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How to Construct Basic Chords

Christopher Sung (9641) · [archive]
Style: Basics · Level: Beginner · Tempo: 100
Pages: 1 2 3 4

This lesson is designed to help you get a grip on how basic chords are constructed. We'll cover the fundamentals of basic chord theory and talk about how it relates to playing chords on the guitar. Please keep in mind when you're learning these things that you're learning music at the same time you're learning how to play the guitar. It's not easy, but developing a basic knowledge of the theory behind chords and songs in general will go a long way toward developing your guitar playing.

Let's look at the key of C major. It's one of the easiest keys because it has no sharps and flats. It's all of the white keys on the piano. The notes in C major are:
  • C D E F G A B
This is what is known as the C major scale. If you have a vague idea of what modes are, this is also C Ionian, but if you're not familiar with modes, don't worry about it.

Why do I need to know about the C major scale if I want to learn about chords? Well, the most basic chords are constructed from scales, so we'll use the C major scale as the basis for constructing these chords.

A chord is a collection of notes played simultaneously, as opposed to a scale where the individual notes are played one after the other. The most basic chord is a triad, which means three notes played simultaneously. Basic triads are constructed using the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes of a scale. So let's go back to our C major scale and find the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes using C as our 1st note:

NoteCDEFGAB
Degree1234567


We can see from this table that C, E, and G make up our first triad. This is a C major chord and is one of the chords that can be constructed from the C major scale.

OK, that's cool, but what other chords can we make from the C major scale? Well, we can look at the C major scale starting on D instead of the C. Our table then looks like this:

NoteDEFGABC
Degree1234567


We can see from this 2nd table that D, F, and A make up our second triad derived from the C major scale. This is a D minor chord.

If we continue in this fashion substituting all 7 notes of the C major scale as our 1st note, we obtain the following triads:
  • 1. C major: C E G
  • 2. D minor: D F A
  • 3. E minor: E G B
  • 4. F major: F A C
  • 5. G major: G B D
  • 6. A minor: A C E
  • 7. B diminished: B D F
These chords are all related, since they come from the same scale - C major. This also means that they sound good together. You can mix and match them to create your own tunes. Listen to the example to hear how these triads sound when played one after the other.
How to Construct Basic Chords