the inclusion of the second or
fourth. An example of this chord is D7sus2.
Note that in the absence of a third there can never be a minor suspended chord.
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Chord Classes
Sometimes called chord shapes, chord classes are the family of chords that can be derived from a basic major
chord. Since the shape of these chords can vary dramatically, I refer to them as classes, rather than shapes.
There are five basic classes of chord; D, A, E, C and G. More than sixty chords can be derived from some of
these classes. Given that you can play them on any of twelve frets, each class describes more than seven
hundred chords. This is enough to cover almost every chord you are ever likely to play.
The name given to the class only describes that shape when it is played in the open position as in the diagram
above. Given that these shapes can be played anywhere on the fretboard, the name of the chord will depend
on where it is played. For example, an A-Class chord can be played at the fifth fret. The chord name would
then be D but it is still an A-Class chord because of its basic shape.
There are variations in these chords that may not appear to fit these classes. This may happen if you
rearrange the order of the chord tones from the way they are presented here. Classical and Jazz guitarists
typically have a huge chord vocabulary that includes chords where the chord tones are not necessarily on
adjacent strings. This guide will give you enough information to be able to construct or deconstruct any chord
that you encounter.
This type of fretboard diagram is quite common and can be used to determine the position of the various
notes in the chord.
At first glance, it may appear to be a mess of note names but it may be useful to know that every note in the
scale appears only once on every string below the twelfth fret. There is one A on every string, one B on every
string, and so on. The notes repeat from the twelfth fret of course but it does help to simplify the process.
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Alan Lowe
D-Class Chords
Using the D Major chord as an example, the D Major scale provides the notes that are required:
The root note is D, the third is F# and the fifth is A, so the chord tones are D, F# and A.
Before placing the markers on the chord chart, you need to determine where you want to play the chord on
the fretboard. At first you can take a guess and assume that the chord can be played as an “open chord”, that
is, a chord that uses some open strings as chord tones.
Also, a chord should be contained within a given range or “window” in order to be playable with your fretting
hand. Typically you would want to limit the chord window to three or four frets.
The first note to find is the root note. In this case the note “D”. In an open chord, this note would have to be
at or within three frets of the nut. Examining the chord chart, the low E-string is out; there is no “D” note
within three frets of the nut. The A-string is also out as there is no “D” within three frets of the nut. “A” is a
chord tone but for now we are looking for the root note “D” as the lowest tone played.
The D-string presents a perfect place to play the root note “D” so we mark this
string as an open string:
The next string is the G-string. The first fret is G#, the second fret is “A”,
which is one of the chord tones, and is within the range required, so we mark
the “A” note on the chart:
The next string is the B-string. The third fret is “D”. We already have a “D”
note in the chord but there is no other chord tone within range on this string,
so we can double-up on the “D” note:
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Alan Lowe
D Major (D)
The only note required to complete the D chord is “F#”. The next string is the
E-string. The first fret is “F” and the second fret is “F#”, so we mark this
position. The chord is complete in this chart and easily playable with the
fretting hand.
The numbers below the chart indicate the scale degree that the position has used. The root note (1) is played
on the D-string and the B-string. The third (3) is played on the E-string and the fifth (5) is played on the Gstring. This is the basic chord shape that is referred to as the “D shape”. This class of chord is moveable to any
fret. Remembering the location of each of the scale degrees used in the chord is useful when you want to
modify the chord in any particular way.
The B-string can be used for adding the seventh scale degree to form Major- and Dominant-sevenths.
D Major Seven (Dmaj7)
The major seventh in the D-scale is C# which is available on the B-string at the
second fret. This note will replace the “D” that was played on this string in
the previous diagram. Since we already have a “D” as the root note on the
open D-string, we are not going to miss anything by using the B-string for
another note.
Now we have the D Major seventh chord shape (Dmaj7). The root (1), third (3) and fifth (5) are in the same
place as the D chord but now we have the seventh (7) on the B-string. This pattern, like any in the D class, is
moveable to any other fret and retains its shape.
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D Dominant Seven (D7)
The dominant-seventh chord has a flat seventh, rather than a major seventh.
This chord is derived from the fifth mode of G Major. The flat seventh is “C”.
This note is available on the first fret of the B-string. This chord is the D7
chord, the dominant seventh of G Major.
D Major Six (D6)
If we continue to move this fret position to an open string, we get this chord
shape. This chord is the D Major Sixth chord (D6). The note that was added is
the “B”, the sixth (6) degree of the D Major scale.
In summary, these are the D-Class chords that are constructed by choosing various notes on the second string:
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D Minor (Dm)
The D Minor chord has the chord spelling, 1, ♭3, 5. The notes from
the D Minor scale are D, F and A. This chord can be adapted from
the D Major chord by moving the “F#” on the first string to the
first fret:
The chart on the left is the D Major chord. The chart on the right shows D Minor chord with the flattened
third (♭3).
D Minor Flat Six (Dm♭6)
The D Minor Flat Six chord has the chord spelling, 1, ♭3, 5, ♭6. The notes from the
D Minor scale are D, F, A and B♭. To play this chord as a D-Class chord, the fifth,
A, will have to be dropped.
D Minor Major Seven (DmMaj7)
The minor third can be combined with the previous modifications to the
major chord. For example if we use the major seventh degree, we get the D
Minor Major Seven chord (derived from the D Melodic Minor scale):
This chord also exists in the D Harmonic Minor scale.
Remember that a Minor Major Seventh chord combines a minor third degree with a major seventh degree.
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D Minor Seven (Dm7)
Moving the major seventh to a flat seventh we get the D Minor Seven chord.
This chord has the spelling, 1, ♭3, 5, ♭7; the correct formula for a minor
seventh chord. Remember that the “minor” in this chord name refers to the
third and not the seventh, even though the seventh is in fact, flat. “Minor” in
a chord name, abbreviated in several ways to “m”, “min” or sometimes “-“,
always refers only to the third.
D Minor Six (Dm6)
Inserting the sixth degree of the second mode of C Major, we get the D Minor
Sixth chord. In this chord, the third is flat but the sixth is a major sixth. If the
sixth were a flat sixth, then by convention, the chord would be called Dmb6.
Any chord tones except the seventh that are flat with respect to the major
scale are explicitly identified. This is why minor seventh and minor sixth
chords seem to follow different rules.
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D Suspended Second (Dsus2) and D Suspended Fourth (Dsus4, Dsus)
These charts show the D Major chord and two variants of the suspended chords. When the third is removed
from the chord, it is said to be “suspended”. The abbreviation “sus” in a chord name implies the third. The
second degree or the fourth degree is then added to produce the Dsus2 (D suspended second) or the Dsus4 (D
suspended fourth). Note that Dsus by itself implies Dsus4.
These variations of the suspended chord can also be applied to other chord types such as the Major Seventh:
The dominant seventh chord types also have suspended variants:
Note that the absence of the third means that there are no minor suspended chords.
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D Augmented (Daug)
The Augmented chord has the fifth degree sharpened (raised one
semitone). The chart on the left shows the original D Major chord
with the first, third and fifth. The chart on the right shows the
same chord with a sharpened fifth:
The “+” sign is often used to indicate augmented.
Most chords can be augmented by raising the fifth by a semitone.
These charts show D+ and D7+
D Minor Seven Flat Five (Dm7♭5)
As with most chords, this chord name contains all the information required to
construct the chord from the scale. From the seventh mode of the E♭ Major
scale, the chord tones are D, F, A♭ and C. These are the first, flat third, flat
fifth and flat seventh when compared to the D Major scale:
The chord name “Dm7♭5” has the root note “D”.
The “m” denotes a flat third. In the D scale, the third is “F#” so a flat third will be “F”.
The “7” denotes a flat seventh. In the D scale, the seventh is “C#”, so a flat seventh will be “C”.
Finally, the “♭5” directly specifies a flat fifth. In the D scale, the fifth is “A” so a flat fifth will be “A♭”.
Note: This chord type is also referred to as “half-diminished”, often abbreviated to D∅.
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Know Your chords
Alan Lowe
D Diminished Seventh (Ddim7)
This chord shape is D Diminished Seventh. The spelling of this chord appears
unusual in that it refers to a double-flat seventh (♭♭7) in the chart at right. A
quick examination of the scale would show that double-flatting a seventh
results in the same note as the major sixth.
This leads some people to wonder why the chord is not called a diminished sixth. However, only the chord
spelling is related to the major scale. The chord name comes from the scale from which the chord was
derived. In this case the Diminished scale:
In the diminished scale, the chord is taken from the first, third, fifth and seventh degrees. If the chord was a
diminished sixth, it would contain the sixth degree “B♭”, not the seventh degree “C♭”, and would therefore be
a different chord.
The chord spelling could still be 1, ♭3, ♭5, 6 relative to the major scale and would produce the same chord
tones. However, the chord is classed as a seventh due to its scale origins and the spelling reflects this.
