#1


I want to being writing my own songs but I have no idea on how to construct chords, the kind of music style I am going for is similar to bands such as Brand New, Moose Blood, Citizen and other modern emo/rock.

I have bought a book on music theory for guitars but that is no help as it doesn't really say where to start and just jumps straight in, so far the most I know is the notes on the fretboard and the major scale andI don't know where to go from there.

If anyone has any tips on how I could start to learn the theory behind chords that would help me, thanks.


Type of music I am looking to write.





#2
Learn the names of the notes. This makes things a lot easier. Here's the usual for you:

C-C#/Db-D-D#/Eb-E-F-F#/Gb-G-G#/Ab-A-A#/Bb-B

This is called the chromatic scale, and it contains every note we use in western music theory.

As you can see, some notes have two names, but you don't really have to worry about that. They're the same pitch in practice. Also note that there isn't a flat/sharp between E-F and B-C. You'll need this scale later on in this post, so I encourage you to familiarize yourself with it.

Find these notes on the fretboard and learn it inside out. The open strings are EADGBE. Each fret is a semitone, so if you start from E, the first fret is F, the second one is F#/Gb, the third is G, the seventh one is B etc. The fifth fret of each string (except for the G string) is the same note as the next string. Fifth fret of A is D, fifth fret of B is E. The twelfth fret of each string is the same note as the open string, but octave higher. The seventh fret of each string (except B) is the same note as the previous string, but octave higher. Remembering these will help you out when you need to find a note higher up on the neck. Fretboard knowledge is key to understanding theory on the guitar.

Next you could then look into the basic major and minor scales. C major is C D E F G A B C. G major is G A B C D E F# G. C minor is C D Eb F G Ab Bb C. You can find tons of lessons on scales online. But to really understand scales, you need to...

Study some theory behind intervals. An interval is the distance between two notes. You use intervals to build pretty much everything, scales, chords, chord progressions, they're like lego blocks that you use to build cool things. The names of the intervals are:

root
minor second
major second
minor third
major third
perfect fourth
augmented fourth
perfect fifth
minor sixth
major sixth
minor seventh
major seventh
octave

The root is the note you're using as reference, minor second is the distance of a semitone (one fret), major second is two semitones, minor third is three semitones etc. The major scale is made up of a root (say "D"), a major second (E), a major third (F#), perfect fourth (G), perfect fifth (A), major sixth (B), and major seventh (C#). The minor scale is the same, except it has a minor third, sixth and seventh.

This is just a brief overview on what intervals are, but you can again find some good lessons on this online for sure, and maybe your book has some material on this as well.

Then, you need to learn how to build chords and how to harmonize the major and minor scales. That's a mouthful, but chord theory is easier than what it might seem at first. The general rule is, that chords are built using a root, a third and a fifth. Major chords use the major third, minor chords the minor third. G major for example would be G-B-D, B is a major third, or four semitones, over G, and the D is a perfect fifth, or seven semitones, over G. Remember that a semitone equals the distance of one fret. A minor would be A-C-E, the only difference being the minor third, which is three semitones.

So, what the hell does harmonizing the major and minor scales mean? Well, you need to figure out what chords fit each key. So, in the key of G major, our scale would look like this:

G-A-B-C-D-E-F#-G

Remember how the G major chord had the notes G, B and D? Notice anything? You can take G, then skip a note, get B, then skip an another note and get D, and there you go, you have yourself a chord. So what if we take the A? We skip one note and grab the C, and skip an another and grab the E. A-C-E, our A minor chord. What about D? D, skip one, F#, skip one (notice that the scale loops here), get A. That's D major. This is an easy way to visualize thirds in a scale. You can always just count the frets and the semitones of course, you can take F, count three semitones and get Ab, and count an another four semitones to get C. There's F minor for you.

Note that the seventh chord in the major scale and the second chord in the minor scale lack a perfect fifth. These are called "diminished chords", but you don't have to worry about them just now. Just remember that a root, a minor third and an augmented fourth (more often known as the flat fifth in chord building) make up a diminished chord, and all keys have a single diatonic (diatonic means melodies and chords that include only the notes of the parent key) diminished chord.

I know that this is a lot of info to take in but I'm trying to give you a good overview. Ask away if I'm too confusing.


Your homework today is to practice all of the above, and check out the terms "functional harmony" and "roman numeral analysis". These will help you turn your chords into progressions and songs. Remember that theory is not a set of rules, but more like guidelines that help you understand music. So use this information as a tool, not as a law.
Quote by Jet Penguin
Theory: Not rules, just tools.

Quote by Hail
*note that by fan i mean that guy who wants his friends to know he knows this totally obscure hip band that only he knows about with 236 views on youtube. lookin' at Kev here
#3
Quote by carbiscoffee

I want to being writing my own songs but I have no idea on how to construct chords, the kind of music style I am going for is similar to bands such as Brand New, Moose Blood, Citizen and other modern emo/rock.
First thing you should do is learn their songs - pick what you think are their best songs, and learn the chord sequences (and ideally the melodies too, if you want to be a songwriter).
I haven't listened to them yet, but I'd guess they will probably use a lot of generic (common) changes, with the occasional surprising or unusual one. That kind of change tends to jump out at you. IOW, you could sum up the rules as mixing common sounds with less common ones. (I'll listen to them and get back if anything else occurs to me.)

