Chords (music)

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A chord is a combination of three or more notes. The most complementary groups of notes make up popular chords. Because of the broad nature of this definition, types of chords have been developed that "sound good" according to the western philosophy of music.

While two notes technically constitute harmony, two-note groups are not considered chords.

Types of chordsEdit

The following chords can be played in any key. To understand them, one should have the basic knowledge of a scale first. When considering what quality a chord is (major, minor, etc.), all that matters are the names of the 3 notes; it does not matter whether some notes are doubled or played in different octaves (known as a chord inversion). For example, a C major triad must have a C, an E and a G, but it doesn't matter which is on bottom, nor does it matter if there are 2 E's or 2 G's.

Other notes, such as 9ths and 13ths, can be added to a chord, but this learning resource focuses on basic chords and their structure. Depending on the lowest note of the chord and the notes added or removed, formation of a chord is known as an “inversion” or a “voicing.”

Major ChordEdit

 
C Major on the piano

The major triad is often symbolized with a capital letter (C | Cmaj). It is three notes: the first, third, and fifth note of a scale. Alternatively, you can find this chord by adding a note a major third (4 half-steps) up from the root note and then a minor third (3 half-steps) up from that. If you add the half-steps of a major and minor third you will notice the third note is 7 half-steps up from the root making a perfect fifth. This interval will remain the same in major and minor chords. All primary triads are created by stacking intervals of a third. It is a very whole sounding chord, and is found within most, if not all popular songs.

C Major triad: C - E - G

Minor ChordEdit

The minor triad is often symbolized with a lower case letter, or 'min', or just an 'm' (c | Cmin | Cm). It is composed of three notes: the first, flat-third, and fifth. The lowered third represents the third note of a minor scale. Alternatively, you can find this chord by adding a note a minor third (3 half-steps) up from the root note and then a major third (4 half-steps) up from that. The quality of this chord is not as full as the major chord, and has a darker complexion. It also is found in a majority of popular music.

C Minor triad: C - E♭ - G

Diminished ChordEdit

The diminished triad can be symbolized with either a '°' or with the abbreviation "dim" (C° | Cdim). Its components include: the first, flat-third, and flat-fifth. Alternatively, you can find this chord by adding a note a minor third (3 half-steps) up from the root note and then another minor third (3 half-steps) up from that. If you add the half-steps of two minor thirds together you will notice the third note is 6 half-steps up from the root making a diminished fifth, giving the chord its name. Having 2 lowered notes, a diminished chord does not have great euphony. It sounds slightly out of place, but adds a certain musical flavor.

C Diminished triad: C - E♭ - G♭

Augmented ChordEdit

The augmented triad is usually symbolized with a '+' or 'aug' (C+ | Caug). It is rarely seen in contemporary music (jazz theory, for example, prefers the #5 notation), but is one of the most significant triad structures. It combines the first, third, and a raised fifth. Alternatively, you can find this chord by adding a note a major third (4 half-steps) up from the root note and then another major third (4 half-steps) again. If you add the half-steps of two major thirds together you will notice the third note is 8 half-steps up from the root making an augmented fifth, giving the chord its name. An augmented fifth sounds the same as a minor sixth (note) but is notated differently and consequently will sound different in context.

As all the notes of the augmented triad are spaced equally, there are only four augmented chords. C, E, and G# augmented chords all contain the same number of notes. All three notes of the augmented triad are found within the accompanying whole-tone scale.

C Augmented triad: C - E - G#

Seventh ChordEdit

Dominant Seventh ChordEdit

A seventh chord is attached to any other chord by the addition of the number '7' (C7). It can be attached to pretty much any chord, not just the major chord: (C7 | dim C7). Opposed to the addition of the seventh note of the scale, a flat-seventh note is added (in the key of C, this is Bb rather than B). When the third note is flat it is known as a minor 7. Therefore, "dominant 7" refers to a flattened seventh note, while a "minor 7" refers to both a flattened seventh and a flattened third note.

These chords, especially the dominant 7, tend to be popular in jazz and blues music, since they lend themselves to the "blues scale," which itself includes the flattened seventh note.

