Chords and Arpeggios

Basic introduction to chords and arpeggios.

Ultimate Guitar
A chord is a group of notes compliment each other when played together. Just as in the previous two lesson where major and minor scales were discussed, basic chords can be described as major and minor chords. For beginners, we generally associate a major chord with its major scale, and a minor chord with its minor scale. Thus, to build the chord we take notes from the relative scale in a particular manner.

For the 2 chords being described today, the major chord and the minor chord, we are going to take the first, third and fifth note of the respective scale.

Let's consider the major scale in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Spelling of major scales

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
So the major chord becomes with the first, third and fifth note is as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Major Chord

1 3 5
Let's consider the scale of C described in Figure 3 to obtain the C major chord.

Figure 3: C major scale

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Thus, the C major chord is as described in Figure 4.

Figure 4: C major chord

1 3 5
The same process can be done to a minor scale. Let's consider the C natural minor scale in Figure 5.

Figure 5: C Natural minor scale

1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 8
C D Eb F G Ab Bb C
Thus, the C major chord is as described in Figure 6.

Figure 6: C major chord

1 b3 5
C Eb G
Please note that the difference between the C major and the C minor chord is the 3rd note. It is E in a major chord and Eb in a minor chord.

What applies to chords, applies to arpeggios. Arpeggio is a chord that instead of being played simultaneously, they are played one after the other. The other difference between chords and arpeggios is that an octave of the first note is played at the end and this is written as follows.

Figure 7: Major arpeggio

1 3 5 1

Figure 8: Minor arpeggio

1 b3 5 1
Please note that those are the 2 basic chord shapes. More complex chord shapes do exist.

The lesson on major scales can be found here.
The lesson on minor chords can be found here.

4 comments sorted by best / new / date

    This is good for beginners, but I would like to point out a few things. First, "notes that compliment each other" sounds a little subjective - maybe "a group of notes played simultaneously" would be more objective? I'm only bringing it up because when you get to more complicated chords and their applications (especially in modern music), you'll notice that there are notes in chords that don't sound like they compliment each other, but nonetheless, these chords are still chords. Also, chords (for practical purposes) can repeat notes at the octave - a C chord in first position on the guitar repeats two notes up an octave (unless you're playing a G on the E, or 6th, string with your ring finger - then there are three notes that repeat up an octave). It depends on the texture of what you're writing that determines whether or not notes repeat up the octave - in a chordal (or homophonic) texture, like four-part chorale writing, it's almost impossible to not repeat notes up an octave. Therefore, arpeggios are effectively "broken chords" ("chords played one note at a time," as you said it, is also a good way of putting it) - there is no difference in octave treatment. This does serve as a decent enough introduction though, so I applaud your effort - it's very hard to write lessons for beginners and I think you did a good job.
    I am writing these articles from a theoretical aspect rather than from an applied perspective. Thus, I did not mention octaves in chords but only in arpeggios, as in theory exams this is the way they are generally expected. In a practical application it is exactly as you explained, if you play them simultaneously they are a chord and if not an arpeggio. Repetition of octaves is irrelevant. Yes you are right, some chords are quite dissonant, but they are played that way on purpose. Thus, I'm stretching the meaning of 'compliment' in this way to avoid confusion. Thank you for your detailed and accurate comment
    nargis · Oct 16, 2015 01:13 AM