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Understanding Chords

Rhys Bowen (1076) · [archive]
Style: Theory/Reference · Level: Advanced · Tempo: 120
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

The purpose of these lessons is to take the mystery out of chords so that you can understand;
  • what a chord is
  • how chords are constructed
  • how chords get their names
  • how chord shapes are determined
  • to recognize chords by their sounds
  • to be able to work out chord shapes for yourself
A CHORD is three or more notes in harmony.


Two notes played together is not called a chord, it's a dyad. On the guitar, dyads other than those played on open strings are called double stops.


The distance between the two notes is called the interval.

Two notes of the same pitch played together, are said to be in unison or prime interval.

The notes are counted on the diatonic scale (In the key of C Major or A minor, this means the white notes of a piano.), and the first note is included in the count, so two adjacent notes played together, e.g. C+D, is known as a 2nd. Miss the note in-between, e.g. play C+E, and it's called a 3rd, and so on.

An interval of 8 notes, e.g. middle C + top C, is called an octave.

(These charts are for demonstration only, and are not meant to be played on the guitar.)
Unison (C+C)
2nd (C+D)
3rd (C+E)
4th (C+F)
5th (C+G)
6th (C+A)
7th (C+B)
Octave (C+topC)

A 9th is similar to a 2nd, but an octave further apart.
2nd (C+D)
9th (C+topD)
Similarly an 11th is like a 4th,
4th (C+F)
11th (C+topF)
and a 13th is like a 6th.
6th (C+A)
13th (C+topA)
Intervals can also be sharpened or flattened. For example; here's a 5th compared with a flattened 5th.
5th (C+G)
5th b (C+Gb)