D-Class chords are all moveable to other frets using the same shapes. For example, the Dmaj7 chord shape
can be played at the second fret, resulting in Emaj7; or to the fifth fret for Gmaj7. There are twelve different
positions where you can play this chord shape. In this way the chord name can be any of D, E♭, E, F, G♭, G, A♭,
A, B♭, B, C or D♭. Some of these have enharmonic equivalents such as C# (D♭) and F# (G♭).
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Alan Lowe
A-Class Chords
When describing D-Class chords, we came up with a constant pattern for remembering where the scale
degrees were played. In the D chord it was 1, 5, 1, 3. With seventh chords the pattern is 1, 5, 7, 3.
A Major (A)
If we now move this pattern one string to the left, so that the root note is on the “A”
string, we have the same pattern, “1, 5, 1, 3” for A-class chords.
This chart shows the fretting layout for the A Major chord. The root note is “A”, on the open A-string. The
fifth is “E” on the second fret of the D-string. The root note “A” turns up again on the second fret of the Gstring and finally the third, “C#” is on the second fret of the B-string. Checking against the A-Major scale
shown below the chord chart, we see that these are the correct notes for the chord.
A Major Seven (Amaj7)
Seventh chords in the A-class follow the layout for D-class chords. Due to the tuning of
the guitar, the shape is not identical but the order of tones is the same, i.e. 1, 5, 7, 3.
Checking against the A-Major scale, we have the root note “A”, the third “C#”, the fifth
“E” and the major seventh “G#”.
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A Dominant Seven (A7)
Moving the major seventh to a flat seventh, we get the A Dominant Seventh chord
(from the fifth mode of D Major). Note that the “G#” in the previous pattern has been
replaced with the “G” - a flat seventh when compared to the A Major scale - on the
open G-string:
A Minor (Am)
In this chord, the third is located on the B-string at the second fret. To
make the A Major chord an A Minor, we have to flatten the third, “C#”
to a “C”:
A Minor Seven (Am7)
The Am7 chord can be viewed as an Am with a flat seventh (with
respect to the A Major scale).
The flat seventh is located on the open G-string.
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A Suspended Second (Asus2), A Suspended Fourth (Asus4, Asus)
As with the D-Class chords, the string that contains the major and minor third also gives us access to the
second and fourth for suspended chords.
At the second fret of the B-string, it is a major third (3).
The open B-string becomes a major second (2).
At the third fret of the B-string the note is a perfect fourth (4).
A Augmented (Aaug)
The Aaug chord appears naturally in the third mode of the F# Melodic
Minor scale. The difference between the A Major chord and A Augmented
is the raised fifth.
A Diminished (Adim)
The Adim chord appears naturally in the seventh mode of B♭.
The
difference between the A Major chord and A Diminished is the flattened
third and flattened fifth:
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Doubling-up Chord Tones
You may already be aware that when you play an A chord, you generally play it on 5 strings. The charts so far
have only shown 4 strings being played. These 4-note chords are all that are required in order to play the
chord but there is a way of filling in the remaining strings by doubling up on some of the notes already played.
For the A chord, the open high “E” string can be played as well. It is the fifth of the scale and we may already
have one but we can play as many of any of the chord notes as we like.
The chords shown above use the same basic layout for the A Major chord but the A7 and Amaj7 chords simply
add the seventh without changing the rest of the chord.
This can be particularly useful in certain chords that may not be playable any
other way. For example, the A6 chord requires an F# to be played somewhere
in the chord shape. One way of doing this would be to play the sixth on the Dstring at the fourth fret.
Technically, this is a valid A6 chord but if you consider the moveable nature of
these chords, it could be a bit of a stretch to actually play in certain positions.
However, there is another place to put the F# into this chord that would be
much easier to play. This is the more common way of playing an A6 chord of
this class and is easily moveable to any other fret.
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E-Class Chords
When we moved the “1, 5, 1, 3” layout pattern in the D-class to the next string, we came up with the A-class
chord. We can move this pattern once more so that the root note (1) is on the low E-string:
E Major (E)
The scale shows the notes that belong to the key of E Major. The root note, “E” is
played on the open low E-string and on the second fret of the D-string.. The third,
“G#” is played on the first fret of the G-string. The fifth, “B”, is played on the
second fret of the A-string.
E Minor (Em)
The E Minor chord is derived from the E Minor scale. The E Major
chord becomes E Minor when we flatten the third, “G#” to a “G”.
The third is located on the G-string at the first fret:
E Major Seven (Emaj7)
The layout pattern for seventh chords in the E-class is exactly the same as the Dclass and A-class chords; 1, 5, 7, 3:
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E Dominant Seven (E7)
Moving the major seventh to a flat seventh, we get the E Dominant Seventh chord,
the dominant or fifth chord of A Major. The “D#” in the major seven pattern has
been replaced with the “D”, a flat seventh, on the open D-string:
E Minor Seven (Em7)
Combining the flat seventh with a flat third, we get the E Minor Seventh chord, from
the relative minor scale of G Major.
E Suspended Fourth (Esus4, Esus)
The string that contains the major and minor third also gives us access
to the fourth for the suspended chord:
E Augmented (Eaug)
This chord appears naturally in the Melodic Minor scale. To convert
an E Major to E Augmented, raise the fifth a semitone from B to B#:
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E-class chords can also be formed by combining any of the
variations of each string:
The E-Class chord has additional strings where chord tones are available. For example,
the E Major chord can be played across all six strings by adding the open B and E strings:
Other chords in the E-Class can be
extended to all six strings as well.
The E Minor Seven chord can be played
in a number of shapes by doubling up on
one or more of the chord tones. As long
as the chord spelling is 1, ♭3, 5, ♭7 then all
forms will function satisfactorily. Any
one of these shapes may be chosen for
its subtle tonal difference:
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F Major
Although it looks a little different, the familiar F Major Chord shape is
actually an E-Class chord. The charts show the full chord pattern for F
Major and the simplified F chord that is commonly played.
Chord Translation
A nice thing about D-Class, A-Class and
E-Class chords is that it is a simple
process to translate between them. The
chord tones translate in a kind of
parallel way between the classes.
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Naming Conventions
When naming a chord, the convention is fairly straightforward up to the seventh chord. When the third is flat,
the chord is a minor chord and is indicated by a lower-case “m” in the chord name. When the seventh is flat,
it is denoted by the numeral “7”, and not “♭7”. While 6th, 9th, 11th and 13th chord tones must specify sharp or
flat variants in the chord name, the 7th chord tone is assumed to be flat without a flat identifier (♭).
When both the third and seventh are flat then the chord is a minor seventh, as in Cm7. The “m” and the “7”
have no relevance to each other; the chord can be a minor and it can be a seventh. And it can be both
together. If the seventh is a major seventh then the token “maj7” is part of the chord name, such as Cmaj7.
There is a practice of using “maj” by itself to denote a major seventh since “maj” is redundant when referring
to a normal triad. Sometimes the symbol “∆“ is used as shorthand for “major seven”. You may also see “∆7”
explicitly identifying the seventh.
You can have a chord with a minor third and a major seventh. This is indicated in the chord name such as
CmMaj7 (C Minor Major Seven). The “m” refers to the flat third, the “Maj7” refers to the natural seventh.
When we progress to extended chords such as the ninth, eleventh and thirteenth chords, the flat seventh is
always assumed but we replace the “7” with the highest extension; for example Cm9, Cm11 and Cm13. The
only difference is that the 9, 11 and 13 are presumed to be natural unless otherwise indicated.
The same applies to extended chords that have a major seventh; for example Cmaj9, Cmaj11 and Cmaj13. In
Cmaj9 for example, the “maj” refers to the seventh, not the ninth. The “9” refers to the natural ninth degree.
This rule applies to all extensions that fall into their natural positions. If the ninth was sharp or flat the chord
would be called Cmaj7#9 or Cmaj7♭9 for example.
In all cases, whether major or minor, the seventh must be present or the chord would be add9, add11 or
add13. Cm9 has a seventh and a ninth. Cm11 has a seventh, a ninth and an eleventh and so on.
In some chords, one or more of the extensions may be sharp or flat, in which case this has to be explicit in the
chord name. For example, in the scale of C Minor, the chord tones for the thirteenth chord are 1, ♭3, 5, ♭7, 9,
11 and ♭13.
This will be a minor seventh chord with extensions. The ninth and eleventh degrees are natural so the chord is
Cm11 so far (specifying the highest natural extended tone and assuming the flat seventh and natural ninth). If
the ninth was flat it would be a Cm11♭9. The naming convention is maintained throughout the set of chord
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Alan Lowe
tones as long as those tones are natural and the seventh is flat. For instance, the chord may have all natural
extensions except for a flat thirteenth. The rest of the chord follows the convention so that the name would
be Cm11 with a flat thirteenth. The name is therefore Cm11♭13 (read “C minor eleven flat thirteen”).
