Chords are based on harmony, using every second note in a dominant scale, starting with the root note. The dominant scale is the same as the major scale, except the 7th note which is a semitone flatter. The table below shows the notes of the dominant scale, with examples in the key of C and A. Every second note in the scale is shown in red:
(R is the root note)
Notes in chords are referred to by their note number, so that a single scheme can be used, regardless of the chord's root note, or the key and scale you're using. In the above examples, the 5th note is G for a C chord, and E for an A chord.
Selecting every 2nd note in the dominant scale gives us:
the root note, the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 11th and 13th
Each of these notes may be:
- included as-is
- flattened (1 semitone lower)
- raised (1 semitone higher)
- omitted (deliberately or for convenience)
What is a Barre Chord?
A barre chord takes its name from the role of the 1st finger of your left hand. This finger acts as a "bar" across the fingerboard, depressing all six strings and replacing the nut (the ivory piece at the top of the neck). By using your first finger as a "bar," you can move many of the open chords you have learned up and down on the fingerboard.
To understand this, first grab your guitar and play an E chord as shown. Note in order for the first finger to be used as a barre, the fingering has to be changed slightly; use your 2nd, 3rd and 4th fingers instead of the usual 1st, 2nd and 3rd fingers. Now move the chord up one fret and lay your 1st finger across the 1st fret, covering all six strings. You are now holding your first barre chord, F.
This is essentially the same as the F chord you have learned in the open chords section, only the 1st finger barres all six strings instead of just the 1st and 2nd strings. In the same manner, move this F chord up two frets, 1st finger barring the 3rd fret and maintaining the E chord shape. You now have an alternative way to play an G chord.
A powerchord is a chord which contains no 3rd (suspended chords, and chords containing 3 or more notes exempted). Technically, a powerchord is not really a true "chord" because, by definition, a "chord" has to have a minimum of 3 notes. Powerchords are also called "5" chords, notated as C 5.
Notes Chord Name
- C G ----------- C 5 (or C power chord)
- G D ----------- G 5 (or G power chord)
- E B ----------- E 5 (or E power chord)
Powerchords are neither minor or major and therefore either scale can be used over top of them. Only when a scale is used over them, is a major or minor tonality implied to the listener. Therefore, one can easily alternate between being in a major key or minor key (thus using chords which are derived from either number system).
The following chord progression illustrates this: C 5, F Major, G Dom 7, C5, Bb Major, Eb Major
When examined, the first three chords of this progression, are derived from the key of C Major, while the last three chords are derived from C minor, for C Maj, F Maj and G Dom 7 are the I, IV and V chords of C *Major*, while C Min, Bb Maj and Eb Maj are the i, VII and III chords of the key of C *Minor*.
The blues scale works very well over these types of progressions being that it contains both the minor and major third in it. A blues scale contains both the Eb of C minor and E of C major. One could also simply play the C major scale over the first 3 chords, and then transition to the C minor scale for the last 3 chords.
Power chords are especially popular among rock and blues music. The power chord is used a lot by guitar players because the guitar's standard tuning and the distortion's effect upon the sound of the major third.
Chords in Music
My new teacher is teaching me about 20 chords. He says it will help me find my way around the fretboard better. It does seem to be helping. Why?
Because most music is chord based. If you were able to analyse your pieces at your present state of learning you would probably find that the structures consist of the notes of chords or parts of chords. The notes can be either in the original order of the chord or in any other order or combination. It is possible to "see" these shapes both on the guitar neck or on a keyboard and even on the music as basic patterns or shapes which are constant.
For example a basic major chord consists of notes 1,3,5 of the major scale. A minor chord of notes 1, b3,5 and a diminished chord of 1 .b3 ,b5. If you carefully analyse the distance apart of the notes of those chords you will find that they are built either of notes 2 tones apart (4 frets) or notes 1 1/2 tones apart (3 frets). 2 tone notes are called major thirds and 1 1/2 tone ones are minor thirds.
Now write a C major scale vertically with a C major chord across the top. The second two notes of the C major chord now form the basis of two more columns which become a series of vertically arranged chords.
