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Guitar chords

A chord is a set of 3 or more harmonic notes that sounds simultaneously. But how do we play it on a guitar?

chord chart

This article has been written for those who are learning to play a musical instrument (mainly the guitar) and want to understand what a chord is, how to play it and the different types that exist.

If this is your case, you are in the right place.

You can download here all the guitar chords in pdf format:

GUITAR CHORDS CHART

Music theory

Let’s start by looking at the music theory behind chord formations.

As I have mentioned, a musical chord is made up of 3 different notes that sound at the same time.

But what are these notes?

The root, third and fifth.

Don’t worry, we are going to see it in more detail with an example.

If we take our beloved C major scale formed by:

C – D – E – F – G – A – B

And we want to construct the C major chord, we have to:

  • C is the root note because is the the chord starts with.
  • E is the third because if you count notes beginning in C, E is the third that you will find (C – D – E).
  • G is the fifth because if you count musical notes, G is the fifth that you find starting at C (C – D – E – F – G).

So, the C chord is formed by:

C – E – G

And the C chord on the guitar has the following shape:

c major chord guitar

But there is more because really what we have done is stacking thirds on top of one another:

In other words:

  • E is the third of C.
  • G is the third of E.

Major and Minor chords

Now that we know what a chord is let me tell you that there is a main classification that divides them in 2 main groups:

  • Major chords.
  • Minor chords.

To give you a general idea, major chords convey joy and happiness while minor chords are sad.

major minor guitar chords

Major Chords

A chord with a distance of two tones between the first two notes is called major chord. In other words, it has a musical note that is 4 semitones away from the root, called major third.

c major guitar chord

For example, in the case of the C chord we have seen, its third is E which is at a distance of 4 semitones from C. Therefore we have a major chord.

Minor Chords

A chord with a distance of three semitones (half steps) between the first two notes is called minor chord. In other words, it has a musical note that is 3 semitones away from the root, called minor third.

d minor guitar chord

For example, in the D chord its third is F which is at a distance of 3 semitones from D. Therefore we have a minor chord.

D minor guitar chord

Open Chords

Now that we have understood the major and minor chords, let’s move on a little bit to see what an open chord is.

First of all, why are they called open chords?

🎸 Open guitar chords
An open chord is basically any chord that include at least one open string, in other words, one unfretted open string.

Open chords are characterized by being bright and wide, that’s why they are used so much when playing the Spanish or acoustic guitar.

And the good thing is that there is an great number of songs that we can play with open chords:

  • Bad Moon Rising (Creedence Clearwater Revival).
  • Browned Eyed Girl (Van Morrison).
  • Marry You (Bruno Mars).
  • Hey Jude (The Beatles).
  • Stand by Me (Ben E. King).

Barred chords

As opposed to open chords we have barred chords, which do not include any open string.

Yes, I know, this types of chords are frustrating and nerve-wracking but they are necessary and you have to learn them to master the guitar.

That being said, don’t try to learn to form barred chords in a day or a week, it takes time and patience.

At the beginning it is normal to feel pain, but don’t worry, with practice it will go away.

Basic guitar chords

Once we have understood the open and barred chords, here is a chart with a basic guitar chords summary:

basic chords for guitar chart

The ones above are basic guitar chords for beginners with which you will be able to play many songs, either on acoustic or electric guitar.

Power chords

Here comes the controversial moment of the day: the powerchords.

The power chords are those formed by the root and the fifth.

power chords guitar

It is important to say that we are not using the third and consequently these chords are neither major nor minor.

But there is more, because for many people power chords are not even chords because they do not comply with the rule of:

Root – Third – Fifth

I’m not a polemic guy so I won’t get into a debate. But what I will tell you is that these chords sound great on the electric guitar and you should master them, even more if you like blues, rock, punk or heavy metal.

Besides, power chords are so simple that you can learn them in one day and play an infinite number of songs with your electric guitar.

Triads

At this point, it is important to say that everything we have learned and played with the guitar have been triads. That is, a group of three notes.

Remember:

Root – Third – Fifth

You may say that this is not true because when we play the guitar we are also strumming chords using 4, 5 or 6 strings.

But the truth is that when we play them on the guitar we are repeating those notes.

For example, in the case of the G major chord, as you see below, we have 3 notes that repeat: G, B and D.

g major guitar chord shape

And this is nothing more than a triad in which:

  • G is the root note.
  • B is the major third (remember that it is 4 semitones away from G).
  • C is the fifth.

Therefore, we obtain the G major triad.

However, we can also form a triad using only those 3 notes on the guitar:

g major triad guitar
g major triad

And furthermore, since a triad is a chord, we will also have major and minor triads.

Major Triads

Formed by the fundamental, major third and fifth.

Major Triad guitar

Minor Triads

Formed by the fundamental, minor third and fifth.

Minor Triad guitar

Inverted chords

A very interesting thing that we can with chords is to invert them.

You don’t know waht that it? It’s ok, I will explain it to you.

As you may have already read a couple of times on this article, a chord is built from a root note, a third and a perfect fifth.

However, this order can be altered in such a way that the lowest string we play is not the root but the third or the fifth.

