The Ultimate Guide To Guitar. Chapter III: 1 Chords - Chord Construction

author: ZeGuitarist date: 02/16/2009 category: the guide to
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Part III - Chapter 1

"Chords - Chord Construction"

Hey all! The Ultimate Guide to Guitar is back, finally! First of all, I want to make my sincerest apologies again for keeping you all waiting... my private life has been extremely busy over the last few weeks, but things should now be returning to normal, so I'll be delivering fresh UGG chapters to you again from now on! The UGG has entered Part III - Intermediate! That means we've gone up another level, things are going to get progressively more difficult from here on... But as long as you have all the previous theory and techniques covered, you shouldn't encounter any problems with the Intermediate lessons. In the Novice lesson on chord progressions (Chapter II-3), we studied the construction of Major and Minor chords already, using our knowledge of scales and how they are based on intervals between the notes. Well, this is the Intermediate chords chapter now, so we're going to go further than that: in this lesson, we will discuss all basic chord formations using the intervals they are based on! Which types of chords are we going to learn to construct? 1. Major and Minor chords: a quick review of what we know already! 2. 7th chords: a very common type of chords, which comes in many flavours! 3. Added chords: building even more spectacular sounds from existing chords! 4. Suspended chords: neither Major nor Minor! 5. Alternative bass note: add a strange flavour to regular chords! 6. Augmented and diminished chords: more major than Major and more minor than Minor! Keep in mind that, to understand this lesson properly, you must understand intervals and how to construct scales and chords using intervals. You can find the table of intervals, and their use in constructing scales, in Chapter I-1... The basics of chord construction using intervals were covered in Chapter II-3. If you're not sure you perfectly understand this essential theory, go back and review these 2 chapters again... If you think you master this theory properly and are ready to put it to use, let's go!

Major And Minor Chords

We're going to start off with something simple... Remember what a Major and a Minor chord were constructed of? Let's go back to the definitions I provided in Chapter II-3:
  • "Major chords (or Major triads) are constructed of a root note, a major 3rd, and a perfect 5th" Example: C Major chord = C E G
    1        3        5
    C        E        G
     \Maj3rd/ \min3rd/
  • "Minor chords (or Major triads) are constructed of a root note, a minor 3rd, and a perfect 5th" Example: A Minor chord = A C E
    1        b3        5
    A        C         E
     \min3rd/  \Maj3rd/
  • If all this doesn't make any sense to you, go back to Chapter II-3 to study intervals and chord constructions... If it does, great, let's move on! You may be asking yourself this question now: why are we reviewing this, I thought we were going to construct other chords than Major and Minor chords? We did them already! The answer: yes, true, but all the chords we are going to construct in this lesson are based on these 2 triads... 7th chords, 6th chords, added chords, and so on: they all exist in Major or Minor form as well! So, I'll stress again the importance of knowing the difference between a Major and a Minor chord: the Major chord uses a major 3rd, and the Minor chord uses a minor 3rd. Got that? Ok, now you're really ready to move on to the first set of "new" chords: 7th chords!

