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Major and Minor Chords – Difference and how to play them on Guitar

A chord is a set of 3 or more pitches that sound simultaneously. But how are they built? In this article I will explain in detail everything you need to understand chord formation.

major minor guitar chords

Before we start I recommend you to download this summary of chord formation in pdf that I made for you so you can look at it during the explanation.

How are guitar chords formed

In order to built a chord we need three musical notes:

  • The root.
  • The third.
  • The fifth.
🎸 Guitar Chords

These three notes form the chord of the root one when sounded simultaneously. Furthermore, depending on the third we will build a major chord (if the third is major) or a minor chord (if the third is minor):

This theoretical explanation will be much better understood with an example, so let’s see how we can build the C mejor chord:

We start with C, which is the root of our chord. Now we will look for its major third, which as we can see in the table below is E:

major third of c

Why is E the third of C? Easy, count natural notes: C, D and E (C is the first degree, D the second and E the third).

Another way to understand it is to think that the major third is 4 semitones (or 2 tones) away from the root.

Once we have found the third degree we go for the fifth, which is G:

c major guitar chord

Please keep in mind that the fifth is always at a distance of 7 semitones.

Now that we have C (root), E (third) and G (fifth) we have finished building the chord. But how do we play c major chord on guitar?

Easy, now that we know what notes are in a c major chord we only need to find them on the guitar:

c major chord guitar

As you can see in the image above, the C chord on the guitar is built by playing the root (1), major third (3) and fifth (5) on the fretboard.

The numbers inside the circles indicate the fingers to be used: 1 index, 2 middle (or middle) and 3 ring.

By the way, there is one small exception that breaks the rule of formation of chords: the power chords. These chords are composed with only two notes, the root and the fifth. You have at your disposal an article that explains in detail what they are and how power chords are built.

What is the difference between a major and minor chord

On the section before we have built our firts chord on the guitar but the question that remains to be answered is is this chord major or minor?

And the answer is very simple.

In order to know if a chord is major or minor we just need to look at its third.

If the distance between the root and the third is 4 semitones we will have a major chord (or major triad because we are using 3 notes). However, if the tonal distance is 3 semitones we will have a minor chord).

In the example of the C chord we have 4 semitones between C and E so our chord will be major.

🎵 What Makes a Chord Minor or Major?
  • The formula of the major chord is 1 – 3 – 5 and they are named with the letter of theroot, for example A.
  • The formula of the minor chord is 1 – ♭3 – 5 and they are usually named with an m, for example Am.

Since we have already seen an example of a major chord, let’s see how to build a minor chord.

We are going to create D minor.

We start by drawing the scheme of semitones and then we just need to remember that the minor third of D is at a distance of 3 semitones and the fifth is at 7.

d minor guitar chord

Let’s see now how we play d minor chord on guitar.

D minor guitar chord

As you can see in the image above, the D minor chord on the guitar is built by finding the root (1), minor third ( ♭3 ) and fifth (5) on the fretboard.

The numbers inside the circles indicate the fingers to be used: 1 index, 2 middle (or middle) and 3 ring.

The black crosses (X) mean that you don’t have to play those strings, in order words, you need to star on the 4th string.

Very important: Although we place our fingers on the first, second and third strings, remember that the chord is played staring on the 4th string. Actually, if you started on the 3rd string you would be playing an inverted chord.

Major guitar chords

Now that we have understad what a major chord is, let’s see all of them on guitar:

major chords guitar

Minor guitar chords

As we have done before, now that we understand the formation of minor chords we are going to see each of them on the guitar fretboard:

minor chords guitar

How chords are created: a very common doubt

At this point you are already an expert and have no problem understading how a chord is formed.

But now you may wonder why if a chord is formed with three notes there are 6 strings on the guitar and why sometimes they sound all at the same time.

The answer is because in some cases other scale degrees sound as well (as in the seventh chords) and in other cases it is simply because the musical notes are repeated.

As always, to understand it better, we will take an example.

Let’s take the G chord and analyze the notes that compose it:

G major Guitar chord

g major guitar chord

6th String ➜ G (F).
5th String ➜ B (3).
4th String ➜ D (5).
3rd String ➜ G again (F).
2nd String ➜ B again (3).
1st String ➜ G again (F).

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