By Michael Korte
If you are new to playing guitar, you might be wondering why chords are played the way they are played.
This article will give you clarity about that.
First thing you need to be aware of, is that any scale is following a specific pattern of distances between its containing notes.
In a major scale, there are 7 different notes, that, no matter which is the note that you are starting on, have a certain pattern behind them.
The major scale in C contains the notes C D E F G A and B. Let us look at the steps from one note to another. Because we are looking at it from a guitar point of view, I will quickly define here, that a half step is one fret and a full step is 2 frets wide. So, for example from the 1st to the 2nd fret we have a half step and from the 3rd to the 5th fret, we have a full step.
If we start the C major scale on the 1st fret of the B string, you get the frets:
1 3 5 6 8 10 12 13 for C D E F G A B C (I extended it to the next C note on purpose, see why below)
So, there is a full step from C to D, another full step from D to E, a half step from E to F, a full step from F to G, a full step from G to A, another full step from A to B and a half step from B to C.
So mainly you have full steps, except in two places: From E to F and from B to C.
If you take this pattern and start anywhere else on the guitar, you will get a major scale and they will sound similar to each other.
Now to understand chord triads, let us take a look at how triads are constructed.
You always have a root note, the 3rd and the 5th in any major or minor chord.
Major chords have a major 3rd and minor chords have a minor 3rd. I will explain what that means in a moment.
First, let us clarify how to find notes of any triad in any particular key we are in.
If you write out the notes of a major scale, C major in this example, you can find the 3rd and 5th of any note by skipping one note of the scale.
For example, C major chord. The C major scale consists of the notes C D E F G A and B. Like said above.
Now, the C is the root note of the C major chord. Skip the D and you get the 3rd, which is the E. Skip the next note, which is the F and you land on G, which is the 5th note. So, the C major chord contains the notes C E and G.
No matter in what order you play those notes anywhere on the guitar, it will be a C major chord, simply by definition.
Let us look at this C major shape:
From bottom to top, we have the notes:
C on the 3rd fret of the A string, E on the 2nd fret of the D string, G as the open G string, C on the first fret of the B string and E as the open high e-String.
Perfect! It worked. Only notes of the C major chord, as we derived above.
Let us check other chords. Starting from the D note, we would get:
D, skipping the E and getting the F, skipping the G and getting the A, so we get the notes D F and A.
Here we have a MINOR 3rd between the D and the F, which equals 3 frets (example: 5th fret on the A string is a D, 8th fret on the A string which is an F).
So, we get a D minor chord. Here is one shape of this chord, that you probably are already familiar with:
Starting from the D string, we have the notes D as the open D string, A on the 2nd fret on the G string, D again on the 3rd fret of the B string and F on the first fret of the high e-String.
Notes: D, F and A.
Perfect! It worked again. This chord only contains notes of the D minor chord.
Let us speed up a bit. If you apply this pattern consequently, you get the notes E G and B for the E minor chord and F, A and C for the F major chord. Notice, that it is useful to extend the major scale over another octave:
C D E F G A B C D E F G A B
Starting from the F and skipping every second note, you get the notes F, A and C.
Starting from the G, you get notes G, B and D, which makes up the G major chord. Starting from the A, you get the notes A, C and E, which makes up the A minor chord.
The last triad is kind of a special one and does not fall into either category, major or minor. It is a diminished minor chord and contains the notes B, D and F.
Now, an exercise for you:
Examine the chord shapes for the next chords in the C major scale, which are:
E minor, F major, G major and A minor.
See what notes you play where and check, if the system I explained here also applies to those.
Then change the key to G major and repeat the whole process from the beginning! This will give you a much better understanding of chord construction.
About the author:
Michael Korte is teaching guitar in Finland. In his guitar school, he teaches his students new approaches and concepts for their rhythm and solo playing and also shows them how to improve their practicing, so that they get better results faster. If you want to reach the next level in your playing make sure to get in touch with him at http://www.kitaristitampere.fi