    7th Chords

    7th chords are very common chords in jazz, but also in many other genres. They have a very distinctive, unresolved sound that makes them sound more "interesting" than regular Major/Minor chords... learning how to play and construct them is very important! If you want to construct more advanced chord progressions, having 7th chords in your arsenal is a necessity! There are many types of 7th chords, but they're all based on the same principle: you take a triad (Major or Minor) and you add a 7th interval to it (major or minor). Easy as pie, it seems! Unfortunately, constructing 7th chords isn't always easy, and the names may be confusing the first time. There are 4 different possibilities for constructing 7th chords, depending on 2 factors:
  • You can construct the chord based on a Major or Minor triad
  • You can add a major or minor 7th note to the triad Combining these 2 factors, you get the following possibilities for 7th chords:
  • "Dominant" 7th chord: a Major triad with an added minor 7th.
  • "Minor" 7th chord: a Minor triad with an added minor 7th.
  • "Major" 7th chord: a Major triad with an added major 7th.
  • "Minor/Major" 7th chord: a Minor triad with an added major 7th. In the following section, I'm going to describe these chords more in detail: first, I'll give a clear definition; then I'll define the name for that particular chord (with 7th chords, the name can be confusing!); and lastly, I'll give an example for each chord. A. Dominant 7th chords The "Dominant" 7th chord (or just "7th chord", as musicians usually call it) is a Major triad with an added minor 7th, as I said before. So, it's a "Major" chord, but don't confuse it with the "Major 7th" chord! I'll come back to that later. The full definition of a Dominant 7th chord: "Dominant 7th chords are constructed of:
  • A root note
  • A major 3rd
  • A perfect 5th
  • A minor 7th"
  • As you can derive from the interval table (Chapter II-1), a minor 7th is 10 semitones up from the root note. You know how to construct a Major triad already, so constructing a Dominant 7th chord is very easy if you just add the minor 7th! Just use this interval scheme:
    1        3        5        b7
     \Maj3rd/ \min3rd/ \min3rd/
    You take a root note, go up a Major 3rd to find the 3rd note, go up another minor 3rd to find the perfect 5th, and finally go up another minor 3rd to find the minor 7th note! Dominant 7th chords are indicated with a simple "7" behind the chord symbol. For example, a C Major chord is indicated with a "C"... Well, a C Dominant 7th chord is indicated with "C7"! It's that easy... To show you exactly how a (Dominant) 7th chord is constructed, I will show you a C7 chord as an example: This chord is constructed of the notes C - E - G - Bb. How can you find these notes? Well, simply use the interval scheme I provided in the definition:
    C        E        G        Bb
     \Maj3rd/ \min3rd/ \min3rd/
    Using this interval scheme, you can derive any 7th chord from any Major chord. Try it! If you understand how to construct Dominant 7th chords, we can move on to the next type of 7th chord... Minor 7th chords! B. Minor 7th chords I will explain Minor 7th chords the same way as I explained Dominant 7th chords: first the definition, then the chord symbol, and finally an example. Here is the definition for a Minor 7th chord: "Minor 7th chords are constructed of:
  • A root note
  • A minor 3rd
  • A perfect 5th
  • A minor 7th"
  • The only difference with Dominant 7th chords is that this one is based on a Minor triad instead of a Major, and therefore it uses a minor 3rd instead of a major 3rd. The interval scheme used to construct this type of chord would look like this:
    1        b3       5        b7
     \min3rd/ \Maj3rd/ \min3rd/
    To construct a Minor 7th chord, you take a root note, you go up a minor 3rd to find the 3rd note, then another major 3rd to find the perfect 5th, and finally another minor 3rd for the minor 7th! Et voila, we know how to construct the second type of 7th chords! The chord symbol for Minor 7th chords is just as logical as the symbol for Dominant 7th chords: you take the Minor chord symbol, and add a "7" behind it. So, for example, a A Minor 7th chord would be symbolised by "Am7"... It couldn't be easier! As an example, I will now show you an Am7 chord, and how it is constructed! Here is the Am7 diagram: The A Minor 7th chord is constructed of the notes A - C - E - G. To find these notes, I used the same interval scheme I described in the definition:
    A        C        E        G
     \min3rd/ \Maj3rd/ \min3rd/
    Any other Minor 7th chord can be derived using this interval scheme! So, if you understand how to construct these, let's move on! C. Major 7th chords This is where the names of the different types of 7th chords gets confusing! The Major 7th chord has an added major 7th as opposed to the minor 7th of the Dominant 7th chord. However, both are Major triads, and this might get confusing as only one of them carries the name "Major"! The definition of Major 7th chords: "Major 7th chords are constructed of:
  • A root note
  • A major 3rd
  • A perfect 5th
  • A major 7th"
  • From the interval table in Chapter II-1, we learn that a major 7th interval consists of 11 semitones. I made a nice and handy interval scheme that you can use for the construction of Major 7th chords, just like for the previous 2 types of 7th chords:
    1        3        5        7
     \Maj3rd/ \min3rd/ \Maj3rd/
    As usual, we start from the root note, go up a major 3rd to find the 3rd note, then another minor 3rd for the perfect 5th, and this time we go up another major 3rd, to find the major 7th that completes the Major 7th chord! The chord symbol for Major 7th chords is a little different, because you need to be able to distinguish Dominant and Major 7th chords! This time, you add "Maj7" after the chord symbol... So, a C Major 7th chord would be symbolised by "CMaj7" (as opposed to "C7" symbolising a C Dominant 7th chord)! As an example, here is the CMaj7 chord diagram, and its construction: The C Major 7th chord is constructed of the notes C - E - G - B. If you use the above interval scheme, you can easily find these notes yourself:
    C        E        G        B
     \Maj3rd/ \min3rd/ \Maj3rd/
    Finding the notes of any Major 7th chord is easy if you just use this interval scheme! If you can do this, we can move on to the last type of 7th chords... and the strangest one! Note: the confusing nomenclature of 7th chord can be explained by the fact that the Dominant 7th chord is more frequently used in music. This is why it's often just called "7th chord", and symbolised with a simple "7" behind the chord symbol. The less frequently used Major 7th chord kept the name of "Major", and the more "complex" symbol. D. Minor/Major 7th chords After 3 combinations of Major or Minor triads combined with major or minor 7th intervals, only one is left: the chord constructed with a Minor triad and an added Major 7th. This is a rather unusual chord (therefore, it's not commonly used), with a rather unusual name too: the "Minor/Major 7th chord". Its definition: "Minor/Major 7th chords are constructed of:
  • A root note
  • A minor 3rd
  • A perfect 5th
  • A major 7th"
  • You can see that the chord derives its unusual name from the fact that it uses a minor 3rd (hence "Minor"), but a major 7th (hence "Major"). Here is the interval scheme for this chord:
    1        b3       5        7
     \min3rd/ \Maj3rd/ \Maj3rd/
    Once again, we start on a root note, we find the 3rd note by going up a minor 3rd, then we go up another major 3rd to find the perfect 5th, and finally another major 3rd for the major 7th. The Minor/Major 7th chord doesn't only have the strangest name, but also the strangest symbol to accompany it... You take the Minor chord symbol, and add "Maj7", with a slash in between! So, for example, an A Minor/Major 7th chord would be symbolised by "Am/Maj7". How bizarre... Once again, I will provide you with an example of a Minor/Major 7th chord, with diagram and interval scheme! Here is the Am/Maj7 chord: This chord consists of the notes A - C - E - G#. By now, you should be able to find these notes by using the interval scheme I provided, by yourself! I'll do it one more time for you:
    A        C        E        G#
     \min3rd/ \Maj3rd/ \Maj3rd/
    And done! You now know how to construct all 4 types of 7th chords... We can finally move on to the next type of chords!

