Basic Chord Theory

author: 0000409D date: 11/24/2003 category: chords
rating: 8.2 / votes: 49 
Hey, someone thought I should write something on basic chord theory, in response to "Beyond Power Chords". So here it is, hope you get something out of this. Feel free to send comments or corrections, or anything really, I'd like to know if I'm wrong about something.
Open position chords:
    C        D         E               F       G      A   etc...
|---0--------2---------0---------------1-------3------0--------------------
|---1--------3---------0---------------1-------3------2--------------------
|---0--------2---------1---------------2-------0------2--------------------
|---2--------0---------2---------------3-------0------2--------------------
|---3------------------2-----------------------2------0--------------------
|----------------------0-----------------------3---------------------------

 Dmin    Emin       Amin    Fmin
|--1-------0--------0---------1-------|
|--3-------0--------1---------1-------|
|--2-------0--------2---------3-------|
|----------2--------2---------3-------|
|----------2--------0-----------------|
|----------0--------------------------|
I'm sure most of you know these, but bear with me. This is in no way all the open chords, but I don't know them all, and there are books (novels) out there which are like chord dictionaries. I'm just trying to explain HOW they work, not give you all the chords known to man. God, what a thought. How these are constructed is easy. The basic major chord is based on scale degrees. I III V. So, if you want to build a Cmaj chord, you just use C, E, G. These are usually non-moveable... I know some will argue, but in this case they aren't moveable Now, there's Barre chords. These are moveable, I will put a * by the root note. The root note is what decides what the chord is called. Yes, this is also arguable, but not right now. By moving the chord up or down on the fretboard, you change the name of the chord. So if you take Gmajor and move it to the 5th fret, it becomes A major, or down to the first fret makes it Fmajor. Because you're using the bottom note to define the chord.
  G major      G minor      C major      C minor
|-----3-----------3-----------3-------------3------------|
|-----3-----------3-----------5-------------4------------|
|-----4-----------3-----------5-------------5------------|
|-----5-----------5-----------5-------------5------------|
|-----5-----------5-----------3*------------3*-----------|
|-----3*----------3*-------------------------------------|
Now, a minor chord is based the same way as a major with one exception
major I  III   V
minor I  bIII  V

Major scale = I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII
Minor scale = I, II, bIII, IV, V, bVI, bVII
Ok, so to explain this a little better, if you take a C maj chord
C, E, G     and make it a C minor all you have to do is flat the third.
C, Eb, G  and there's your minor chord, it's really easy once you get the
hang of major - minor relationships.
Ok, now onto triads. A triad is just three notes I, III, and V major triad. tri-three, three notes. For now, I'm only going to get into major and minor because I don't want to confuse the issue.
   Dmaj     D#maj   Gmaj      Dmin      F#min      Bmin
|---2--------3------7------|-----1--------5---------10--------------------|
|---3*-------4------8------|-----3*-------7---------12--------------------|
|---2--------3------7------|-----2--------8---------11--------------------|
|--------------------------|----------------------------------------------|
|--------------------------|----------------------------------------------|
|--------------------------|----------------------------------------------|
For the first chord, Dmaj, when using it in open position, you would play the open D for the 'root' note. Well, with these triads, the root note isn't on top. You don't play the open note (you can, lots of people use lots of people do that, but personally I think that has been overdone it sounds cliche anymore, but that's only my opinion). The nice thing about triads, is you can change the actual chord by adding a different note for a 'root' note. I'll get to that later.
|------------|
|---5--------|
|---5*-------|
|---5--------|
|---3*-------|
|------------|
Remember this chord? The C major? In this chord, you're playing the C (root) note twice, sometimes, especially with two guitarists, or a keyboard player, it sound muddy, if you take off the bottom root note:
|--------|
|----5---|
|----5*--|
|----5---|
|--------|
|--------|
You have this, less bass doesn't sound as muddy and you can play around more with it. And it's still a Cmaj chord.
The Key of Cmajor

