Conquer Any Chord When You Know How to Build Them All


How To Build Chords

Chords are arrangements of particular notes sounded at the same time.

Most folks begin learning chord shapes (how to play a C chord, for example) without really understanding how the chords are built and what notes are included in each chord.

But there are a lot of chords, so it really helps to learn how they are built.

Then you can figure out how to play any chord- on any instrument!

Major Chords

Major Chords are built using the first, the (major) third, and the fifth interval of the scale.  So, to make a C major chord, you use the C scale and choose the 1, 3, and 5 notes: C, E, and G.

G Major would be played using the notes G-B-D.

This is just one of many ways to play a G major chord on a guitar (G-B-D-G-D-G).

Minor Chords

Minor Chords include a minor third, rather than a major third interval, along with the root note and the fifth note of the scale.  If you start with a major chord, you flatten the third.  C minor is played C- E flat- G.

G minor would be G-Bflat-D.  So the young lady playing the G major chord on guitar in the illustration above could move her index finger down one semitone to the first fret.

On a piano, you would simply move your middle finger one key to the left, if starting from the major.

Seventh Chords

Seventh Chords add another note: the seventh of the scale.  There are three types of seventh chords:

  • Dominant Sevenths take a major chord and add the flattened seventh interval or degree of the scale. so C7= C-E-G-Bflat  
  • Major Sevenths add the major seventh interval to the major chord (so a semitone higher than that of the dominant seventh chords). CMajor7= C-E-G-B 
  •  Minor Seventh Chords start with a minor chord (flattened third), and add the flattened seventh on top of that.  Cmin7= C-Eb (Eflat)-G-Bb (B flat)

Sus (Suspended) Chords

There are two types of Sus chords, Sus2 and Sus4.  It is also possible to use them together.

These chords are formed when the third is omitted and the second or fourth is played instead.  Because of having no third, these chords are neither major nor minor and so have an ambiguous sound.

Csus2= C-D-G; Csus4= C-F-G.  Or you could play a Csus with both the second and the fourth: C-D-F-G

Sixth Chords

These simply add the sixth to the major or minor triad.  So, for C: C-E-G-A


Augmented Chords

These begin with a major or minor chord, but the fifth is sharpened, and becomes an augmented fifth interval.  In other words, you raise the top note by half a step. C becomes C-E-G# when augmented, generally notated as C+ .


Diminished Chords

Diminished chords are interesting and special.

They are entirely built using minor third intervals.
  • Diminished Triads use the root note, then a minor third, and another minor third (the flatted fifth).  So for C: C-Eflat-Gflat
  • Diminished Seventh Chords are made by stacking another minor third on top of the basic diminished triad by also adding a double flattened seventh.
  • Half Diminished Chords use the basic diminished chord triad of minor third intervals, but include a major third (the flattened seventh) on top.   
There is a special use for diminished chords, as the seventh chord of any key; we will look at chord progressions here soon.

Extended Chords

These extend major or minor triad chords beyond the octave by adding the ninth, the eleventh, or the thirteenth.

Cadd9, for example, would add a D note to the C major triad: C-E-G-D.



Inversions are made by rearranging the notes within a chord.  That is, when you play a note other than the root note as the bass (or lowest note of the chord).

In a major or minor chord, because there are three notes, there are two choices other than the root to use as the bass note:

  • First Inversions use the third (or minor third, in a minor chord) as the bass note, and
  • Second Inversions use the fifth of the chord as the lowest note.

Inversions are notated as "Slash Chords."  Such as C/E, read as "C over E," meaning E bass note played under a C chord, which is the first inversion of the C major chord.

We will look more closely at and play some slash chords in an upcoming post here.

You can also play inversions of other types of chords.  Diminished seventh chords, listed above, are particularly easy to play inversions:  because all the notes are at minor third intervals, if you move them by a minor third (three frets up or down the neck on a guitar), then the notes continue to hold their same relationship.

So, there are a whole lot of chords, but you can play them all when you understand how each is built!

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