    Added Chords

    Added chords are actually just like 7th chords: they are based on a Major or Minor triad, and completed by adding one or more "extra" notes! There are numerous possibilities, so I will discuss the most important ones here:
  • Added 2nd chords
  • Added 4th chords
  • Added 9th - 11th - 13th chords These chords are all pretty easy to construct, and a lot less confusing than 7th chords, so you shouldn't have any trouble understanding their constructions. I'm not adding interval schemes or examples this time, therefore... Let's go! A. Added 2nd chords The name says it all - an added 2nd chord is a Major OR Minor triad, with a natural 2nd added to it. Pretty easy, huh? The definition: "Added 2nd chords are constructed of:
  • A root note
  • A natural 2nd
  • A major/minor 3rd
  • A perfect 5th"
  • So, by adding a natural 2nd to a Major triad, you construct a Major Added 2nd chord... and by adding a natural 2nd to a Minor triad, you construct a Minor Added 2nd chord. It's as simple as that! The chord symbol is dead easy too: just add "add2" behind the regular chord symbol. So, a C Major Added 2nd chord would be symbolised by "Cadd2"; an A Minor Added 2nd chord would be symbolised by "Amadd2". B. Added 4th chords If you understand Added 2nd chords, you won't have any trouble with Added 4th chords. Logically, it consists of a Major or Minor triad with an added perfect 4th! The definition: "Added 4th chords are constructed of:
  • A root note
  • A major/minor 3rd
  • A perfect 4th
  • A perfect 5th"
  • Again, you can construct either a Major Added 4th chord by adding a perfect 4th to a Major triad, or a Minor Added 4th chord by adding a perfect 4th to a Minor triad. You can guess the chord symbol already: "add4" behind the regular chord symbol, and that's it! For example, "Cadd4" for a C Major Added 4th chord, or "Amadd4" for an A Minor Added 4th chord. C. Added 9th - 11th - 13th chords These are a little different from the above 2 Added chords... in the sense that they're not based on "regular" Major or Minor triads, but on 7th chords! The thing is, depending on which type of 7th chord you add extra notes to, you get different types of Added chords too! I will first give a general definition, then I'll differentiate the several possibilities... "Added 9th, 11th and 13th chords are constructed of:
  • A root note
  • A major/minor 3rd
  • A perfect 5th
  • A major/minor 7th
  • A 9th (possibly an 11th and a 13th)"
  • Depending on whether you use a Dominant 7th, Minor 7th, Major 7th or Minor/Major 7th as your base chord, you can create the following added chords:
  • (Dominant) Added 9th, 11th, or 13th: Major triad, minor 7th, with added 9th - 11th - 13th note Example: C Added 9th - "C9"
  • Minor Added 9th, 11th, or 13th: Minor triad, minor 7th, with added 9th - 11th - 13th note Example: Am Added 11th - "Am11"
  • Major Added 9th, 11th or 13th: Major triad, major 7th, with added 9th - 11th - 13th note Example: G Major Added 13th - "GMaj13"
  • Minor/Major Added 9th, 11th, or 13th: Minor triad, major 7th, with added 9th - 11th - 13th note Example: D Minor/Major Added 9th - "Dm/Maj9"
  • These chords and chord names are all rather complicated, but don't worry, you won't be seeing these very often in your every day song! If you ever encounter one, though, you'll be prepared for them by this short description!

