Introduction to Chords

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A chord, simply, is any combination of notes. Theoretically, any combination of notes is a chord, however, when used in a certain combination, some notes complement each other better than others. These notes are played together the most often, and make up the most popular chords. Traditionally, chords used three notes. While two notes is technically harmony, they can also be considered chords in general. Because of the broad nature of this definition, types of chords have been developed that "sound good", in the western philosophy of music.

The following chords can be played in any scale. To understand them, one should have the basic knowledge of a scale first. There is no specific tonal order for the notes to be played; many kinds of "inversions" can be created by placing the notes in different orders. The first four examples are shown with the root note C. The remaining examples listed here are shown with the root note Bb.

Major Chord[edit]

The major triad is often symbolized with a capital letter (e.g. C). It is three notes: the first, third, and fifth note of a major (diatonic) scale. Alternatively, you can figure this chord out by adding a note a major third (4 half-steps) up from the root note and then a minor third (3 half-steps) up from that. If you add the half-steps of a major and minor third you will notice the third note is 7 half-steps up from the root making a perfect fifth. This interval will remain the same in major and minor chords. All primary triads are created by stacking intervals of a third. It is a very whole sounding chord, and is found within most, if not all popular songs.

C Major triads, C - E - G: File:CMajor.png

Minor Chord[edit]

The minor triad is often symbolized with a lower case letter, or 'min', or just an 'm' (e.g. c | Cmin | Cm). It is composed of three notes: the first, flat-third, and fifth. The lowered third represents the third note of a minor scale. Alternatively, you can figure this chord out by adding a note a minor third (3 half-steps) up from the root note and then a major third (4 half-steps) up from that. The quality of this chord is not as full as the major chord, and has a darker complexion. It also is found in a majority of popular music.

C Minor triads, C - Eb - G: File:CMinor.png

Diminished Chord[edit]

The diminished triad can be symbolized with either a '°' or with the abbreviation "dim" (e.g. C° | Cdim). Its components include: the first, flat-third, and flat-fifth. Alternatively, you can figure this chord out by adding a note a minor third (3 half-steps) up from the root note and then another minor third (3 half-steps) up from that. If you add the half-steps of two minor thirds together you will notice the third note is 6 half-steps up from the root making a diminished fifth, giving the chord its name. Having 2 lowered notes, a diminished chord does not have great euphony. It sounds slightly out of place, but adds a certain musical flavor.

C Diminished triads, C - Eb - Gb: File:CDim2.png

Augmented Chord[edit]

The augmented triad is usually symbolized with a '+' or 'aug' (e.g. C+ | Caug). It is rarely seen in music, but considered one of the main chord structures. It combines: the first, third, and an raised fifth. Alternatively, you can figure this chord out by adding a note a major third (4 half-steps) up from the root note and then another major third (4 half-steps) up from that. If you add the half-steps of two major thirds together you will notice the third note is 8 half-steps up from the root making an augmented fifth, giving the chord its name. An augmented fifth sounds the same as a minor sixth but is notated differently and consequently will sound different in context. It has a very unique sound.

C Augmented triads, C - E - G#: File:CAug.png

Dominant Seventh Chord[edit]

A seventh chord is attached to any other chord by the addition of the number '7' (e.g. Bb7). It can be attached to pretty much any chord, not just the major chord: e.g. Bb7 | dim Bb7. Opposed to the logical addition of the seventh note of the scale, a flat-seventh note is added. When the seventh note is flat it is known as a "minor" 7. This chord became a dominant due to confusion if you were to say Bb minor7. That may lead somebody to believe it is a Bbminor with a 7th. Instead it is just a Bb7.

Bb - D - F - Ab

Major Seventh Chord[edit]

Like a dominant seventh chord, a note is added to a triad to create a major seventh chord. While a '7' represents the dominant seventh chord, the letters "maj" and a '7' represent a major seventh chord (e.g. Bb maj7). The note added to this chord is the seventh note of the root's major scale.

Bb - D - F - A

Suspended(Sustained) Chord[edit]

The suspended chord, also called sustained chord, is symbolized with "sus" or "sus4" (e.g. Bbsus | Bbsus4). Another version of this chord is symbolized with "sus2" (e.g. Bbsus2). The 4 type combines the first, fourth, and fifth note, while the 2 type is first, second, and fifth.

Bb - Eb - F (Sus4)

Bb - C - F (Sus2)

Add2/Add4 Chord[edit]

This chord is just like a suspended chord in that it uses the second and fourth note. The difference is that, whereas in a suspended chord the third note is omitted, in an "Add2/Add4" chord, the third is kept.

Bb - D - Eb - F (add4)

Bb - C - D - F (add2)

Fifth Chord[edit]

The fifth chord or "power chord" is unusual because it truly is a harmony. The fifth chord is only the first and fifth scale degree of the root note and is represented with a 5 (e.g. Bb5). It is also called a "power chord" because it produces a very powerful sound. Many musicians use it when they wish the chord to have neither a major nor a minor effect.

Bb - F

Sixth Chord[edit]

The sixth chord is a four note chord, adding the sixth note of the root's major scale to a triad. All triads can become sixths, represented by the addition of a '6' (e.g. Bbm6).

Bb - D - F - G

Combinations[edit]

All of these symbols and chords can be combined to form all other chords. For example, one could create a minor major seventh chord (e.g. Bbmmaj7).

Bb - Db - F - A

Technically, any combination of notes can be termed with the combination of these previous basic chord types.