30 Minutes to Master Chord Formation

In the world of music, chords are essential. They are what give a song its structure and depth. It is one of the most important aspects of guitar playing, and learning how chords are formed and use them is essential for any musician. Let’s explore the basics of chord formation: what chords are, what they do and how chords are named.

The Basics of Chord Formation

What Chords Are

Chords are created when two or more notes are played together. The resulting sound is usually fuller and richer than if only one note were played. It can be played on any instrument, but they are most commonly heard on guitars and pianos.

It can be played in different ways, depending on the style of music being played. For example, it can be strummed slowly and evenly for a ballad, or they can be played quickly and aggressively for a rock song. By playing different chords in different combinations, musicians can create an infinite number of sounds.

What Chords Do

  • Chords provide the foundation for a song.

Chords are the building blocks of a song. They give the song its melody, rhythm and harmony. By playing chords, musicians can create melodies and progressions that would not be possible with only one note.

Without chords, a song would be little more than a series of isolated notes. Chords add interest and texture to a song, and they can also convey emotion. Chords can be sad, happy, anxious, peaceful, or anything in between.

  • They can also be used to create moods and emotions in a song.

Certain chords are typically associated with certain feelings or genres of music. For example, the minor chord is often used in sad songs, while the major chord is often used in happy songs.

Chords can also be used to create tension and release, which is an important aspect of any good song.

  • Chords add interest and depth to a song.

Chords can add interest and depth to a song, and they are essential for creating chord progressions. They can also be used to embellish a melody or provide support for a vocal line. Without chords, most songs would sound very boring.

How Chords Are Named: Root & Quality

Chords are named after the root and the quality of the chord. For example, in a C major chord, the root is C and the quality is major. In a D minor chord, the root is D and the quality is minor.

Root. The starting and lowest-pitched note (bass note) in a chord is its root. For example, the root of a C chord is C.

Quality. The intervals between the notes determine the quality of the chord. The quality of a chord also determines its function in a chord progression. For example, chords that are built on the major scale are called tonic chords and they usually function as the starting point or “One” chord in a chord progression.

There are four basic chord types: major, minor, augmented and diminished. The chord type is determined by the order of these notes.

  • Major: M or Maj
  • Minor: m or min
  • Diminished: dim or °
  • Augmented: aug or +

There are a variety of sounds and emotions to select from when you play each chord type.

Major chords are the most common type of chord and they have a bright, happy sound. They are built on the first, third, and fifth notes of the major scale. For example, a C major chord is made up of the notes C, E, and G.

Minor chords have a sadder sound than major chords. They are built on the first, flatted third and fifth notes of the minor scale. For example, a C minor chord is made up of the notes C, E♭, and G.

Diminished chords have a tense and unstable sound. They are built on the first, flatted third and flatted fifth notes of the major scale. For example, a C diminished chord is made up of the notes C, E♭, and G♭.

Augmented chords have a bright and exciting or intense sound. They are built on the first, third, and sharpened fifth notes of the major scale. For example, a C augmented chord is made up of the notes C, E, and G♯.

The Basics of Chord Formation

Chords are made up of three parts: the root, the third and the fifth. The following three notes form the fundamental structure of all chords.

Forming Chords using Major Scale

The most popular technique is using a major scale with varied and modified intervals. To do this, you simply play the first, third and fifth notes of the major scale together. For example, if you were forming a chord based on the C major scale, you would play C, E and G together.

  • Scale (seven notes): W W H W W W H
  • C major scale: C D E F G A B
  • Chord: 1, 3, 5

The root is the starting note of the chord and gives the chord its name. For example, in a C major chord, the root is C. The third is a major or minor third above the root, depending on the chord. In a C major chord, the third is E. The fifth is a perfect fifth above the root. In a C major chord, the fifth is G.

There are three main chords formed from a scale:

  • Triads. A triad is a three-note chord consisting of the root, third, and fifth notes of a scale. It is the simplest type of chord. The most common type of chord, triads, are found in all keys.
  • Seventh Chords. A seventh chord is a four-note chord made up of the root, third, fifth, and seventh notes of a scale. The most common type of seventh chord is the dominant seventh which contains the notes root, third, fifth, and minor seventh.
  • Extended Chords. An extended chord is a five- or six-note chord that includes the ninth, eleventh, and thirteenth notes of a scale in addition to the root, third, fifth, and seventh. The most common type of extended chord is the ninth chord which contains the notes root, third, fifth, seventh, and ninth.

Chord Formulas

When it comes to chord formation, the root is the starting note and the third and fifth notes create the interval that gives chords their unique sound. The quality of a chord is determined by its intervals.  These are the chord types you’ll encounter most often and their interval formulas.

  • Major = Root + Major Third + Perfect Fifth
  • Minor = Root + Minor Third + Perfect Fifth
  • Augmented = Root +  Major Third + Augmented Fifth
  • Diminished = Root + Minor Third + Diminished Fifth

Here’s a table of the chord formulas.

  • Formula + Major Scale
  • Scale Degree: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
  • C major Scale: C D E F G A B
Chord TypeChord FormulaChord Notes in C
Major1 3 5C E G
Minor1 b3 5C Eb G
7th (dominant 7th)1 3 5 b7C E G Bb
Major 7th1 3 5 7C E G B
Minor 7th1 b3 5 b7C Eb G Bb
6th1 3 5 6C E G A
Minor 6th1 b3 5 6C Eb G A
Diminished1 b3 b5C Eb Gb
Augmented1 3 #5C E G#
Note:♭=flat/lowered; #=sharp/raised (both in half-step interval)

Simple mathematical chord formulas are how chords are formed as you can see from the examples above. The root note is always the starting point and the distance between the root and third and fifth notes determine whether a chord is major, minor, augmented or diminished.

You’ve learned how to apply the chord formulas for C as the root note. It’s now your turn to practice applying these rules with different roots.

Chords Across The Fretboard

If you can figure out how chords are formed, you’ll have a blast remembering the chord formulas for each chord type. Start with triads, then progress to seventh and extended chords.

Make sure you’re able to form each formula on the fretboard so you’ll get used to the chord shape and the changes of intervals as you move up and down the fretboard.

The notes on the sixth and fifth string are a good place to start when it comes to practicing chords on the fretboard. These will be your bass notes when making chords, since they represent your root tones. You’ll make most chords on the guitar’s neck by using barre chords, movable chord shapes.

The majority of the chords in the chord chart are in root position. Understanding how chords are formed will allow you to create inversions, which is arranging the same notes in various places. Isn’t it incredible? You can accomplish so much with your set of notes!

There are many different chords, and each one is created differently. Once you have this chord knowledge down, start jamming with some friends. Begin creating beautiful melodies and harmonies. Get out there and start playing some chords! Your music will thank you for it.

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