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C-Class Chords
This class of chord has a different layout pattern from the 1, 5, 1, 3 of the D, A and E class chords. The C-Class
has a layout pattern 1, 3, 5 in its basic shape.
C Major (C)
This is the shape for the basic C triad without doubling up tones.
The chord tones for the C chord are the root C, the third E and the fifth G.
C Minor and C Suspended (Cm, Csus)
The D-string carries the third in this pattern. If we move this note to other frets, we get the following variants
of the C-class chord:
The first example is Csus4 with the fourth replacing the third.
The second example is the basic C chord.
The third example is Cm with the flattened third.
The fourth example is Csus2 with the second on the open D-string.
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C Augmented, C Six and C Seven (Caug, C6, C7, Cmaj7)
The following charts show the movement of the note that is played on the G-string and the chords that result:
The first example is the basic C triad for reference. Notice the movement of the finger position on the third
string for these variations.
The second example shows Caug with its sharpened fifth on the first fret.
The third example is C6 with the sixth played on the second fret.
The fourth example is C7 with the flat seventh on the third fret.
The fifth example is Cmaj7 with the natural seventh on the fourth fret.
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Alan Lowe
C Seven Suspended, C Minor Seven, C Minor Six (C7sus, Cm7, Cm6)
Other combinations include C7sus2, Cm7, C7sus4 and Cm6:
The C6 chord is taken from the C major scale and therefore uses the natural sixth degree.
The Cm6 chord comes from the C Minor scale in which the third and sixth are flat compared to the major
scale.
The Cm6 chord takes its first, third, fifth and sixth degrees from the scale where those notes fall naturally.
Chord spelling always reflects the positions relative to the major scale.
The previous examples were restricted to just the strings that contained the basic “1, 3, 5” pattern. As with
any chord, we are permitted to use as many 1s, 3s and 5s as we like, provided we have at least one of each.
Extending the basic C chord to include the remaining strings, we get the familiar C
chord shape:
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Let’s explore the variants of the C chord using five strings. The C-class chord is
somewhat easier to identify the location of the chord tones. The layout pattern is
simply “1, 3, 5, 7”, the same as the chord spelling. The C Major Seven chord follows
this pattern:
The C7 chord is one of the first chords you will learn that omits the fifth in order to
play the flat seventh. With chords that contain a sixth or seventh, the fifth may be
omitted. If there is somewhere to put it, that’s ok, but it doesn’t hurt the chord to
drop the fifth as long as there are at least three different tones in the chord. In this
chord we have the first, third and seventh:
Moving the third on the D-string to the minor third position gives
us the Cm and Cm7 chords:
Substituting a major sixth for the flat seventh gives us the C6 chord:
Moving both the third and sixth positions to the flat third and flat sixth gives us the
C Minor Sixth chord (Cm6):
Note that in the C-class chords that contain a major third, the high E-string can be
used to double up on this note. This is not possible with the C-minor chord shapes
so the high E-string is left unplayed.
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Extended Chords
Basic chords are made up of the scale degrees with a compass of one octave. If we add tones from the next
octave higher, the scale degrees are numbered as though they are part of the root octave. Chords containing
“9”, “11” or “13” are known as extended chords. These are named for the largest natural interval from the
root note. The C13 chord, for example, will include the flat seventh and may contain ninths and elevenths but
if these are natural tones, they are assumed, and not specified in the chord name. These will only be specified
if they are altered from their natural position by sharps or flats.
Nine, Eleven and Thirteen Chords
These chords are constructed using the ninth, eleventh and thirteenth degrees of the scale as though these
notes were part of the root octave.
This scale diagram shows two octaves of the C Major scale with some of the chord tones numbered. The first,
third, fifth and seventh degrees are in the root octave. The remaining notes are the ninth, eleventh,
thirteenth and fifteenth. The fifteenth degree is the root note itself and is therefore never specified. The
eighth, tenth, twelfth and fourteenth degrees are already taken as chord tones in the root octave so you
should never see a chord name such as C10 or C12 for example.
The ninth degree corresponds to the second degree in the root octave. The eleventh degree corresponds to
the fourth and the thirteenth degree corresponds to the sixth.
Now a second, fourth or sixth degree in a chord tone could be taken as such. If there is no third degree, then a
second or a fourth could very well make the chord a suspended chord. Seeing both a second and a fourth
might raise some suspicion as there are no sus2/4 chords. They would be taken as a sus2add11 or sus4add9.
The result would be the same. One suggestion would be to use the lower tone (2) as the substitute for the
third and the higher (4) as the extension tone.
If the third is present, then a second and/or a fourth are highly likely to be a ninth and/or eleventh
respectively.
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The same applies to the sixth to some extent. Although it is not uncommon to see a sixth and a seventh in the
same chord, the presence of the seventh may suggest that the sixth is actually a thirteenth. Although in
theory the extension notes should be in the next octave, in practice, almost all of the chord tones can be
played anywhere. A ninth chord may have its ninth in the root octave where you would expect a second to be.
A chord with a sixth and seventh together may be called a dominant 6/7, or even 6(7) for example. If the
chord is written as a thirteenth, it will contain the same notes, however, it may be easier to identify if written
as a thirteenth than to create confusion with the 6/7 approach. A thirteenth must have the seventh so it
doesn’t change any chord tones to call it a thirteenth.
The only caution here is that a thirteenth chord contains all seven degrees of the scale by definition but some
of these may be dropped to facilitate playing on the guitar. The vast majority of chords use three to four
notes of the scale in their formation. It is very rare to find a chord that uses more than four notes in practice
no matter how many notes are contained in the definition. Such chords may not be particularly rare to
someone who plays them regularly. They do exist; however, they form a very thin sliver of the chord pool.
Usually, the tones that are dropped are the fifth and everything above the seventh except the highest tone.
For example, a thirteenth chord can have the first, third, seventh and thirteenth degrees, dropping the fifth,
ninth and eleventh without degrading the chord function.
At first, this chord would look like a 1, 3, 6, 7 chord. You may write and play it as a 6(7) chord but there is
nothing to distinguish this from a thirteenth chord with non-essential tones omitted.
Nor do these tones have to be in any specific order. Most of the chords that you play such as an open D, A or
E chord has its third in the octave above that which contains the root note. Tone distribution above the root is
no great point of concern. If a chord contains a second, fourth or sixth in the root octave, especially in the
presence of a third, it doesn’t necessarily mean that these tones should be taken as they appear. A sixth in the
absence of a seventh is very likely a sixth chord otherwise it could be viewed as a thirteenth chord of some
type.
There will be occasions when one or more of the dropped tones appears on a string in a fret position that
would otherwise be unoccupied and would have to be muted. In that case it is a matter of convenience to
include the dropped note.
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C Thirteen (C13) Construction
An example of the inclusion of dropped notes is the C13 chord. The first, third, seventh and thirteenth
degrees were easy to place. The D-string presented a problem of note assignment. As an open string in Figure
13-a, it represented a ninth degree but moving this chord shape to another fret would be difficult to play. It
could also have been played as a third on the second fret with the same problem as in Figure 13-b. This note
could also have been a fifth as in Figure 13-c and may be playable but perhaps not the best choice.
Figure 13
Playing this note as an eleventh as in Figure 13-d makes it easy to include on the third fret where three notes
are barred with one finger. There may not be any one “correct” way to play a chord but there are certainly
easier ways to play it. You just have to examine the chord tones, position the required notes, see what can be
moved around, and then add any of the omitted notes if it makes the chord easier to play.
Some texts consider the seventh chord to be an extended chord to distinguish it
from the triadic chords that use only the first, third and fifth degrees. This guide
refers to extended chords as those that use the ninth, eleventh and/or thirteenth
tones from the extended octave above the root.
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C Add Nine (Cadd9)
Some additional chords from the C-class include the “add9” chord. A chord
that contains a ninth in the absence of a seventh is said to be “adding” the
ninth. If there were a seventh, the chord would be simply C9 (or Cmaj9).
Figure 14
In this chord, the ninth degree is actually a note from the next octave from that which contains the root note.
The ninth is numbered as though it belongs to the root octave:
The diagram above shows the C scale in one octave with a couple of notes from the next octave. The “9” is
the position of this note relative to the root note C (1).