    Suspended Chords

    On to the next type of chords! These chords are even easier than Added chords... Suspended chords are also based on Major and Minor triads, but instead of adding extra notes, you are replacing the 3rd note with another one! Think about it - there won't be any major or minor 3rd in the chord anymore... so, the chord will be neither Major nor Minor, it will work as both! I will describe two types of suspended chords:
  • Suspended 2nd chords
  • Suspended 4th chords
  • A. Suspended 2nd chords If you know how to construct an Added 2nd chord, a Suspended 2nd chord is very easy to derive: just get rid of the 3rd! So, here's the definition of a Suspended 2nd chord: "Suspended 2nd chords are constructed of:
  • A root note
  • A natural 2nd
  • A perfect 5th"
  • As you can see, the 3rd note, which defines the Major or Minor quality of chords, is gone... So, this chord is neither Major nor Minor, you can use it as either one! The chord symbol is also very logical - just add "sus2" to the regular chord symbol! For example, D (or D Minor, it doesn't matter!) turns into Dsus2... B. Suspended 4th chords Another commonly used Suspended chord is the Suspended 4th chord... It's derived from Major and Minor chords just like Suspended 2nd chords: "Suspended 2nd chords are constructed of:
  • A root note
  • A perfect 4th
  • A perfect 5th"
  • Just like Suspended 2nd chords, the chord symbol for Suspended 4th chords is created by simply adding "sus4" to the regular chord symbol. For example, Gsus4 is a G Suspended 4th chord! Easy as pie... And with Suspended chords, we have discussed yet another type of chords and how they are constructed! On to the next...

    Alternative Bass Notes

    Again, this is a type of chords that is based on chords you know already. We're only going to change one thing to them: the lowest note, or the "bass note". In regular chords, this is usually the root note, but you can use different notes as bass notes to give a chord a different flavour! Normally, this would be the part where I give a "definition" of this type of chords, like I did in all the other paragraphs... only, you can't really "define" a chord with an alternative bass note! Why not? Well, because there's lots of possible notes you could use as bass note, it's not confined to just one interval! As long as the note is in the scale of the key you're playing in, it can sound good... for example, you could use G as the bass note in a C chord, by playing a regular C chord but fretting down on the 6th string at the 3rd fret too! G is in the scale of C Major, so it will sound good... but this is not the only option, there's other possibilities too! The chord symbol for chords with an alternative bass note uses a slash to distinguish between the chord name, and the bass note used for that chord. For example, if you're playing a C Major chord with G as bass note, you would symbolise it with "C/G". An A Minor chord with an open E as bass note would be written down as "Am/E"... not that hard, is it? Due to this particular method of defining these chords, they are sometimes called "slash chords".