Dominant 7: C - E - G - B♭

Minor 7: C - E♭ - G - B♭

Major Seventh ChordEdit

Like a dominant seventh chord, a note is added to the triad to create a major seventh chord. While a '7' represents the dominant seventh chord, the letters "maj" and a '7' represent a major seventh chord (C maj7). The note added to this chord is the seventh note of the root's major scale. This chord is used to emphasize the major scale or tonality of a phrase, and to clarify that the dominant seventh should be avoided. A sharp fourth (Lydian) note may be acceptable as a grace note over this chord.

C - E - G - B

Minor (Major Seventh) ChordEdit

The minor major seventh chord (Cmmaj7) is used in Horace Silver's "Nica's Dream" and Bronislau Kaper's "Invitation." The chord includes both a minor third note and a major seventh note. Although the name of the chord appears to be an oxymoron, the major seventh is an extension of the chord, and therefore can be seen as containing two components: a minor component in the lower part (Eb in the key of C), and a major component (B in the key of C) in the upper part. The scale accompanying this chord is the melodic minor scale.

C - E♭ - G - B

Half Diminished Seventh ChordEdit

A half diminished 7th chord (Cø7) adds a flat-seventh note to the diminished chord. This is the diminished 7th chord that is "diatonic" (occurs in the major scale), and can be built using the 7th, 2nd, 4th and 6th notes of the major scale. The "Half-Diminished" part of the chord's name refers to the fact that the note a minor 7th above the chord's root is used rather than the note a diminished 7th above the root. A common substitute notation for this chord in jazz is Cmin7(♭5), since another way to build this chord is to flat the 5th of a minor 7th chord.

C - E♭ - G♭ - B♭

Fully Diminished Seventh ChordEdit

Like a half-diminished chord, a 7th is added to a diminished chord, but the 7th is flattened twice to create the interval of a diminished 7th (In the key of C, this is B♭♭ (or A) rather than B♭). Fully diminished 7th chords (C°7) can also be made by adding a note a minor third above the flat 5th of the chord, creating a chord that is a stack of only minor thirds. This chord is not diatonic (does not occur in the major scale), but it does exist in the harmonic minor scale as the 7th chord built off of the raised 7th of the scale (in the key of C harmonic minor, B, D, F, A♭). It is widely considered one of the most dissonant 7th chords, and has a lot of unique harmonic applications due to its repeating structure.

C - E♭ - G♭ - B♭♭ or C - E♭ - G♭ - A

Sixth ChordEdit

The sixth chord is a four note chord, adding the sixth note of the root's major scale to a triad. Major and minor triads can become sixths, represented by the addition of a '6' (e.g. Cm6).

Major: C - E- G - A

The major sixth is functionally similar to the major seventh but provides a clearer resolution. However, in jazz theory the major seventh is preferred over the major sixth due to its clarification of the major seventh over the dominant seventh.

Minor: C - E♭ - G - A

The minor sixth is functionally similar to the minor major seventh and is used on particularly tense sections of ballads as an emotional "climax."

Suspended (Sustained) ChordEdit

The suspended chord, also called sustained chord, is symbolized with "sus" or "sus4" (Csus | Csus4).

In the normal (major) triad in C, the note E is the "third" because is it an interval of a third above C. However, in suspended chords the "third" of the chord is replaced by a fourth. Traditionally the fourth would resolve to the third (E) of the chord, although the sus4 chord can stand on its own and doesn't always resolve to a normal triad.

A Csus chord is composed of the notes C, F, G instead of C, E, G (the normal triad).

Another version of this chord is symbolized with "sus2" (Csus2).

A sus2 with C as its root would be C, D, G.

Sus4: C - F - G

Sus2: C - D - G

Add2/Add4 ChordEdit

This chord is just like a suspended chord in that it uses the second and fourth note. The difference is that, whereas in a suspended chord the third note is omitted, in an "Add2/Add4" chord, the third is kept.

Add4: C - E - F - G

Add2: C - D - E - G

GalleryEdit

 
C Major
 
C Minor

See alsoEdit

External LinksEdit

Free tutorial on Chord Substitutions (dead link)