C Dominant Nine (C9)
The reason that the previous chord is called “add9” is because there is no
seventh in the chord as shown in Figure 14. A proper C9 chord will include
the flat seventh as in Figure 15
Figure 15
You can also add the fifth to the high E-string producing a five-tone chord:
This can also be applied to the Cadd9 to double up the fifth:
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C Major Nine, C Minor Nine (Cmaj9, Cm9)
The C9 chord can be easily modified to produce the Cmaj9 and Cm9 chords:
The ninth degree is the same in both the major and minor variations as shown in the following diagram. Only
the third and seventh are flat in the minor scale when compared to the major scale:
C Major Eleven (Cmaj11)
Similarly, we can determine the layout for eleventh chords. The following diagram compares the scale
degrees for both the C Major and C Minor scales:
Note that the ninth and eleventh degrees are the same in each scale. Only the third and seventh degrees are
different. The C Major 11 chord will consist of the first, third, fifth, seventh, ninth and eleventh degrees. Most
of the time, especially with the guitar, we are going to want to reduce the number of playable notes to the
essentials. All extended chords will require the first, third and seventh plus the highest extended chord tone,
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in this case the eleventh. The chord tones for a Cmaj11 will then be C, E, B and F. At first we may attempt the
straightforward approach:
However, playability may be in question. This chord would be more easily played if we swap some of the
notes around. The root note, “C” should be ok where it is. We don’t have many options for the seventh, “B”
so we will leave it where it is. The third is “E” and the eleventh is “F”. Let’s try swapping those around. We
move the eleventh to the third fret of the D-string and the third to the fifth fret of the B-string:
Now we have a playable chord that will function satisfactorily as a Cmaj11. We can also add the fifth, “G” to
this chord shape and still be able to play this five-tone chord:
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C Minor Eleven (Cm11)
Let’s build the Cm11 the same way. The Cm11 chord tones, from the C-minor scale, are C, E♭, G, B♭, D and F;
too many notes to try to play all at once, so we will drop the fifth and the ninth. This leaves us C, E♭, B♭ and F.
Trying the straightforward approach:
Ok, looks like a bit of a stretch to play that way, so let’s swap the flat third, “E♭” and the eleventh, “F”:
Much easier to play and functions satisfactorily as a Cm11 chord. We could also add the fifth with very little
extra effort in playing:
How about being a little adventurous and attempt to build some five-tone thirteenth chords?
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C Major Thirteenth Chord (Cmaj13)
The chord tones for the Cmaj13 are C, E, G, B, D, F and A. One of the first things
to notice is that this chord uses ALL the scale degrees, from 1 to 7; certainly too
many to play at once even with a seven-string guitar. Let’s first drop the
expendable notes, G, D and F. This leaves the first, third, seventh and thirteenth
degrees, C, E, B and A.
Ok, that’s kind of playable but we could probably do better. Without trying
every combination, there is something that we can take from building the
eleventh chords. We doubled up on the third here to make the chord work
with the tones we picked. But we could put in the eleventh degree, “F” to make
the chord more playable. This produces a chord shape that is simple to play
and functions perfectly as a Cmaj13
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C Minor Thirteenth Chord (Cm13)
The chord tones from the second mode of the B♭ Major scale are C, E♭, G, B♭, D, F and A:
The flat third and flat seventh identify this chord as a minor seventh type with extensions that fall in their
natural position. We therefore call it a Cm13. The ninth and eleventh degrees are assumed in this chord
name. If any of the extensions were not in their natural positions we would have to identify them explicitly.
There are too many notes to play on a guitar, so we drop the fifth and ninth degrees:
This is a comfortably playable five-tone chord that functions satisfactorily as a Cm13.
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C Dominant Thirteenth Chord (C13)
The Dominant thirteenth chord (C13) is derived from the fifth mode of the F Major scale:
When compared to the C Major scale, the only difference is the flat seventh degree. The notes for the C13
chord are therefore C, E, G, B♭, D, F and A. To build a chord from this, we need the first, third, seventh and
thirteenth degrees as a minimum, but like the Cmaj13 and Cm13, the eleventh is also handy for padding out
the chord shape. It is not required; it is just useful for making the chord more playable:
While we could have used some open strings in some of these chords, they would not be available to us if we
moved the chord up the fretboard. These shapes are all moveable without changing the layout.
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C Minor Eleven Flat Thirteen (Cm11♭13)
This is an example of a chord that has a flat extension tone when compared to the major scale; in this case the
thirteenth
This chord has a flat third and flat seventh which makes it a minor seventh with extensions. The ninth and
eleventh are the same as for the major scale up to this point. So far we have a Cm11. The thirteenth is flat
when compared to the major scale so we identify this explicitly as Cm11♭13.
The chord tones we use are the root C, the flat third E♭, the flat seventh B♭, the natural eleventh F and the flat
thirteenth A♭:
This fretboard pattern shows another example of a five-tone chord shape.
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C Major Thirteen Sharp Eleventh (Cmaj13#11)
This is another chord in the C-Class. When compared to the C Major scale, all the tones line up except the
eleventh. We can still construct a playable five-tone chord shape from this.
C Minor Eleven Flat Nine Flat Thirteen (Cm11♭9♭13)
This chord is derived from the third mode of the A♭ Major scale.
The chord has a minor seventh base but the only extension in its natural
position is the eleventh so we start with the name Cm11. To this we add the flat
ninth and flat thirteenth to give the name Cm11♭9♭13. If we dropped the ninth,
we would have a Cm11♭13 which will function satisfactorily as a Cm11♭9♭13. To
play more tones of this chord, it would have to be an E-Class chord as shown at
right. This would include six of the seven chord tones dropping only the fifth.
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Cm11♭9♭13 appears to be a rather cumbersome name for a chord, especially if you have to write it into sheet
music amongst a possible mix of other chords. The easiest approach would be to substitute a Cm7 for this
chord. It would work; however, the chord may be robbed of emotional flavor by dropping the flat ninth,
eleventh and flat thirteenth:
Judging from the chord layout, the order of tones does not seem to be important. Perhaps we can rearrange
the chord tones into a simpler chord name while retaining the required tones. The procedure is relatively
straightforward; let’s take the original scale chart for the chord and rearrange the tones. Instead of starting at
C, let’s look at the scale from the third degree, E♭:
The same chord tones are used; we just started from E♭ instead of C. However, when the chord tones are
numbered in this new order, a much simpler chord name results:
The spelling of the chord is now 1, 3, 5, ♭7, 9, 11, 13. The chord name is E♭13. It is in the same key and the
same chord tones are used. Now we drop the non-essential tones to make the chord easier to play. This gives
us the root (1), the third (3), the flat seventh (♭7) and the thirteenth (13). The chord tones are Eb, G, Db and C.
Here are some suggestions for playing this
chord. The first example uses the tones
specified. The second example adds the
eleventh simply because it is convenient
to avoid muting the otherwise unused
string.
The difference between the original Cm11♭9♭13 and the substituted E♭13 is the seventh from the former is not
played in the latter since it becomes a fifth in the new arrangement and is customarily dropped. However, if
this tone is required, the third example shows one way of adding it. This chord is almost indistinguishable
from a simple E♭6. The fourth example adds the ninth using all tones but the fifth.
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There is an anomaly with thirteenth chords in that this type uses all seven degrees of the scale in its definition.
That means that all seven chords in the thirteenth chord scale use all seven degrees; only the order of tones
changes.
In the previous example, we simply substituted one chord in the scale for another chord in the scale. More
than that, we substituted a major chord for a minor chord. This could potentially lead to any chord in the
scale being substituted for any other chord.
To avoid this quirk, we have to simplify the chords by dropping ALL the fifths, ninths and elevenths. Note that
this also simplifies the chord name since the dropped notes need not be specified. However, you should have
enough information now to restore the missing tones if they are required.
In the previous example, the chords were in the key of A♭ Major. The following diagram shows all the
thirteenth chords of the C Major scale.
These chord shapes can be translated to other strings as follows:
Now you have at least two different places to play the same chords.
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G-Class Chords
This class of chord also has a layout pattern of 1, 3, 5 in its basic shape, similar to the C-class chord.
G Major (G)
The chord tones for the G chord are the root G, the third B and the fifth D. This is the G Major triad from
which we can develop other chords in the G class.
G Suspended, G Minor (Gsus, Gm)
The B-string carries the third in this pattern. If we move this note to other frets, we get the following variants
of the G-class chord:
The first example is Gsus4 with the fourth replacing the third.
The second example is the basic G chord.
The third example is Gm with the flattened third.
The fourth example is Gsus2 with the second on the open A-string.
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G Augmented, G Six, G Seven, G Major Seven (Gaug, G6, G7, Gmaj7)
The following charts show the movement of the note that is played on the D-string:
The first example is the basic G chord for reference.
The second example shows Gaug with its sharpened fifth.
The remaining examples have omitted the fifth altogether.
The third example is G6 with the sixth played on the second fret.
The fourth example is G7 with the flat seventh on the third fret.
The fifth example is Gmaj7 with the seventh on the fourth fret.
