The Chord Construction Kit

Building Chords From the Notes of the Major Scale

Now that you know what a major scale is, you can begin to understand how most chords are built. We'll first define what a chord is, then we'll show you the difference between the 3 main types of chords- major, minor and diminished. The lesson following this one uses a simple formula that teaches you how to determine every chord that naturally occurs in every key!

Chord

A chord is defined as 3 or more different notes sounding at the same time. That means that as long as you are sounding three or more notes on your guitar you are playing a chord. You may not know what to call it but it is a chord nonetheless.

"Wait a minute," you say, "I know how to play several chords and I know I'm playing more than 3 notes!?" Ahhh, but are you? Let's look at the C-chord. In a minute I'll explain how you find the notes of the chord, but I'm here to tell you that the C-chord only has 3 notes- C, E and G. Look at the diagram below of the most common beginner fingering of the C-Chord. This is a screen-shot of the HotFrets Chord-Finder.

Notice the fingering chart showing 5 notes to be played. But wait, look at the long horizontal chart below. Notice that the only notes being played are C, E and G! Ok, so how do I know that that? Read on...

C chord fingering

C chord notes

Some Common Chords

We're going to find notes that make up chords in the same way we built the major scale, by starting on a given note (which we'll call the root note of the chord) and counting up in steps to find the next 2 notes of the chord we're building.

The three most common chords- Major, Minor & Diminished have unique combinations that create a characteristic sound for each. The major chord has a unique sound or character that sets it apart from the minor and diminished chords and the same thing holds true for all of the chord types you'll encounter.

This concept is similar to that of the major scale. Since the major scale is built on a pattern that doesn't change, the character or sound of all major scales in every key (which we discuss in the next lesson) remains constant. This may give you a little clue into the fact that one song can be played in more than one key because the pattern of notes being played simply shifts to a different level, up or down. Singers can't all sing in the same range, so you'll frequently hear them ask for you to play it in a different key, up or down.

Below is a diagram that gives you the information necessary to find the notes that make up every major, minor or diminished chord. This can be a major breakthrough for most guitarists because most of us learn to play chords by fingering combinations and never stop to think about what notes we're playing.

Steps between the notes of each of the basic chord types

MAJOR CHORD

Let's build a "G" major chord. Start with the "G" note. That's the first note in our "G" major chord. The diagram below explains that the next note is supposed to be two whole steps higher in pitch than "G".

You know from your lesson in whole and half steps that from "G" to "A" is a whole step and from "A" to "B" is a whole step. From "G" to "B" then, is two whole steps so "B" is the next note in the "G" major chord.

Now starting from "B", a half step up is "C" and a whole step up is "D". So then, from "B" to "D" is one and a half steps and the next note in the "G major chord" is "D". Look at the diagram below.

The 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of the G major scale form the G chord

Check out the Chord Finder and look at the G chord. You'll see all the notes in the G chord at the bottom of the page. Remember that any combination of "G, B, and D" is the "G major chord". Find some combinations that weren't included in the chord finder. Be creative. Better yet, check out the Arpeggiator. It shows all the notes of every chord all along the guitar fretboard and you can pick out endless (well maybe not literally) combinations of notes that form each chord. Once again, be creative.

MINOR CHORD

Now, let's build a "G" minor chord. Start with the "G" note. That's the first note in our "G" minor chord. The next note is supposed to be one and a half steps higher in pitch than "G".

You know from your lesson in whole and half steps that from "G" to "A" is a whole step and from "A" to "Bb" is a half step. So, from "G" to "Bb" is one and a half steps. That means "Bb" is the next note in the "G" minor chord.

Now starting from "Bb", a whole step up is "C" and another whole step up is "D". So then, from "Bb" to "D" is two whole steps and the next note in the "G minor chord" is "D". As before, go to the chord finder and study the notes and possible combinations of notes in the G minor chord.

DIMINISHED CHORD

Now for the G diminished chord. The symbol for it is Gdim and there are one or two others that I won't get into until we look at 4-note chords. To build the G diminished chord start with the "G" note as in each example before and move up one and a half steps. That note is "Bb". Then move up another one and a half steps. That note is "Db". So, the notes in the G diminished chord are- "G", "Bb", and "Db". Take a look at the chord finder and study the G diminished chord.