C 2 E 1 1/2 G Major chord (major 3rd + minor 3rd D 1 1/2 F 2 A Minor chord (minor third + major 3rd) E 1 1/2 G 2 B Minor chord F 2 A 1 1/2 C Major chord G 2 B 1 1/2 D Major chord A 1 1/2 C 2 E Minor chord B 1 1/2 D 1 1/2 F Diminished chord (minor 3rd+minor 3rd)
This system is called a harmonized scale and the 3 note chords are called triads. A tune can be given chords to fill it out using this system which gives rise to the wealth of "pieces"that we play on our various harmony instruments such as guitar and piano. These three note chords if played as above are said to be in root position and when they are played out of order they follow this system:
- C E G Tonic triad or root position triad
- E G C First inversion
- G C E Second inversion.
On the staff then arranged upwards:
- Root Position = 3 adjacent lines or spaces
- 1st inversion = 2 lines and 1 space or 2 spaces and 1 line
- 2nd inversion = 1 line and and 2 spaces or 1 space and 2 lines
There are many variations and permutations to the above system but these are the building blocks of basic harmony. There is also a system called the three chord trick where a piece can be harmonized using chords 1 4 and 5 i.e. C F and G (often made a seventh chord) chords in the key or scale of C major. Seventh chords are found by adding a further 4th column of notes which give rise to so called dominant seventh, minor seventh and natural or major seventh chords and another special chord the diminished seventh with its own set of complications.
Want to learn chords without reading music?
Here is a cool guitar game that will help you learn more about chords.
More Useful Info on Chords:
Free, fast Chord Finder - I've built my own guitar chord finder, which currently holds a little over 750 guitar chords. Visitors can scroll through my chords database and - instantly - see the finger settings for it graphically displayed, including finger numbering, optional notes to play, names of the notes, etc.
Guitar Chords and Accompaniment - Learn Guitar Chords and Various Accompaniment Styles Step By Step!
The InterChart - A Java applet that will display scales, arpeggios, and chords, with plenty of options.
Giving life to the chromatic scale - Definitely the most boring exercise ever invented! A lot of players tend to skip this exercise, missing out on the wonderful things that it can do for your technique.
Guitar Chord of the Minute This page is updated every minute, or sooner!
Guitar.net - This archive of guitar chords, chord theory and anecdotes used to be called the Official Guitar-Chord-Of-The-Week. Due to the author's increasingly busy schedule the site has been renamed and reformatted to make it easier to navigate.
See more Music Software links.
Basic Chord Chart
Strings marked with "X" aren't played. EADGBE EADGBE EADGBE EADGBE EADGBE EADGBE Ab Abm Ab7 Abm7 Ab6 Abmaj7 466544 466444 4645X4 4644X4 46X564 XX6543 Abm6 Abdim Abaug A Am A7 466464 XX0101 XX2110 002220 002210 002020 Am7 A6 Amaj7 Am6 Adim Aaug 002010 002222 002120 002212 X01212 X03221 Bb Bbm Bb7 Bbm7 Bb6 Bbmaj7 113331 113321 113131 113121 113333 113231 Bbm6 Bbdim Bbaug B Bm B7 113323 XX2323 XX4221 224442 224432 X21202 Bm7 B6 Bmaj7 Bm6 Bdim Baug X20202 224444 224342 224434 XX0101 XX5443 C Cm C7 Cm7 C6 Cmaj7 032010 335543 032310 335343 335555 332000 Cm6 Cdim Caug C# C#m C#7 335545 XX1212 032110 446664 446654 X4342X C#m7 C#6 C#maj7 C#m6 C#dim C#aug 446454 446666 446564 012120 XX2323 XX3221 D Dm D7 Dm7 D6 Dmaj7 X00232 X00231 X00212 X00211 X00202 X00222 Dm6 Ddim Daug Eb Ebm Eb7 X00201 XX0101 XX0332 668886 668876 X6564X Ebm7 Eb6 Ebmaj7 Ebm6 Ebdim Ebaug 668676 668888 X11333 X3434X XX1212 XX5443 E Em E7 Em7 E6 Emaj7 022100 022000 020100 020010 022120 022444 Em6 Edim Eaug F Fm F7 022020 0X2323 032110 X03211 XX3111 131211 Fm7 F6 Fmaj7 Fm6 Fdim Faug 131111 13X231 XX3210 XX0111 XX0101 X03221 F# F#m F#7 F#m7 F#6 F#maj7 244322 244222 XX4320 242222 24X342 XX4321 F#m6 F#dim F#aug G Gm G7 X01222 X01212 XX4332 320003 133111 320001 Gm7 G6 Gmaj7 Gm6 Gdim Gaug 131111 320000 320002 X10030 XX2323 XX5443 -------------------------------------------------------- Strings marked with "X" aren't played.