Chord Theory for the Guitar

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The basic chord is called a triad. It consists of three notes. The notes of a triad are the root (or name of the chord) the third counting up from the root and the fifth counting up from the root. A C chord is made up of C, E and G notes.

You need to know what notes will be sharp or flat in the key that is the name of the chord. Because the F note is sharp in the key of D major, the F (the third note up from D) will be sharp in the D major chord. Because the C note is sharp in the key of A major, the C (the third note up from A) will be sharp in the A major chord.

         Major Chords
Root 2nd  3rd  4th  5th  6th  7th
 A   B    C#   D    E    F#   G#
 B   C#   D#   E    F#   G#   A#
 C   D    E    F    G    A    B
 D   E    F#   G    A    B    C#
 E   F#   G#   A    B    C#   D#
 F   G    A    Bb   C    D    E
 G   A    B    C    D    E    F#

Minor chords are the same as major chords except that the 3rd is lowered. The third in an A minor (Am) chord is C natural, not C#. The third in a Cm chord is Eb, not E.

         Minor Chords
Root 2nd  3rd  4th  5th  6th  7th
 A   B    C    D    E    F#   G#
 B   C#   D    E    F#   G#   A#
 C   D    Eb   F    G    A    B
 D   E    F    G    A    B    C#
 E   F#   G    A    B    C#   D#
 F   G    Ab   Bb   C    D    E
 G   A    Bb   C    D    E    F#

In a seventh chord, such as C7 and G7, you play the seventh note up from the root in addition to the triad. But the seventh is lowered. It is actually a dominant 7th. C7 has C, E, G and Bb. G7 has G, B, D and F. Whether it is a major or minor triad, the seventh will be the same.

   Seventh Chords (Dominant 7th)
Root 2nd  3rd  4th  5th  6th  7th
 A   B    C#   D    E    F#   G
 B   C#   D#   E    F#   G#   A
 C   D    E    F    G    A    Bb
 D   E    F#   G    A    B    C
 E   F#   G#   A    B    C#   D
 F   G    A    Bb   C    D    Eb
 G   A    B    C    D    E    F

        Minor Seventh Chords
Root 2nd  3rd  4th  5th  6th  7th
 A   B    C    D    E    F#   G
 B   C#   D    E    F#   G#   A
 C   D    Eb   F    G    A    Bb
 D   E    F    G    A    B    C
 E   F#   G    A    B    C#   D
 F   G    Ab   Bb   C    D    Eb
 G   A    Bb   C    D    E    F

A major seventh is a seventh chord without the seventh note lowered. This will be seen as a maj7, e.g., Cmaj7 and Gmaj7. Cmaj7 has C, E, G and B. Gmaj7 has G, B, D and F#. Don't confuse C7 with Cmaj7. You will rarely see a maj7 in old time fiddle music.

     Major Seventh Chords
Root 2nd  3rd  4th  5th  6th  7th
 A   B    C#   D    E    F#   G#
 C   D    E    F    G    A    B
 G   A    B    C    D    E    F#

When you strum a triad chord on the guitar you are playing some of the notes more than once. When the usual C chord is played, the root, C,  is played on the fifth string and also an octave higher on the second string; the 3rd, E, is played on the fourth string and an octave higher on the first string; the 5th, G, is played on the third string.

        The C Chord
 Fingering    Notes Played

x__________   x_____G___E

| | | | 1 |   | | | | C |
| | 2 | | |   | | E | | |
| 3 | | | |   | C | | | |
| | | | | |   | | | | | |

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