Guitar Chords

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:

Root Chord
(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.

E Chord

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.

F Chord

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.

from Guitar Chords and Accompaniment, Chapter 3

See also: What's the correct way to form barre chords?

Power Chords

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.

Read more on Power Chords and general Chord Theory

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! - 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.


          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.

Additional Resources

Learn chords without reading music | Chords - Music Theory | The melodic minor scale and the dominant seventh flat9 (V7b9) chord

Also see The Abzolute Guitar Chord Method Book

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