Chords- Music thoery I

guitar chords
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Chords are one of the basic things, every musician should know about. In this post, we’ll talk about the actual meaning of a chord in music, chord building, arpeggios, and much more.

So what are chords? Chords are a combination of three or more notes played in a specific arrangement. Note that these notes are played simultaneously, because for this reason most of the monophonic musical instruments like flute trumpet, etc. cannot play chords as the notes are sounded simultaneously. Although these chords are played as arpeggios in such type of instruments, we will discuss arpeggios later in this post.

Do you know there are a total of 4017 chords that can be formed with each and every note that we have in music currently

Types of chords

First of all, you need to know that chords are a combination of three or more notes, so we can make infinite chords using permutation (I assume you know this mathematical term). But there is a specific structure to form chords which are established for several hundred years. According to this chords can mainly be classified as-

  • Triads
  • Seventh chords
  • Extended chords

So let’s understand these terms-

Triads

Triad as its name suggests is a type of chord that uses three notes. These three notes are taken in some specific structure or manner. There are four kinds of triads-

  • A major triad
  • A minor triad
  • A diminished triad
  • An augmented triad

Of these four triads the major and the minor triads are the most common  chords used in music. So let’s talk about each of them-

A major triad

A major triad is a chord having three notes. The three notes are- the first or the root note, the 3rd note or the major third and the 5th note or the perfect fifth. Let us take an example, take the C major chord i.e C E G, the first note is C, the major third is E and the perfect fifth is G, this is how C major chord is formed. *Note that the root, 3rd and 5th note is taken from C major scale. If you are unfamiliar with the music  scales and how  to form them, go through this post. Major chords sound bright and solid.

Cheat sheet for three notes of every major triad

ChordRoot noteThird noteFifth note
CCEG
C#C#FG#
DDF#A
D#D#GA#
EEG#B
FFAC
F#F#A#C#
GGBD
G#G#CD#
AAC#E
A#A#DF
BBD#F#

A minor triad

The minor chord is a chord having three notes. These notes are- the root or the 1st note, minor third and perfect fifth. In simpler terms, just take a major chord and flatten the third note that means take the third note one semitone or half step down. Again look at the example of C minor chord i.e C D# G, here the root note is the same as C, the fifth note is same as G, but the third note is changed from E in C major chord to D# in C minor chord. So E or the major third note is changed to D# or the minor third. Minor chords sound dark and sad.

Cheat sheet for three notes of every minor triad

ChordRoot noteThird note(minor third)Fifth note
CCD#G
C#C#EG#
DDFA
D#D#F#A#
EEGB
FFG#C
F#F#AC#
GGA#D
G#G#BD#
AACE
A#A#C#F
BBDF#

Diminished triad

A diminished triad is a chord having three notes, these notes are- the root note, minor third and diminished fifth. Let’s make this easy for you, take the C major chord having notes- C E G, now flatten the third note i.e E to Eb, and flatten the fifth note i.e G to Gb. So the C diminished chord becomes C Eb Gb. Now practice and write all the three notes for every diminished chord. If you have any doubt, just comment below.

Augmented triad

An augmented triad is a chord having three notes, the notes being the root note, major third, and augmented fifth. Again consider the C major chord C E G, and just raise one semitone or half step of the fifth note i.e G to G#. So the C augmented triad or chord becomes C E G#. Practice and writes all the three notes for all augmented chords.

Symbols used in sheet music for different triads

triad chords symbols in sheet music

Seventh chords

These are four-notes chords i.e they are the chords formed by four notes. In other words we can say an extra note is added to a particular triad to get a seventh chord. This note is the 7th scale degree above the root note or the 7th note of that particular scale. For ex- for getting a C major seventh chord just add the 7th note i.e B to C E G, so we get the C major seventh chord that will be C E G B. Seventh chords are of 5 types-

  • Major seventh
  • Minor seventh
  • Dominant seventh
  • Diminished seventh
  • Half- diminished seventh

Major seventh chord

As discussed above major seventh chord uses the major seventh note(or 11 semi-tones above the root note) in addition to the major triad). They sound a little soft as compared to other seventh chords. Example of major seventh chord- CM7- C E G B.

Minor seventh chord

In this type of seventh chord, a minor seventh is added to a minor triad i.e 10 semitones above the root note. For example the Cm7 will be C Eb G Bb, here the seventh note was B so the minor seventh will be half step down i.e Bb. These are often used to give a jazz feel in any musical piece.

Dominant seventh

The dominant seventh is the most common and important one among these seventh chords. They are formed by taking the major triad and adding the minor seventh i.e 10 semitones above the root note. So C dominant seventh would be C E G Bb, where Bb is the minor seventh. These chords are mostly used in blues music or as a perfect cadence.

Diminished seventh chords

The diminished seventh chords are formed by adding the diminished seventh note to diminished triad. Again take the C diminished triad i.e C Eb Gb, add the diminished seventh note(9 semitones above the root note). So the C diminished seventh hord will be C Eb Gb A. These chords sound dark, tense and scary, so you can add these chords in your piece to use these effects.

Half-diminished seventh chords

Half diminished seventh chords are formed by adding the minor seventh note to the diminished triad. C diminished triad is C Eb Gb, so just add Bb i.e 10 semitones above the root note to get the C half-diminished seventh chords. Again these chords are used to add tension to your musical piece.

Symbols used for seventh chords in sheet music,

seventh chords symbols used in sheet music

Note we have not discussed the minor-major seventh chord as it is very very rarely used, so just for your knowledge, it is a type of chord that used the minor triad and the major seventh note.

Summarizing,

In this post we have learned about the types of chords, triads, seventh, types of triads(major, minor, diminished, augmented), types of seventh chords(major, minor, diminished, half-diminished, dominant). We now know how to form these chords and what genre of music each chord is used in. Practice all the chords discussed above, each note should be clear and crisp, and then move on to the next post i.e about the extended chords, added tone chords, and arpeggios. Stay tuned.

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