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How Chords Are Formed
Cick to play Individual chords

  The formation of chords may seem complicated at first, but once we understand the nature of how a chord is constructed, it should become relatively easy for the beginning or intermediate musician to determine the structure of most chords just by looking at its name. The basic chord structure is called a "Triad" and, as the name implies, it is composed of three notes. The first note of the chord is called the "Root" and it is from this root note that the chord gets its name, C, D, Em, Am7, etc. , the additions or variations we use for the basic chord, (minor), m7, 9th, etc. are what add that particular "flavor " to the musical composition and we'll delve into that later, for now let's start with the basics.

   The Triad is formed by taking the 1st, 3rd, and 5th Intervals from the scale of the root;

     

 

The D triad/chord is formed by taking the 1st or root "D" and adding the 3rd interval "F#" and the 5th interval"A" from the D Major Scale.      

 Root + Major 3rd + Perfect 5th

 

 

 

                               

 

 

The Dm (minor) triad/chord is formed by taking the root "D" and adding the 3rd interval "F" and the 5th interval "A" from the D Minor Scale .    

 Root + Minor 3rd + Perfect 5th

 

 

 

 

 

   So the basic rule is; Take the chords name (1st / root), add the 3rd note of the root scale, then add the 5th note of the root scale. While this method is a relatively simple means of determining chord structure for your basic major and minor chords I believe it tends to be confusing when we move on to more complex chord structures..

   If we go back to our major diatonic scale, we can define these chords in another way: The major chord is still defined as Root, 3rd, 5th, but the minor chord would be defined as Root, minor 3rd, (flatted major 3rd), and 5th. So while the triad always spans from the root note to the perfect fifth the defining feature between major and minor chords is the the scale position of the 3rd.  Beyond these basic chords we have variations that are formed by either Augmenting, (sharping), Diminishing, (flatting), or Adding more intervals to the triad.

The major 7th, dominant 7th, 6, 9, 11th, 13th, suspended chords , augmented, and diminished chords are all variations of the basic triadic chord structure. The number after the chord, 6, 7, 9, 11, 13, tells us to add that interval to the original triad.

There are a few important thing to remember about these types of chords;

   1.) Unless the chord is a Major chord the addition of the 7th degree is "Always a DOMINANT 7th". The dominant 7th is a flatted Major 7th. In the Major chords "Always" use the Major 7th degree. If the Major designation isn't present the 7th is assumed to be dominant.

   2.) When an added interval is beyond the octave of the root note, as in the 9th, 11th, and 13th chord formations, you also add the lower intervals to the chord. EG: In the 9th chord you will also add the dominant 7th (unless it is a Major), and in the 11th and 13th chords you must add the dominant 7th and the 9th intervals.

   3.) If one of the intervals is not used in the formation of the 9th, 11th, 13th chords, then the name of the chord is modified to reflect this missing interval. EG: If the C Major 9th chord is missing the 7th it is actually a C Major add 9, if the chord is a C Major 11th and the 9th is missing it is actually a C Major 7 add 11, so basically it will be named for the  nearest completed formation of a chord and the extra interval is "added" to the name.           

   4.) The Augmented (+), and Diminished (°), chords  modify the fifth degree of the chord, augmented sharps the fifth, diminished flats the fifth, and the third.

   5.) The Suspended chord will modify the third interval up or down, in the Suspended 2 the third is replaced by the major second and with the Suspended 4 the third is replaced by the perfect fourth.

   6.) We also have Inversions of these chords, which merely means that the chord is played starting at a note other than its root.

   7.) Upon occasion you might see chords written like this C Major /G, all this means is you should play the bass note G as part of the chord.

Chord Interval Positions

Position Of Intervals In Relation To Root

Chord interval position

A free easy to use chord finder for PC can be downloaded here. Courtesy of Sami Saarnio.

The Music Staff | Rests | Dotted Notes | Tied Notes | Timing | Time Signatures | Music Notation | Chromatic Scale | Major Diatonic Scale
Minor Diatonic Scale | Scale Modes | Complimentary Scales | Pentatonic Scale | Blues Scale | Chord Theory | Circle of Fifths
Alternate Guitar Tuning | Finger Picking | More Fingers | Intonation

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