G Seven Suspended, G Minor Seven, G Minor Six (G7sus, Gm7, Gm6)
Other combinations include G7sus2, Gm7, G7sus4 and Gm6:
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Extending the basic G chord to include the remaining strings, we get the
familiar G chord shape:
The seventh is often played on the high E-string with this chord shape. Moving
the G on the high E-string to the second fret, we get the G Major 7 chord:
Moving the note on the high E-string to the first fret, we get the G Dominant 7
(G7) chord shape:
Finally, moving the note on the high E-string to the open string position we
get the G Major 6 (G6) chord shape:
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Bar Chords
All of the chords discussed so far have been referred to as “open chords” since they use open strings to play
some of the notes. These chords have also been said to be “moveable”. This means that the chord shape can
be moved to other frets in order to play chords in other keys.
Students of music theory may know that chords can be described as “open” or “closed” depending on
whether the chord tones are all contained within the same octave (closed) or distributed among two or more
octaves (open). In the context of this guide, “open” refers to the chord structures that use open strings for
one or more of the chord tones.
The most common bar chords are A-Class and E-class. Using these two chord classes, you could play almost
any song you want to.
Take the A-Class chord for example. This chord was constructed as an open chord using the following layout
pattern:
Moving this chord shape to some other fret is indicated by the following diagram:
The fret positions that are linked with a thick line were played as open strings on the original chord shape. We
have to carry these “open” notes to another fret in order to play the chord. This is done by using the index
finger of the fretting hand. That finger is said to be “barring” the strings indicated. This is why bar chords are
so named. Some texts use the Spanish spelling “barre” but it means the same thing.
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The scale degrees are the same as for the open chord. Only the note values change to reflect the new
position.
All of these chords have exactly the same shape, only the position changes. The fret where the chord is
positioned is indicated by “Fr” with the fret number; e.g. Fr2 = second fret. Since the root note is used to
name the chord, as the root note moves up through the scale, so does the name of the chord. As shown
above, when the A Major chord shape is played at the seventh fret, it becomes E Major.
Similarly, the E Major chord in the open position can be translated into an A Major chord by simply moving it
up the fifth fret:
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Chord Scales
When we extracted the basic chords from the modes of the C Scale, we were able to gather a collection of
chords: C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am and Bdim.
This collection is called a chord scale.
Knowing where your chords are located on the fretboard is a huge advantage especially when improvising for
a soloist. When you know the primary chords in a scale you can instantly create accompaniment that will
work well musically.
The following diagrams will give a guide to a range of chord scales in various keys.
This diagram shows all of the notes in the D Major scale from the open D-string upwards. The scale is D Major
but since this chord scale singles out the seventh chords of D Major, we would be justified in referring to this
chord scale as D Major 7. We could do the same for ninth, eleventh and thirteenth chord scales.
The filled-in positions represent the chord shape for the Dmaj7 chord, the root chord of D Major 7:
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Each fret position in the previous diagram has been moved to the next fret position showing the chord layout
for Em7, the second chord in D Major 7:
Moving to the next fret position gives us the layout for F#m7, the third chord in D Major 7:
The next chord in sequence is Gmaj7, the fourth chord in D Major 7:
Continuing the process, we get the A7 chord, the fifth or dominant of D Major 7:
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This chord is Bm7, the sixth chord in D Major 7:
Finally, we have C#m7♭5, the seventh chord in D Major 7:
If you continue this process, the next chord will be Dmaj7 again. It is a good exercise to play all these chords in
sequence so that you know them when they are required.
The same process of marking scale notes on the fretboard chart and identifying chords in the scale will show
the chords of A Major.
Since we are constructing seventh chords in the key, we could call the scale A Major Seven. It is still the key of
A Major but the chord scale consists only of seventh chords so A Major Seven distinguishes this chord scale
from, let’s say, the scale of ninth chords in A Major that you may identify as the A Major Nine chord scale.
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The filled-in notes are those of the chord Amaj7, the root chord of the A Major Seven scale:
Moving each of the marked notes to the next note in the scale, we get the chord Bm7, the second chord of A
Major Seven:
The next chord in the scale is C#m7, the third chord of A Major Seven:
The layout pattern for Dmaj7, the fourth chord of A Major Seven:
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The next chord in the scale is E7, the fifth or dominant of A Major Seven:
The layout pattern for F♯m7, the sixth chord of A Major Seven:
The last chord in the A Major Seven scale is G#m7♭5:
Continuing this process to the twelfth fret will result in Amaj7 again.
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This process can also be applied to other chord scales, like the ninth chords of C Major for example. The key is
still C Major but since we are looking for the ninth chords, we can refer to this particular chord scale as C
Major Nine.
Cmaj9
Dm9
Em7b9
Fmaj9
G9
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Am9
Bm7b9
This process can be used to find the chords in any key. Simply identify the scale degrees on the fretboard and
the chord shapes will usually become apparent.
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6/9 Chords
This variant of the sixth chord turns up from time to time. As the name suggests, it contains both a sixth and a
ninth degree. The root and third follow the usual rules and there is no seventh in this chord. However, the
rules for seventh chords also apply as though the sixth were a seventh. While the sixth is present, there is no
need to specify the ninth as an “added” tone (e.g. C6 add 9)
In this scale diagram, the first, third, sixth and ninth tones are indicated. The fifth could be included but is not
required.
The chord is a major 6 with a ninth; it could be called C6 add 9 but that would be like saying C7 add 9 which we
have seen is simply C9. Sometimes this chord may be written
or even C6(9) to avoid the use of “/” which
has another meaning in chord names. These are the 6(9) chords of C Major. Note that the chord tones are
the root, third or flat third, sixth or flat sixth and ninth or flat ninth in each mode:
Table 8
The first chord is C6(9) with the first, third, sixth and ninth degrees, C, E, A and D:
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The second chord has a minor third degree but the sixth is a major 6; so it is a D minor major 6(9) or
DmMaj6(9). The chord tones are D, F, B and E:
The third chord has a minor third and a minor sixth making this an Em6 with a flat ninth or Em6♭9. The chord
tones are E, G, C and F:
The fourth and fifth chords are F6(9) and G6(9). They have the same shape but different starting note:
Layout pattern for F6(9)
Layout pattern for G6(9)
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The sixth chord with its flat third and flat sixth is an Am6(9). The chord tones are A, C, F and B:
The seventh chord technically has a diminished structure if the fifth were included. It would be a Bdim6♭9 in
that case. If the fifth is not actually played, then the chord has the same shape as a Bm6♭9.
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Alternative Chord Layouts
While the following chords are still in the key of C Major, alternative fingerings for the same chords are often
useful to know. The previous chord layouts used the second, third, fourth and fifth strings. The following
fretboard diagrams show the same chords on the top four strings.
Em6♭9
F6(9)
G6(9)
Am6(9)
Bm6♭9
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C6(9)
DmMaj6(9)
Simplified Chord Shapes
The following charts show just a few simplified chord shapes. The strings marked with X should be muted in
these examples. This type of chord is commonly used in Jazz.
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Slash Chords
Sometimes a chord is required to have a different bass note than the root note of the scale from which the
chord was derived. One such common chord is a C with a G bass. The chord shape looks like this.
Another chord that shows up from time to time is a D with an F# bass. Here are two alternative ways of
playing this chord:
Occasionally, a note is taken away from the basic chord shape, while still retaining the required chord tones.
One such chord is G/B where the low “G” is not played.
If you sometimes find that the slash note is difficult to include in the chord fingering, it may be that the slash
note is meant to be played by the bass player while you play the normal chord.
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Chord Inversion
In music theory, a chord inversion is a special type of chord where the root note is moved to the top of the
chord, so to speak. On a music staff, the bottom note of the chord is moved to the top. This is called a first
inversion. When the new bottom note is moved to the top again, the result is a second inversion. Doing this a
third time results in the original triad an octave higher.
The following diagram shows two octaves of the C major scale.
The numerals indicate the degrees of the scale that form the chord in root position. If we take the root note
C, indicated by the numeral “1”, and locate it an octave higher, we get the following representation of a first
inversion:
Again moving the lowest degree an octave higher, we get the second inversion:
Finally, moving the lowest degree results in the C chord in root position but one octave higher:
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Ambiguous Chord Names
Sometimes you will analyze a chord shape and come up with something weird
and wonderful that may be better explained with a reshuffling of the scale
degrees. Take the following D chord type. The chord has the D root note and
the B-sixth. There is no third but there is an E-second and a G-fourth. The
chord name is quite complex and may require some explanation.
This diagram shows two octaves in D Major. The D Major chord is constructed from the first, third and fifth
degrees. The Dmaj7 chord is constructed from the first, third, fifth and seventh degrees.
We can construct a chord from the first, third, fifth, seventh and ninth degrees as well. This chord would be
called Dmaj9. If we add the eleventh degree, the chord would be called Dmaj11. Finally, we can add the
thirteenth degree and call the chord Dmaj13. By the time we get to the Major thirteenth chord, we have used
all seven notes of the scale. The Dmaj13 chord is D, F#, A, C#, E, G, and B.