    C     Dmin or          Emin        Fmaj    Gmaj     Amin
|------------------1--------0-----------1--------3--------0---------------|
|---1-------3------3--------0-----------1--------3--------1---------------|
|---0-------2------2--------0-----------2--------4--------2---------------|
|---0-------3-------------------------------------------------------------|
|-------------------------------------------------------------------------|
|-------------------------------------------------------------------------|
Ok, you get the picture. I encourage you to come up with your own chord voicings. You not only learn how it's done, but you can turn them into your own songs, I do that all the time. Something else you can do is invert the chords. I. e. using a different bass note, playing a chord that way, makes it more interesting. And it doesn't really sound like a generic chord anymore. I've used this in another lesson but here it is again. An A major chord with a C# in the bass. A, C#, E is an A major Triad but by putting a C# instead of the open A gives it a different flavor. Especially when the bassist is playing A under the chord, it sounds cool.
     A/C#             D/E      etc...
|---------------|-----------------------|
|----2----------|------5----------------|
|----2----------|------5----------------|
|----2----------|------5----------------|
|----4----------|------7----------------|
|---------------|-----------------------|
Melodization of triads is accomplished by replacing the top note of a triad (the root, 3rd or 5th depending on the inversion) with a higher degree of the scale from which the chord is formed. These notes (other than 1, 3 or 5) are referred to as tension notes, tensions or high degrees. General Rule: A melodic tension replaces the 1st triadic tone directly below it in pitch. (usually found on the same string). Ok in plain english
   C
|----------|
|----------|
|--2-------|
|--2-------|
|--3-------|
|----------|
Ok, now this is a Cmajor triad, but replacing the open G with an A. this is replacing the 1st triadic tone (G) with (A) C, E, G is now C, E A. Kinda cool huh? None of this is law, this sorta stuff has to sound good to you. Some of this might sound bad to you, but, I might like it, it's personal preference. Now for some more.
  F       
|------|---3------|----5-------|----6-----|-------------------------------|
|--1---|----------|----6-------|----6-----|-------------------------------|
|--2---|---2------|------------|----5-----|-------------------------------|
|--3---|---3------|----7-------|----------|----7--------------------------|
|------|----------|------------|----------|----8--------------------------|
|------|----------|------------|----------|----8--------------------------|
Sus chords: (suspended) Which is I, IV, V. John Petrucci, from Dream Theater, uses these chords often. They sound good and when you can't figure out major or minor chord to use a sus chord works great usually.
  Asus     F#sus         Fsus       Csus
|--0--------2----------|---1----------3-----------------------------------|
|--3--------2----------|---1----------3-----------------------------------|
|--2--------4----------|---3----------5-----------------------------------|
|--0--------4----------|---1----------5-----------------------------------|
|--0-------------------|---3----------3-----------------------------------|
|----------------------|---1----------------------------------------------|
Something else I just thought of. One of my teachers, (I used to call him Adolf, because he was such a tyrrant), told me to buy a drum book. Like a book with rhythm patterns in it, to use for ideas for different strumming. Where to put the accent it doesn't necessarily have to be on the beat. Someone who does this well (scoff if you like) is Melissa Etheridge. She writes some really interesting rhythms, not great progressions (they're all in Emin) but she has a great sense of timing and rhythm. Anyway, I'm off the beaten path, so back to chords. I'm sure you all know about power chords I. e. root & fifth
|----------------------------------|
|----------------6-----etc...------|
|----------------5-----------------|
|---------5------------------------|
|--5------3------------------------|
|--3-------------------------------|
You can play around with those as well. Something that George Lynch used to do a lot with Dokken was either lower the root, or the fifth.
|--------------|-------------------------|
|--------------|-------------------------|
|--------------|-------------------------|
|--------------|--------9----------8-----|
|---5-----5----|--------7----------7-----|
|---3-----2----|--0--0-------0--0--------|
He doesn't do that much anymore. I wonder why? Don't use that too much, it's been over used, it's good for just a passing thing, but basing a whole song on it, would be? I don't know, never tried it. Here's something cool, that uses that, (ok, I'm guilty of being boring and cliche myself sometimes).
|---------------------------------------|
|---------------------------------------|
|----9----------------------------9-----|
|----7\6--------------------------6/7---|
|---------0--0--0--0--0--0--0--0--------|
|---------------------------------------|
Something like that, I use it in one of my songs, someone dubbed it "The Riff that Wouldn't Die" because it sounds so happy, and no one in any of my bands wanted to use it, I kept bringing it up when we were writing, and everytime I did, everyone would roll their eyes, and groan. It just repeats a few times, then goes to Dmaj and repeats, it's like a chorus or something. Ok, so this is close to the end for me, I'm going to give you some basic theory on chords, you can figure out the rest. Feel free to ask questions, or correct my screw ups.
Major   =  I  III   V
Chord
C      C   E   G
G      G   B   D 
D      D   F#  A
A      A   C#  E
E      E   G#  B
B      B   D#  F#
F#     F#  A#  C#
F      F   A   C
Bb     Bb  D   F
Eb     Eb  G   Bb
Ab     Ab  C   Eb
Db     Db  F   Ab
Gb     Gb  Bb  Db