I doubt very much that any of them read theory books before they started writing songs. I'd bet they learned their craft by copying the bands they liked, stealing stuff, and experimenting.

That's not to say theoretical knowledge is a waste of time! It certainly gives you all the names for what you're hearing, and helps you organise the principles in your head (as well as discuss it in places like this). But don't expect it to help you write songs. What you need for that is (1) ideas, (2) a good ear,and (3) vocabulary. The vocabulary is what you learn by copying songs, and the more you copy, the better your ear will get, and the more ideas you will find occurring to you. So if you don;t have (1) and (2) now, work on (3).
.
Quote by carbiscoffee

I have bought a book on music theory for guitars but that is no help as it doesn't really say where to start and just jumps straight in, so far the most I know is the notes on the fretboard and the major scale andI don't know where to go from there.
The following is supplementing Kevatuhri's info.

Basic chords are built by choosing one note of the scale as the root (1st) and adding the 3rd and 5th degrees up from there. So a 7-note scale will produce 7 chords.
Here's the triads in C major:

 Half-steps: |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  | 
Major scale: C     D     E  F     G     A     B  C     D     E  F 
CHORDS:
  I = C      C  .  .  .  E  .  .  G
 ii = Dm           D  .  .  F  .  .  .  A
iii = Em                 E  .  .  G  .  .  .  B
 IV = F                     F  .  .  .  A  .  .  C
  V = G                           G  .  .  .  B  .  .  D
 vi = Am                                A  .  .  C  .  .  .  E
vii = Bdim                                    B  .  .  D  .  .  F

You can see how the irregular scale structure produces different chord types, according to the distances between each chord tone.

Major 3rd (4 half-steps) plus perfect 5th (7 half-steps) = major triad (named after the 3rd)
Minor 3rd (3 half-steps) plus perfect 5th (7 half-steps) = minor triad (named after the 3rd)
Minor 3rd (3 half-steps) plus diminished 5th (6 half-steps) = diminished triad (named after the 5th)

Of course, when we apply those to guitar, the tuning and the number of strings means we have to find the notes required wherever we can reach them. So the normal C chord shape (x-3-2-0-1-0) is C E G C E. The 6-string F barre is F-C-F-A-C-F.
Meanwhle Bdim is hardly ever played. Instead, we use G7, which is the notes B-D-F with a G root note, which (although theoretically more complicated) is easier to play.

here's how the 7th chords in C major work out - we just add the next alternate note up the scale:

 Half-steps: |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |  |
Major scale: C     D     E  F     G     A     B  C     D     E  F     G     A
CHORDS:
  I = Cmaj7  C  .  .  .  E  .  .  G  .  .  .  B
 ii = Dm7          D  .  .  F  .  .  .  A  .  .  C
iii = Em7                E  .  .  G  .  .  .  B  .  .  D
 IV = Fmaj7                 F  .  .  .  A  .  .  C  .  .  .  E
  V = G7                          G  .  .  .  B  .  .  D  .  .  F
 vi = Am7                               A  .  .  C  .  .  .  E  .  .  G
vii = Bm7b5                                   B  .  .  D  .  .  F  .  .  .  A
Now we have various permutations of 3rd, 5th and 7th, producing the following chord types:

Major 3rd, perfect 5th, major 7th (11 half-steps) = maj7 chord
Major 3rd, perfect 5th, minor 7th (10 half-steps) = 7 chord, aka "dominant 7th" (because "dominant" is the name for the V scale degree)
Minor 3rd, perfect 5th, minor 7th = m7, or min7 chord
Minor 3rd, diminished 5th, minor 7th = m7b5 chord, aka "half-diminished".

Bm7b5 is still a rare chord in rock, but extremely common (as are all the 7ths) in jazz.
Last edited by jongtr at Nov 25, 2016,
#4
Couple of points on the videos above.

The Summer and Millstone share the same two-chord sequence in the beginning, although in different keys (and reversed in order). The Summer uses Bbmaj7 and Gm9; Millstone is F#m9 and Amaj7. (In key of C, these would be Cmaj7 and Am9.) The min9 chords are really the maj7s with a different bass note. (I'm guessing The Summer was played in some kind downtuning, as Bb would be a very odd key for a guitarist to choose. A whole step down and Bbmaj7 becomes a very easy Cmaj7 chord shape.)

Bbmaj7 = Bb D F A
Gm9 = G Bb D F A

The little guitar figure in Millstone is playing around with the G# note (9th on F#m, maj7 on A). So that produces a distinctive sound. Maj7 chords are not that common in rock. Added 9ths are quite common, although these seem like full m9 chords (with the 7th too).

Meanwhile, Bukowski is a more straightforward E major key sequence, simple triads (E - A - C#m - B) - which (along with the faster tempo and cleaner guitars) produces a less dense and introspective sound. This is happy stuff!