🎸What is a chord inversion
We play an inverted chord when the root is no longer the bass note.

Therefore, we have 2 possible variations, which I will quickly summarize:

First Inversion

The order is:

Third – Fifth – Root

Which has the following shape on the guitar:

1st inversion chord major

Second Inversion

The order is:

Fifth – Root – Third

Which has the following shape on the guitar:

2nd inversion chord major

Suspended Chords

At this point, we already know the major, minor and inverted chords, but there are still more alterations we can make to these triads.

One of them are the suspended chords.

To know what suspended chords are let’s start with the basics:

Root – Third – Fifth

And if we replace the third for its second or fourth we would have a new chord with a certain pleasant tension that looks great as a passing chord.

Suspended second chord

Formed by the:

Root – Second – Fifth

Suspended fourth chords

Formed by the:

Root – Fourth – Fifth

Therefore, if we take for example the A chord on the guitar we have the following 4 possibilities:

asus chord
asus guitar chord

Seventh (7th) Chords

Let’s move on to the next step and see the famous seventh chords.

A seventh chord is built by adding a seventh to our triad, thus forming a tetrachord with the following form:

Root – Third – Fifth – Seventh

Basically, this type of chords are the result of using a sequence of major third intervals and minor third intervals. In other words, using stacked thirds.

how to play a major seventh chord on piano

As we can see, in this C major seventh chord we have that:

  • E is the third of C.
  • G is the third E.
  • B is the third of G.

In addition, depending on the order in which we place the intervals of third we will have different seventh chords

Actually there are more types of seventh chords, You can see them in more detail on the chart below:

all dominant 7th chords

Diminished Chord

As we have just seen, there is a type of seventh chord called a half diminished chord, but…

Is there a chord that is diminished?

The answer is Yes, and here I will explaint it to you (both for triads and tetrachord).

Diminished Triad

A diminished triad is a chord consisting of two minor thirds above the root. As a result, we have a minor chord with a diminished fifth (or flat fifth).

For example, the C diminished triad is built from the following notes:

C – E♭ (C minor 3rd) – G♭ (E minor 3rd♭)

As a result, a diminished triad is formed by:

Root – minor 3rd – diminished 5th

Diminished seventh chord (tetrachord)

A diminished seventh chord consists of three minor thirds above the root

For example, the C diminished tetrad is formed by:

C – E♭ (minor 3rd of C) – G♭ (minor 3rd of E♭) – B♭♭ (minor 3rd of G♭)

As a result, a diminished triad is formed by:

Root – minor 3rd – diminished 5th – diminished 7th

Augmented Chords

In the same way that there is a diminished chord, there is also the augmented chord.

And the logic is the same, if diminished chords are formed with a diminished fifth, augmented chords are formed with an augmented fifth.

Let’s look at the different types of augmented chords that exist.

Augmented triads

An augmented triad is a chord consisting of two major thirds above the root. As a result, we have a major chord with an augmented fifth.

For example, the F aug triad is built from the following notes:

F – A (F major 3rd) – C# (A major 3rd)

As a result, an augmented triad is formed by:

Root – Major 3rd – Augmented 5th

Augmented Tetrads

There are 2 types of augmented tetrachords:

  • Dominant seventh chord with augmented fifth.
  • Major seventh chord with augmented fifth.

The first has the formula 1 3 5# ♭7 and is formed by chaining the following thirds:

Major third + Major third + Diminished third

The second has the formula 1 3 3 5# 7 and is formed by chaining the following thirds:

Major third + Major third + Minor third

Guitar chord table

Learning all guitar chords is no easy task so let’s leave it here for the time being.

I hope this article has helped you to understand the formation of musical chords. And I hope as well that this guide can be of help when you want to consult any guitar chord.

The idea is that this article will serve you as a guide to the chords on the guitar and you will be able to familiarize yourself with them.

What I recommend you now is to read each post to go deeper into each one of them.

To help you in this task, here is a summary table with all guitar chords that I consider most important:

Chord TypeFormuleExample
Major1 3 5C: C – E – G
Minor1 ♭3 5Cm: C – E♭ – G
Suspended 2nd chord1 2 5Csus2: C – D – G
Suspended 4th chord1 4 5Csus o Dosus4: C – F – G
Power chord1 5C5: C – G
6th chords (major 6th chord)1 3 5 6C6: C – E – G – A
6th chords (minor 6th chord) 1 ♭3 5 6Cm6: C – E♭ – G – A
Major seventh1 3 5 7CMaj7: C – E – G – B
Dominant seventh1 3 5 ♭7C7: C – E – G – B♭
Minor seventh1 ♭3 5 ♭7Cm7: C – E♭ – G – B♭
Half Diminished1 ♭3 ♭5 ♭7Cm7(♭5): C – E♭ – G♭ – B♭
Diminished Triad1 ♭3 ♭5C°, Cdim o Cm(♭5): C – E♭ – G♭
Diminished 7th1 ♭3 ♭5 ♭♭7Cº7: C – E♭ – G♭♭
Augmented triad1 3 #5Caug: C– E – G#
Tétrada Aumentada1 3 #5 ♭7Caug7: C – E – G#
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