There may be some difficulty in playing such a chord on a six-string guitar, not to mention the number of
fingers we have to play the chord. Sure, we play some six-string chords by barring the strings with the index
finger and adding the required notes with the three remaining fingers. There are no doubled-up notes in a
thirteenth chord. They are all different.
The way around this is to remove certain notes from the chord that don’t affect the function of the chord but
retain its colour. There is a rule regarding extended chords; ninth, eleventh and thirteenth chords must
contain the seventh. If the seventh is omitted, then the chord would be add nine, add eleven or add thirteen.
The third must also be retained to give the chord its major/minor colour.
The root note is able to be omitted on occasion, but only if the guitar is played in a band situation where a
bass guitar may be filling in the root notes. Otherwise the root note should be retained.
Typically, the first note to be omitted is the fifth, unless this note is specifically called for such as in augmented
chords or diminished chords.
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This reduces the chord to the first, third, seventh, ninth, eleventh and thirteenth degrees; still too many to
play comfortably. We have to keep the first, third, seventh and thirteenth. All the rest are expendable.
An eleventh chord is defined as the first, third, fifth, seventh, ninth and eleventh degrees. We have to keep
the first, third, seventh and eleventh degrees.
A ninth chord is defined as the first, third, fifth, seventh and ninth degrees. The required notes are the first,
third, seventh and ninth degrees.
In summary, the chord must have the first, third and seventh plus the highest extender note in the chord,
whether that is a ninth, eleventh or thirteenth. This makes all chords as relatively easy to play as any seventh
chord. The only question is where to find the extended chord tones.
Referring to the extended D scale, the ninth, eleventh and thirteenth degrees
correspond to the second, fourth and sixth degrees of the basic major scale.
This chord shape contains the second, fourth and sixth degrees. Any of these
could be the extended chord tones but let’s first go back to the basic tones
required for a chord in order to get the name that we gave this chord shape.
The absence of a third suggests that the chord may be a suspended chord. However, we have both a second
and a fourth to substitute for the third. There are no suspended chords that contain both a second and a
fourth so one of these just might be an extended tone. It could be either of them but the distribution of the
chord tones across two octaves gives us a ready-made possible solution. The fourth in this chord shape is in
the same octave as the root note, D. The second is in the extended octave and could be called a ninth.
The sixth degree is also in the same octave as the root note and is therefore reasonable to assume it to be a
normal major sixth. This makes the chord a D6 of some kind with an omitted third and an included fourth.
This makes a D6sus4 at this point.
All that remains is the ninth; however, there is no seventh in this chord. The rule for extended chords is that
the seventh must be present. In the absence of a seventh, we are said to be adding the extended note. This is
where we get chord names like Dadd9, Dadd11 and Dadd13. So this chord becomes a D6-sus4-add9
There is enough information in this chord name to construct the chord.
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It could also be a D6-sus2-add11 by the same kind of logic, although we would be taking the fourth in the root
octave and calling it an eleventh and taking the ninth and calling it a second. Same result, quirky way of
coming up with it. This is a rather complex name for a simple chord shape but let’s see where it goes.
There is another alternative; if we are permitted to shuffle the chord tones around, then we might apply this
to the remaining notes. For example, we called this chord a D because of the root note. However, this may
not actually be a D chord. Let’s take another look at the chord tones:
In this chord, we have D, G, B and E. What if D is not actually the root note? Let’s try the next note for
example. Reordering the notes, we get G, B, D and E. With G as the root note, let’s see how that fits the G
Major scale:
These chord tones fall perfectly into place for a simple G6 chord. You may
think of this as a G Major 6 but the distinction is rarely used in practice. G6
and Gmaj6 describe the same chord. This is the standard open G6 chord
shape. In a G6 chord, the sixth degree is a major sixth.
Just for fun, the Em chord can be augmented with an interesting result. The chord tones
for Em are E, G and B. To augment this chord, the fifth must be sharpened. In the case of
Em, all the Bs become Cs (or B#s if you like). Performing this operation on an Em chord
produces the following chord shape that you may recognize as an open C. The chord is E
by virtue of the root note but it is an interesting result.
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Determining Chord Root
The chapter on ambiguous chord names may appear to be somewhat hit and miss in deciding what the chord
really is. Fortunately there is a more practical approach to analyzing a chord by first determining its root note.
Given some apparently random arrangement of notes on a guitar fretboard, there may be several chord
names that could be used to identify it. Some names could seem unusually complex and the preference would
be to use the simplest or most satisfactory name.
Using the C chord as an example, the tones are C, E and G. These could be arranged in any of six different
ways. While that may not seem too difficult, four-note chords could be arranged in twenty four different ways
and five-note chords in one hundred and twenty different ways.
If we limit the arrangements to those of ascending order only, then there are only as many arrangements as
there are tones; three for 3-note chords, four for 4-note chords, five for 5-note chords and so on.
The ways of arranging the tones of a C chord this way are CEG, EGC and GCE. Ascending order may mean
passing from one octave to the next but this is acceptable. These chord names can be interpreted as C, Em+
or G6sus. The simplest choice is C but how do we know that this was the best choice?
The solution is to locate the lowest perfect fifth in the arrangements. The bracketed notes have only been
inserted as temporary placeholders to help in constructing the chart and are not considered part of the chord.
In the first arrangement, there is a perfect fifth from C to G. The second and third arrangements don’t contain
a perfect fifth at all (disregarding bracketed notes). Since the first arrangement is the only one with a perfect
fifth, this is very likely to be the “correct” choice.
Now locate the lowest tone of the perfect fifth. This will be the root note of the chord, in this case C.
This was a very simple example using a familiar chord shape that resulted in C as the most satisfactory name.
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Let’s try that with another simple chord arrangement, DFA.
Of these examples, the only one with a perfect fifth is the first one, describing a Dm chord (1, ♭3, 5). The
second example may possibly function as an F6 chord but the third example seems way too complex to
describe a 3-tone chord.
While the absence of a fifth in the second example is not a deal-breaker, its presence in the first example
suggests that this is the closest to a correct choice. The perfect fifth exists between D and A. Taking the
lowest note of this perfect fifth gives us D as the root note. The remaining notes in this pattern describe a
basic Dm chord as the most satisfactory choice.
Sometimes the note arrangement as played does not contain a perfect fifth. The next step then is to look for a
perfect fourth. For example, the tones may be F, B♭ and D. The F and B♭ suggest the F Major scale as a
starting point.
First guess here would produce F6sus4 which looks suspiciously complex for a simple chord. Another
arrangement is D F B♭. From the D Minor scale, we get Dm6 in which the fifth is optional. While this is
feasible, it is still not convincing.
These two arrangements both contain a perfect fourth between F and B♭. When a perfect fourth is found,
take the highest note of the fourth and call this the root note, in this case B♭. Rearranging these tones with B♭
as the root note gives us a simple B♭ chord, the most satisfactory name for this arrangement of tones.
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Sometimes you will get an arrangement in which no perfect fifths or perfect fourths exist. For example, the
chord tones may be B, D and F. We can arrange these in three ways:
Where no fourths or fifths can be found, the next step is to locate the lowest third in the set. The first and
third examples have B-D as the lowest third. The second example shows the third as D-F.
Take the lowest note of the lowest third and call this the root note. In this case we get B with the remaining
tones describing a B Diminished chord, the simplest and most satisfactory name for the chord.
Once again this was a very simple example. Chord root determination is not always so straightforward.
Let’s try a slightly more difficult chord root project. Suppose someone plays this chord but doesn’t know its
name. You may already recognize this shape but so much the better for demonstrating the method.
The chord contains only three notes; F#, A and D. Lay them out the way they appear in the chord chart in all
three combinations:
First we look for a perfect fifth; not in the scale per se but among the chord tones played. There are no
perfect fifths in the first or second combinations. The third combination has a perfect fifth from D to A, so we
call D the root note as it is the lowest note of the fifth.
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From the D Major scale, we find the tones used in the “mystery” chord describe a simple D chord. However,
this chord was played with different bass notes than the root note. It can be viewed as a D chord in first
inversion or more commonly in guitar parlance, a slash chord, D/F#.
Just to close this chapter, let’s take a look at a four-tone chord.
The chord tones in the order they are played, are C, F#, A, and D. Since there are four tones, there are four
possible arrangements:
Ignoring the bracketed notes, only the first and the second arrangements contain perfect fifths, from D – A.
So we call D the root note. Trying the D Major scale, we find that the chord tones are a perfect match for a D7
chord, with spelling 1, 3, 5, ♭7.
These tones could now be rearranged on the fretboard so that root note D is the lowest tone played. As long
as all the original tones are present, the chord is not changed.
This method of finding the chord root can save a lot of time compared to going through every combination in
a trial-and-error process. The above combination would otherwise produce chords like C6sus4add9, Fdim6
and AmMaj6add11. D7 is clearly the preferred chord.