Minor   =   I  IIIb  V
Chord
Cm     C   Eb  G
Gm     G   Bb  D
Dm     D   F   A
Am     A   C   E
Em     E   G   B
Bm     B   D   F#
F#m    F#  A   C#
Fm     F   Ab  C
Bbm    Bb  Db  F
Ebm    Eb  Gb  Bb
Abm    Ab  Cb  Eb
Dbm    Db  Fb  Ab
Gbm    Gb  Bbb Db  (Bbb is the same as A)
flat twice would bring it down a whole step


Dominant   =  I  III  V  VIIb
Chord
C7     C   E   G   Bb
G7     G   B   D   F
D7     D   F#  A   C
A7     A   C#  E   G
E7     E   G#  B   D
B7     B   D#  F#  A
F#7    F#  A#  C#  E
F7     F   A   C   Eb
Bb7    Bb  D   F   Ab
Eb7    Eb  G   Bb  Db
Ab7    Ab  C   Eb  Gb
Db7    Db  F   Ab  Cb (B)
Gb7    Gb  Bb  Db  Fb

************************************************************************
Chord Name       *    Formula        *    Example                      *
************************************************************************
MAJOR                 1 3 5               C E G
SUSPENDED             1 4 5               C F G
MAJOR ADD NINE        1 3 5 9             C E G D
MINOR                 1 b3 5              C Eb G
AUGMENTED             1 3 #5              C E G#
MAJOR SIX             1 3 5 6             C E G A
MAJOR SIX ADD NINE    1 3 5 6 9           C E G A D
MINOR SIX             1 b3 5 6            C Eb G A
MINOR SIX ADD NINE    1 b3 5 6 9          C Eb G A D
DOMINANT SEVEN        1 3 5 b7            C E G Bb
SEVEN SUSPENDED       1 4 5 b7            C F G Bb
MINOR SEVEN           1 b3 5 b7           C Eb G Bb
DIMINISHED SEVEN      1 b3 b5 bb7         C Eb Gb Bbb (A)
MAJOR SEVEN           1 3 5 7             C E G B
MINOR MAJOR SEVEN     1 b3 5 7            C Eb G B
NINTH                 1 3 5 b7 9          C E G Bb D
MINOR NINE            1 b3 5 b7 9         C Eb G Bb D
MAJOR NINE            1 3 5 7 9           C E G B D
ELEVENTH              1 (3) 5 b7 9 11     C (E) G Bb D F ()=OPTIONAL
MINOR ELEVENTH        1 b3 5 b7 9 11      C Eb G Bb D F
THIRTEENTH            1 3 5 b7 9(11) 13   C E G Bb D(F) A ()=OPTIONAL
MINOR THIRTEEN        1 b3 5 b7 9(11) 13  C Eb G Bb D(F) A ()=OPTIONAL
*************************************************************************



Scale Note: IIIIIIIVVVIVII
Chord
Constructed:MajMinMinMajMajMinDim
CCDEFGAB
GGABCDEF#
DDEF#GABC#
AABC#DEF#G#
EEF#G#ABC#D#
BBC#D#EF#G#A#
F#F#G#A#BC#D#E#
FFGABbCDE
BbBbCDEbFGA
EbEbFGAbBbCD
AbAbBbCDbEbFG
DbDbEbFGbAbBbC 
GbGbAbBbCbDbEbF
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