    Augmented And Diminished Chords

    And last, but not least, we have Augmented and Diminished chords. They are rather unusual chords, in the sense that they too are nor Major nor Minor... as Major and Minor triads both possess a perfect 5th which is essential to their quality, but neither Augmented nor Diminished chords have a perfect 5th! Therefore, both are very different, and have their own distinctive sound quality... A. Augmented chords Augmented chords are different from Major chords, like I said, because they don't possess a perfect 5th... but - you guessed it - an augmented 5th, which is one semitone higher! The definition: "Augmented chords are constructed of:
  • A root note
  • A major 3rd
  • An augmented 5th"
  • As you can see, this chord possesses a major 3rd which gives it the "Major" quality that "regular" Major chords also have... but to top that off, Augmented chords also have an Augmented 5th which makes them even "more Major"! You can see that even more clearly from the interval scheme:
    1        3        #5
     \Maj3rd/ \Maj3rd/
    An Augmented triad is a sequence of 2 Major 3rd intervals: each note is 4 semitones away from the next! This leads to a very special property of Augmented chords: if you construct a C Augmented chord, for example, it will consist of the same notes as an E Augmented and a G# Augmented chord, because they are all part of the same "cycle" of Major 3rds... they all consist of the same notes: C, E, and G#! Augmented chords are symbolised by adding the suffix "aug" to a chord name. For example, an augmented C chord would be symbolised with "Caug"... Again, a very easy symbol which you should now be able to recognise in tabs and other music notations! As an example for an augmented chord, I will show the diagram and construction of the C Augmented chord, Caug: Like I said, this chord is constructed of the notes C - E - G#, and so are the E Augmented and G# Augmented chords! Three different chords, three different names, three identical notes...
    C        E        G#
     \Maj3rd/ \Maj3rd/
    B. Diminished chords Like Augmented chords are similar to Major chords, Diminished chords are similar to Minor chords... but even "more Minor", because they have a diminished 5th instead of the perfect 5th that "regular" Minor chords have! The definition: "Diminished chords are constructed of:
  • A root note
  • A minor 3rd
  • A diminished 5th
  • A diminished ("double-flat") 7th"
  • So, like "regular" Minor chords, Diminished chords possess a minor 3rd, but their diminished 5th gives them a "more Minor than Minor" sound quality! To complete the chord, you can also add a diminished 7th (which is a 9 semitone interval, one semitone shorter than a minor 7th) to form a "diminished 7th chord". The interval scheme, like with Augmented chords, is very peculiar as well:
    1        b3       b5      7
     \min3rd/ \min3rd/ \min3rd/
    As you can see, a Diminished chord is a sequence of Minor 3rds! This gives Diminished chords the same cyclic property that Augmented chords possess... For example, if you would construct an A Diminished chord, it would consist of the notes A, C, Eb and Gb. This means that the chords C Diminished, Eb Diminished and Gb Diminished would consist of the same notes, because they're part of the same cycle of minor 3rd steps! The Diminished chord symbol is analogue to the Augmented symbol: just add the suffix "dim" to the chord name to denote the Diminished chord. For example, a Diminished B chord would be symbolised with "Bdim". Below is the Bdim chord as an example for the construction of Diminished chords: The fun thing about this shape is that you can move it up or down 3 frets, and you'll still be playing the same chord, as the notes will remain the same! You can see that clearly in the interval scheme:
    B        D        F        Ab
     \min3rd/ \min3rd/ \min3rd/
    And there you go! With Diminished chords, we have covered the last type of chords in this chord construction chapter!

    Conclusion

    Using the knowledge of how all the different chords are constructed, you should now be able to recognise most chord types and how they are logically formed... If you ever see chords with complicated names from now on, you can interpret them, to see how they are formed and what notes are in it! Playing chords and especially understanding how they work will be a lot easier now... In the next lesson, we will learn how to harmonize scales using some of the more complex chords we have learned in this chapter! You will be able to write your own chord progressions using 7th chords and other interesting sounding chords... Stay tuned! Cheers! ZeG PS: My usual outro:
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