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Altered Tone Chords
Chords are typically built only on the notes of the diatonic scale. These are sometimes referred to as “diatonic
chords”.
Chords can contain tones that do not belong to the scale. These go by various names, but the usual name is
“altered tone chords”. Another term is “chromatic chords” which means that they can use any note from the
twelve semitones in the octave. Sometimes a chord is called “modulatory” if the chord is taken from a
different key. This occurs in a song where the key is changed for one chord or so before returning to the
original key of the song.
The presence of a sharpened or flattened tone does not make a chord an altered tone chord. Chords
containing notes directly from the scale can have sharp or flat tones when compared to the major scale. A
chord is only altered if a normal tone is sharpened or flattened from its original value, even if the original note
was sharp, flat or natural. A completely foreign note can also be added to a chord. These are generally known
as “added tone” chords.
Any tone of the chord can be altered but usually it is the fifth or ninth degree that is sharpened or flattened to
change the tone of the chord. An example of an altered tone chord is C7#9.
The C7#9 chord does not appear in any mode of any of the major scales or the harmonic or melodic minor
scales. The C7 chord is the dominant chord of the F Major scale but to make a C7#9 chord, we modify the
ninth degree “D” to a D#. The chord has a very bluesy flavor to it. Note that the chord chart omits the fifth.
Sometimes this chord is known as the “Hendrix Chord” due to its use by Jimi Hendrix.
Note: If this chord had a natural ninth, it would simply be a C9 or C Dominant Ninth to use the full name.
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Power Chords
Chords are defined as three or more notes played simultaneously. Chords that use the first, third and fifth
degrees of the scale are called “triads”.
Two notes are generally considered an interval. However, the “power chord” is a chord consisting of two
notes; the first and fifth degrees of the scale. A chord of just two notes is a “dyad”.
Power chords are used frequently in rock and metal but can be used in any other genre. Chords of this type
are labeled in sheet music as A5, B5, C5, etc.
Figure 16 – G Power Chord
Figure 16 shows the fretting for the basic two-note G power chord. The root note is G and the fifth is D
Figure 17 – C Power Chord
Figure 17 shows the fretting for the basic two-note C power chord. The root note is C and the fifth is G
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Power chords are sometimes played using three notes that add strength to the chord. The third note that is
added is just another root note.
Figure 18 – Three-note G and C power chords
Because the power chord contains no third, there are no major or minor power chords. However, power
chords can still follow scale patterns like any chord scale and therefore have a specific key in which the song is
played.
For example, your song may open with an E power chord. The song may be in E Major or E Minor but we
won’t know until successive chords are played. If the second chord is a G, then the key would be E Minor. If
the second chord was G#, then the key is E Major. Solo improvisations should take this into account.
Sometimes you will see power chords played by double-stopping two strings on the same fret:
You may attempt to call this a C power chord but the interval from C to F is not a fifth, but a perfect fourth.
From the chapter on determining chord roots, we know that when a fourth is found, we take the highest note
of the perfect fourth and call that the root note. In this case, the chord is F. If this chord was played with F as
the lowest tone, we would have the more recognizable F power chord:
The interval from F to C is a perfect fifth. Again from the chapter on determining chord roots, the lowest note
of the perfect fifth is the chord root. In both cases we get F as the chord name.
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Soloing With Modes
By now you should be familiar with how chords are extracted from the modes of scales. This section explains
more about the mode patterns that you can use for soloing.
Modes seem to be one the foggiest concepts in musical scales that only receive the briefest description in any
text on the subject. This may be primarily because the concept of modes has lost its importance in classical
theory where only the major and minor modes are significant. However, for the purpose of flexibility in guitar
improvisation, mode patterns are almost essential. This is an attempt to demystify the application of modes
as diatonic scales.
Fretboard Layouts for Mode Patterns
All the modes could be played from a single “box” on the fretboard. For example, the C major scale’s first
mode looks like this on the fretboard.
The second mode of the C scale could be played using the same box but starting on the D note on the 10th fret
of the low E string but if we kept this up through all the modes we would have fewer notes available for
musical expression. Fortunately, the guitar fretboard is long enough to allow a little more freedom of
movement. The notes on the left-hand side of the pattern can be played further up the fretboard on an
adjacent string creating a new mode pattern starting with D.
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This new pattern can also be translated the same way to produce the next pattern that starts with E:
There are seven basic patterns; one for each degree of the scale. Each pattern covers around seventeen notes
across the fretboard. Other texts may offer minor variations to these patterns but these should give you an
understanding of their use.
Mode Names and Patterns
The modes discussed in this guide have Greek names assigned to them that should make it easier to identify,
rather than just calling them mode 1, mode 2 etc.
Ionian
The Ionian mode is the Major Scale in root position.
This mode pattern is shown in the key of C major; however, there are twelve different keys where this pattern
is the Ionian mode. The pattern is the same for each key, only the starting position on the fretboard changes
to suit the key. The starting note is often specified with modes. This pattern is C-Ionian.
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Dorian
The Dorian mode in the key of C Major can be played using this fretboard pattern. Since the starting note is D
in this key, the pattern is known as D-Dorian:
Like any of the mode patterns, this works well over any chord in C Major or A Minor but because of its tonal
centre D, works especially well over a D Minor chord in the key of C.
Phrygian
This diagram shows the Phrygian mode played at the twelfth fret. This pattern works well over the E Minor
chord in the key of C. This pattern is E-Phrygian.
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Lydian
In this diagram we have wrapped around the fretboard to start with F at the first fret. The Lydian mode works
well over the F Major chord in the key of C. The pattern is F-Lydian:
Mixolydian
The Mixolydian mode works perfectly over a G7 chord in C Major. Sometimes when you find yourself playing
the Ionian mode over a seventh chord and something is not quite working, try the Mixolydian mode. If you
are familiar with the Ionian pattern, the Mixolydian is so similar that it should not take a lot of time to learn it.
This pattern is G-Mixolydian:
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Aeolian
This is the fretboard pattern for the Aeolian mode. This pattern can also be thought of as the Natural Minor
Scale. It works well over any chord of C Major or A Minor as a soloing pattern. The pattern is A-Aeolian:
In this diagram, the mode is shown in A Minor but like the other modes, can be moved to other frets for the
other keys.
Locrian
The Locrian mode gets a bad rap because it sounds terrible when played over a major chord but when played
in its proper position is no different to any other mode. However, this pattern works very well over a minor
seven flat five or diminished chord. This pattern is B-Locrian:
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As far as soloing goes, all the modes of a given key could be used over any of the chords in that key as long as
the melody ends on some tonal centre of the underlying chord.
These three modes cover the fretboard from the nut to the twelfth fret with no gaps in the scale notes. The
remaining modes, the Lydian, Mixolydian, Ionian and Locrian are also there when you know where to look:
When you can identify the mode patterns you can use these “boxes” to guide you in your soloing.
The patterns illustrated in this chapter are only suggestions for ways of playing a particular mode. It is the
interval pattern that defines a mode in a given key, not necessarily the fretboard pattern. More familiarity
with these mode patterns will enable you to find additional mode patterns and to move between the patterns
to enhance your flexibility in moving around the fretboard.
This chart shows the partial pattern you could play when moving from the Aeolian mode through the Ionian to
the Dorian.
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The remaining modes and their relative positions on the fretboard are the Lydian and Locrian:
These two modes almost directly overlay other modes. The Locrian is the Ionian with one additional note, in
this case the B on the seventh fret of the low E-string.
If you find the Lydian, as illustrated here, to be a bit of a stretch to play, it can also be played as E-Phrygian
with its root note just one fret lower on the E-string. The same notes are involved, only the starting note is
different. Bear in mind that the Mixolydian mode is also nearby - just two frets higher - and almost perfectly
overlaps the Lydian mode.
The use of modes frees up your movement around the fretboard, giving a greater range of tonal choices.
Mode patterns always keep their position relative to the other modes but the absolute position on the
fretboard depends on the key in which they are played. In C Major the Ionian mode starts at the eighth fret of
the low E-string. In A Major the Ionian mode begins at the fifth fret. In G Major, the third fret and so on.
There are twelve unique major scales and therefore twelve different locations for each mode pattern.
However, the second mode is always the Dorian mode and is two semitones higher than the Ionian. The
Phrygian mode is always four semitones higher than the Ionian, wherever that happens to lie.