IOW, don't think that chord sequences (and chord theory) are what it's all about! There is tempo, dynamics, guitar effects, vocal style, etc - plenty of aspects that identify these styles of music. (Other styles could use the exact same chord sequence, and sound very different. You might well not like them at all!)
Last edited by jongtr at Nov 25, 2016,
#5
Good thread!

I've been learning how to create bass lines and read music, and the different octaves on the fretboard.
This opens a whole new chapter as there are many different combinations of chords. I've often wondered where to find different octaves of chords for a guitar. Since it's basically root 3rd 5th, you could create chords starting from the low E string if you wanted a lower octave, correct?
I'm familiar with the standard chords A on the 2nd fret or barred fifth fret, etc. What would you play if you wanted a lower D?
#6
Quote by bar2271
What would you play if you wanted a lower D?
Well, in standard E, open D, 5th fret A, and 10th fret low E are the same lowest D note you can get (D3 in concert), so you're kinda stuck. You could always try drop chords (5546xx for Dmaj7) to make your D chord sound lower (emphasis on lower fundamentals) or use different voicings (x5423x/10 9 7 7 x x or x5422x) for more compact voicings with lower notes, but otherwise the only other answer is changing your tuning
#7
Quote by NeoMvsEu
Well, in standard E, open D, 5th fret A, and 10th fret low E are the same lowest D note you can get (D3 in concert), so you're kinda stuck. You could always try drop chords (5546xx for Dmaj7) to make your D chord sound lower (emphasis on lower fundamentals) or use different voicings (x5423x/10 9 7 7 x x or x5422x) for more compact voicings with lower notes, but otherwise the only other answer is changing your tuning


Just to add on - if you go with inversions then 20023x with the 3rd (F#) in the bass is the lowest you can go, but it does have a little different sound compared to a regular D chord. Otherwise, yea, you have to go to Drop D or something to get the octave below.
#8
The4thHorsemen

Yeah, didn't go further by mentioning 3rd in bass because it reinforces the root a lot less than the 5th in bass does (which is why power chords are so... powerful )
#9
NeoMvsEu

Yea, the 3rd in the bass does sound a little unstable while the 5th in bass sounds almost as strong as the having the root in the bass. Just thought it was worth mentioning since you can get a lower note with that voicing.
#10
So a standard D is two roots, a third and a fifth. Is there any rules for the type of chord it is if you were to use say, use one root two thirds and one fifth like F# A D A starting from the low E string?
#11
Not necessarily 2 roots, there can be different octaves/strings, but the base formula is R-3-5, and as long as the chord has those notes somewhere, you're good.

F# A D A as in 2002xx is still a D chord, but more specifically the lowest (bass) note is the F#, so it's written as D/F# or D in first inversion (third in the bass. D in second inversion = fifth in the bass)
#12
Quote by bar2271
So a standard D is two roots, a third and a fifth. Is there any rules for the type of chord it is if you were to use say, use one root two thirds and one fifth like F# A D A starting from the low E string?
No rules - just terminology! This is about "inversion" and "voicing" - how you stack the notes you need, the order you put them in, and which one goes in the bass. As long as you have the notes you need, it's all about constructing a chord to fit best between the chords either side - to be easy to play, and to make the connections (voice-leading) as smooth as possible (assuming you want "smooth"...) Er, so I guess those are the rules.
Pianists do this all the time, but because guitarists are limited in what voicings are available, we tend to think more about ergonomic shapes, less about sound in context.

But a practical example of the D/F# chord (2-0-0-2-x-x, 2-0-0-2-3-x, 2-x-0-2-3-2, etc), is between G and Em, so you get the descending bass line on 6th string. That's the most common reason for using a 1st inversion chord, and sometimes 2nd inversions too. That's the one situation in which the average guitarist (not talking jazz here ) will consider inversion and voicing - when trying to incorporate a bass line.
As mentioned above, having the 5th in the bass usually sounds fine, and makes some chords easier (no need to mute the 6th string in a 0-0-2-2-2-0 A chord, or a 3-3-2-0-1-0 C chord, or to mute the A string in a x-0-0-2-3-2 D chord), but sometimes they are also involved in bass lines, eg C - G/B - Am - C/G - F etc.
Last edited by jongtr at Dec 4, 2016,
#13
Quote by NeoMvsEu
Not necessarily 2 roots, there can be different octaves/strings, but the base formula is R-3-5, and as long as the chord has those notes somewhere, you're good.

F# A D A as in 2002xx is still a D chord, but more specifically the lowest (bass) note is the F#, so it's written as D/F# or D in first inversion (third in the bass. D in second inversion = fifth in the bass)


So if the lowest note is below the root you use the slash? As in C/G of 3x2010
#14
bar2271

If the lowest note is anything but the root, use a slash chord!

Slash chord:

(root of chord and quality - major/minor/etc.)/(bass/lowest note)

So yes, your example is correct

There are some chords that have "missing" notes and look like other chords - 3x3210 as an example - and the actual chord root is different (looks like Fmaj7/G - root is actually G), but that's a bit more in the future. This is from a recent discussion btw
#15
Good stuff gang. +1
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp