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Chords

A chord is a combination of more than two notes which (hopefully) when sounded together give a pleasing sound. In this section I am going to describe what could be termed popular chord notation. There are other notation and descriptive systems which are more appropriate for those concerned with musical theory than for those performing from popular piano/vocal or guitar music.

Let us take as a simple example the chord of E minor. This is made up from the note E along with the notes at the intervals of a minor 3rd and perfect 5th. We denote the chord as Em and it consists of the notes E, G and B. The chord notation is quite rich - here are some examples: C, Dm7, Am7, G+ and C#o. Note that sometimes subscripts are used, for example Am7 instead of Am7. I prefer to use subscripts but for simplicity of display will use the alternative form here.

The following table defines the chord notation and shows which notes make up each chord. X is used as a label for any note.

Chord
type
Chord
notation
Makeup
(unison +)
Example
chord
Example
notes
major X major 3rd, perfect 5th A A C# E
minor Xm minor 3rd, perfect 5th Am A C E
seventh X7 major 3rd, perfect 5th, minor 7th A7 A C# E G
minor seventh Xm7 minor 3rd, perfect 5th, minor 7th Am7 A C E G
major seventh Xmaj7 major 3rd, perfect 5th, major 7th A7 A C# E G#
sixth X6 major 3rd, major 5th, major 6th A6 A C# E F#
minor sixth Xm6 minor 3rd, major 5th, major 6th Am6 A C E F#
augmented X+ major 3rd, augmented 5th A+ A C# E#
diminished Xo minor 3rd, diminished 5th, diminished 7th
(see note)
Ao A C Eb Gb
suspended Xsus perfect 4th, perfect 5th Asus A D E
suspended
second
Xsus2 major 2rd, perfect 5th Asus2 A B E
ninth X9 major 3rd, perfect 5th, minor 7th,
major 9th
A9 A C# E G B
minor ninth Xm9 minor 3rd, perfect 5th, minor 7th,
major 9th
Am9 A C E G B
eleventh X11 major 3rd, perfect 5th, minor 7th,
major 9th, perfect 11th
A11 A C# E G B D
minor seventh
flattened fifth
Xm7b5 minor 3rd, diminished 5th,
minor 7th
Am7b5 A C Eb G

Be careful not to confuse the meaning of the term minor and major when applied to chords with that when applied to intervals. When describing chords, major and minor always refer to the 3rd. This is particularly confusing for the seventh chord (a major chord) which contains a note at the minor seventh interval. The chord notation can also specify the basenote, for example Am/C could be played as C, E, A with C in the base (this chord is an inversion of the triad A, C and E).

The chords introduced so far will probably be all that you ever meet in piano/vocal or buskers books. However there are other chords in use (especially by Jazz musicians). You can learn more about these in the section on advanced chords.

Chord builders

In this section you can specify a chord and see which notes it is made up from. You can also see how the chord would be played on the Guitar and Piano.

Basic

Enter a chord to see which notes it is made up from...

Your browser does not appear to support Java applets.
If it did, you would see an interactive chord builder here.

Guitar

Enter a chord and see how it could be played. The chord charts assume standard guitar tuning E,A,G,D,B,E for strings 1-6.. As you will see, many chords have alternatives. If you click on `Chord Builder', then a chart will appear with all notes of the chord marked. You can use this to make up your own chord by choosing a playable set of notes.

Your browser does not appear to support Java applets.
If it did, you would see an interactive guitar chord builder here.
Using the Chord Charts

The chord charts appear when the "Chord Charts" checkbox is selected. For each chord, one or more alternatives are displayed. In general I have not chosen chord patterns that correspond to a chord in root position as this often means missing out strings 1 and 2. However, for chords like 9ths and 11ths it is better to establish the root and try to place the 9ths and 11ths on the top strings. I have attempted to give alternatives that do this. Note that there are no charts for the advanced chords - make them up yourself by using the Chord Builder.

Using the Chord Builder

Select the "Chord Builder" checkbox to make the chord builder appear. Enter the chord "A" and press return. What you see is a chart will all notes selected that belong to the chord A. These notes are A, C# and E. You can tell which intervals are selected from the colour-coded circles. (Because of the span of the guitar (typically 2+ octaves) it does not make sense to use the strict compound intervals and you don't need these to make up chords.) If an O appears above a string then it means that the open string also belongs to the chord. To make up the chord just select a playable set of notes. You should be able to see two of the common patterns for the A chord (002220 and 577655).

When making up chords, keep these points in mind.

Piano

You can enter a chord to see which keys correspond to the notes of the chord. Alternatively, click on the keys to select or deselect a note. Should the resultant chord be recognised then its name will be displayed.

Your browser does not appear to support Java applets.
If it did, you would see an interactive guitar chord builder here.

You can only enter chord names that define chords in root position (with the keynote in the base). For example you can enter Em but not Em/G.

If you have the Scorch plugin from Sibelius then look at the example chords page where you can see chords in musical notation and hear how they sound.