Modes of Melodic Minor
All scales can be arranged in modes. The Melodic Minor modes are almost identical to the Major Modes
except for a single altered degree. They share the same mode names as the major modes they most closely
resemble but with the altered degree specified. For example, comparing the Melodic Minor to the Major
Dorian Mode, the first mode of Melodic Minor has the same interval pattern except for the raised seventh
degree, so the name is Dorian #7:
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The second mode of Melodic Minor is identical to the Major Phrygian Mode except for a raised sixth degree,
so it is called Phrygian #6:
The third mode of Melodic Minor is identical to the Major Lydian Mode except for a raised fifth. This mode is
called Lydian #5:
The remaining modes of Melodic Minor are similarly named after the modes of the Major Scale according to
those they most closely resemble:
In summary, these are the modes of Melodic Minor
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Modes of Harmonic Minor
The Modes of Harmonic Minor are similarly named after the major modes that they most closely resemble:
Which Mode?
In the mode diagram of the Major Scale, there are three minor modes or four if you include the seventh mode,
the diminished mode. The second, third and sixth modes define a minor chord. Given that these minor chords
could be any minor chord in any key, how do we determine which mode to play over any given minor chord?
Take A Minor (Am) for example. Am is the sixth chord in the key of C major and is defined in the Aeolian mode
of that key. Does this mean we can play the Aeolian mode over any Am chord regardless of which key it is in?
The Am chord can also be derived from the Dorian mode of G Major and the Phrygian mode of F Major.
The chord tones for Am are the same in each case. However, the tones between the chord tones vary
between keys. If you played the natural minor scale over Am in the key of G Major, you would be playing a
natural F in a key where all Fs are sharp. Only the Dorian mode will match the Am chord in this key.
Similarly, in the key of F Major, all Bs are flat. Only the Phrygian mode will match Am in this key.
The answer to which mode to use over a particular chord is to understand the modes relate to the key rather
than a given chord. Am is the sixth chord in the key of C Major. In the key of G Major, the sixth chord is Em.
In the key of F Major, the sixth chord is Dm. The Aeolian mode will fit these chords perfectly if played in the
appropriate key.
So the first step to understanding modes is to be able to identify the basic chords that belong to any given key.
The basic chords are those constructed from the first, third and fifth notes of each of the seven modes of the
major scale. These chords are known as triads in music theory because they consist of just three notes.
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The following table lists just a few keys and the chord scales that belong to them. Note that the vi column lists
the chords over which you would play an Aeolian mode improvisation.
In each key the chord progression is the same, i.e. Major, Minor, Minor, Major, Major, Minor, Diminished.
Sometimes, diminished chords are indicated with a ⁰ symbol, e.g. B⁰
Roman numerals are traditionally used to number the chords in a key. Upper case numerals denote major
chords and lower case denotes minor and diminished chords.
In each column, the chord type is the same, e.g. the I, IV and V chords are always major, the ii, iii and vi
chords are always minor and vii chord is always diminished.
The chords that belong to the minor scale are identical to its relative major scale. We just start at the vi chord.
The roman numerals always refer to the position of the chord in the major scale.
Note: Roman numerals only refer to the chords in a scale, not the notes. Scale degrees use Arabic numerals to
denote their position within the scale as seen in chord spelling, e.g. 1, 3, 5 etc. The names given to degrees of
the scale can also be used to denote chords in the scale. The first chord is the Tonic (I) followed by the
Supertonic (ii), Mediant (iii), Subdominant (IV), Dominant (V), Submediant (vi) and Subtonic (vii).
While playing, you may notice certain patterns of chord progression. For example, two major chords
separated by a whole step will be the IV and V chords. Two minor chords separated by a whole step are the
ii and iii chords. The only ambiguity is a major and minor with a whole step between them that could be
either I-ii or V-vi .
The fifth chord in a scale can also be a dominant seventh so is reasonably easy to locate your position with the
key and therefore to identify the key itself. If seventh chords are chosen for the chord scale then the V chord
will always be a dominant seventh.
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These issues are only relevant if the progression is an improvisation where the key may not be already known;
otherwise it should be an easy matter to plan your solo over the chord progression beforehand. This is
particularly important if the progression changes key and you don’t want to be caught in an off-key mode.
Modulation
This is the term used to describe the process of changing keys within a piece of music. In Diatonic Modulation,
the new key shares a chord with the old key. This is called a pivot chord and can be any chord that is common
to both keys.
The mode used for that chord will depend on the key to which you associate the chord and the choice will
affect the character of the music. If the chord is common to both keys, use modes in the old key until the
progression changes to a chord that is definitely in the new key. The ear won’t be expecting the change
before then and the effect would be the accompaniment lagging the melody.
In Chromatic Modulation, the key typically changes by a semitone; either up or down for various emotive
effects. In this form of modulation, the mode selection is dependent on the new key and must change with it.
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Moving Modes within the Key
In almost any explanation of modes, you will come across the idea that any of the mode patterns can be
played over any chord in the key. While the rules of harmony have been somewhat relaxed since around the
18th century, the music of Western culture is still based on the diatonic scale and the harmonic relationships
still apply.
All modes can be played in a different position within the key but that is not to say that they all sound good.
An extreme example would be playing the Locrian mode where the Ionian is normally played. Essentially, you
would be playing out of key. However, every mode can be changed into another mode by altering just one
note so that the contrast is not so dramatic.
The following diagrams show the changes from one mode pattern to another. We are only changing one note
of a given mode so that it resembles the pattern of another mode. Since the change results in a familiar
pattern, the corresponding name is used to identify the pattern rather than a position within the scale. The
black dots indicate the notes that are altered. The fretboard patterns span over two octaves, so there are two
to three notes that are changed for each pattern.
Soloing ideas may include ascending in the first pattern and descending in the second pattern at the same root
position. For example, ascend in C-Ionian and descend in C-Mixolydian.
The Ionian becomes the Mixolydian pattern if you flatten the seventh:
The Mixolydian becomes the Dorian pattern when you flatten the third.
Bear in mind that this also changes a major mode into a minor mode.
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The Dorian becomes the Aeolian pattern by flattening the sixth:
The Aeolian becomes the Phrygian pattern by flattening the second:
The Phrygian becomes the Locrian pattern by flattening the fifth:
The Locrian mode can be changed into the Lydian mode by flattening the
first degree. This also changes a minor mode into a major mode:
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Pentatonic Scales
One of the most common scale patterns in use is the Pentatonic (five-tone) Scale. This pattern has been in use
for centuries, originating in the folk songs of many cultures. It is used as a basis for lead guitar soloing in
almost every genre. It is difficult to write any work on scales and chords without referring to them in some
way.
The most commonly used pentatonic scale is the one that many players know as the Minor Pentatonic. The
basic fretting pattern for the minor pentatonic follows:
This fretting pattern shows a little over two octaves of the pentatonic. The pattern should be practiced until
you can play it without thinking. In certain situations where you may forget a complex lead guitar solo, the
pentatonic scale is a kind of safety net that allows you to perform the solo so it sounds like it belongs to the
song. If you know the key of the song, you can always get away with an impromptu pentatonic improvisation.
As with any of the scales discussed so far, the pentatonic scale also has modes. They are rarely referred to as
such; in most cases they are called pattern 1, pattern 2 etc. However, if we start on the second note of the A
Minor pentatonic shown above, we can play in the same key but further up the fretboard.
The lower notes in the pattern (empty circles) are translated up the
fretboard to create the second pattern (solid circles). This new
pattern is often called the major pentatonic scale. You may think of
it as mode 2 of the minor pentatonic.
Sometimes, pentatonic patterns will start with this one, calling the collection the Major Pentatonic Scale. The
five patterns are the same, it just depends on which pattern - the major or minor - that you want to call
pattern 1. If you choose the major as pattern 1, then the minor will be pattern 5 at the other end of the
collection.
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We may continue to translate these patterns, one for each note of the scale. Because there are five notes in
the scale, there will be five patterns or modes of the minor pentatonic.
This is the way the pentatonic patterns fit together, without specifying any particular starting note. The righthand side of pattern 1 exactly matches the left-hand side of pattern 2 and so on. If you know one pattern, you
at least know the left-hand side of the next pattern.
The best way to commit these to memory is purely by repetition. Pick one pattern and play it for five minutes
straight. In under half an hour you could be on your way to knowing all five patterns. Doing this every day for
a week is an easy way to memorise the patterns so they become a part of your soloing repertoire.
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Pentatonic Modes
Pentatonic scale patterns don’t generally have mode names attached to them the way the diatonic scales do;
however, each pentatonic pattern directly overlays a diatonic mode pattern. If it helps to remember which
pattern to associate with a particular chord in the scale, you may refer to the pentatonic patterns by the
corresponding mode names that we used for the diatonic scales.
These scale diagrams show the diatonic mode patterns. The filled in circles are the notes shared by the
pentatonic scale and the corresponding mode pattern. No specific starting fret is specified as the patterns are
moveable. However, the relative positions of the patterns must be maintained.
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Blues Scales
Wherever pentatonic scales are used, blues scales can also be used to add some colour to a solo
improvisation. Where the pentatonic scale has five notes, the blues scale has six. Technically, there could be
six modes of blues scale, however, only five are commonly used.
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