Chord Contruction For Beginners


Chord Construction Theory

Here you will find out exactly what a chord is and how it is built.

Knowing the major scale notes patterns is a good start, but in order to play music we need to know some chords.

What Is A Chord?

A chord is several notes played together from the same scale that harmonize with each other.

Major chords in any key are built in a specific way using the intervals you learned about earlier.

It would be easy just to give you the chords and let you ride off into the sunset and start playing them, but you really should learn
this part of chord theory as it will help you greatly understand where chords actually come from!

Let's take our trusty C major scale yet again, here are the notes as a reminder...

C    D   E    F    G    A    B

To help you understand the chord/scale relationship better what we shall do is build chords from each of the notes in the C major scale

To construct these chords for the key of C major we will use:

  • The First Note (more properly called the root note, because it is not always the first note in some chords.
  • The Third note
  • The Fifth note

Starting from the C note and working along to the B note - Remember the sequence 1 - 3 - 5

So for the root chord C, the notes are C, E, G - This is the C Major chord.

How can you tell if the chord is Major?

A chord is Major if the interval between the 1st and 3rd is two whole tones. (4 semitones) which it is here. C to E

At this point you may be thinking "are all the chords in the C major scale, major chords?"
That's an important question and the answer is no.

This is one reason you need to know some theory!

So how to tell?

It's easy, when we create some more chords.

Let's now build a chord on the second note of the C major scale, the D note.

C    D   E    F    G    A    B

using the 1-3-5 formula as before, and starting with 'D' we get D, F, A      

Now we check the 1 - 3 interval between D and F and see that it is only a tone and a half  or 3 semitones not 4 so it cannot be a Major chord.

To help you clearly understand that, and so you can see the steps, here's a chunk of the Chromatic scale again from the D note...

D, Eb, E, F, Gb, G, Ab

You can now clearly see the E flat and E intervals between D and F.

thus D to Eb = a semitone

E flat to E = a semitone

E to F = a semitone

Total 3 semitones or a tone and a half. Get it?

So if the 3rd note of the Major scale is flattened by a semitone and made into a chord, the chord then becomes a minor chord

As you just learned minor chords are created by flattening the 3rd note of the Major scale, making the interval one and a half tones (3 semitones) as we
have just done, therefore this must be a D minor chord.

Now lets build a chord on the E note of the C Major scale.


It's the same again, only 3 semitones between E and G, so this chord is also minor.

The other chords are...

The F chord - Maj
The G chord - Maj
The A chord - minor
The B chord - Diminished

Which brings us to the last chord of the scale built on the B note.
This is neither a Major or a minor chord, its Diminished!

OMG you say, I am now lost, don't panic, read on...

The B chord is known as a' Diminished' chord, written as B dim in chord books everywhere.

Here's the notes again of the B Diminished chord B, D, F

B Diminished is so called because it contains a flattened 3rd AND a flattened 5th note i.e. there are 3 semitones between B and D and 3 semitones between D and F

Now this one may not be quite so obvious and you might not be able to get your head around it, until we repeat that C Major scale again and this time extend it a bit further up the octave, here's how....

Start from the first B note and repeat the Major scale again from the first note C

C    D   E    F    G    A    B   C    D   E    F    G

B First
D 3rd
F 5th

Hopefully you just had a 'aha" moment. Easy wasn't it :-)

Seventh (7th) Chords

Pay close attention to the way these 7th chords are written or you may confuse them.

So far, you have only learnt chords with 3 main notes, but here is another group of very important chords you must learn, with 4 notes, these are call 7th chords.

Don't get stressed out, you have already learned  three-quarters of these chords!

7th Chords have 3 distinct groups:

  • Major 7th
  • Minor 7th
  • Dominant 7th

The first thing to know is that Seventh chords may be notated in several different forms, for example the C Major 7th chord may

be written variously as:

  • C Major 7
  • CM7
  • Cmaj7

They are all the same chord.

What is a 7th Chord?

Here's our trusty C Major scale yet again...

C,    D,   E ,   F,    G,    A,    B,   C,

Here's our C Major Chord 1-3-5  C,E,G

to create a C Major 7th just add on the 7th note of the scale, in this case the B note.

C - E - G - B

Not as complicated as you thought right?

Minor 7th Chords

Okay how about the C minor 7th?

also written as:
Cm7 - Cmin7 - C minor 7

Remember minor chords are created by flattening the 3rd note of the scale by a semitone.
For the C minor 7th the added 7th note is also flattened by a semitone.

C minor 7th

1 - b3 - 5 - b7

So the notes of the C minor 7th become...

C - Eb - G - Bb

Dominant 7th Chords

Finally the Dominant 7th group

May be written as (if C chord)

C7 - Cdom7 - C Dominant 7th

C7 is the most popular spelling of the Dominant 7th chord

The C7 chord uses the same notes as the C major chord but this time only the added 7th note is flattened by a semitone.

Giving the intervals: 1 - 3 - 5 - b7
and the notes... C  E  G Bb

I hope I have explained that well enough for you to grasp right away.

Here's a recap...

CMaj7 = C  E  G  B = added natural 7th note

Cmin7 = C  Eb  G  Bb = (with flattened 3rd) and added flattened 7th

C7 = C  E  G Bb = added flattened 7th

The average player of popular songs will never need to learn hundreds of chords, my advice is to only learn a special chord when you need it to play a song, there are a few though that crop up now and again and are worth learning, like Suspended or Sus 2 and Sus 4 chords.

One last thing to note here, you will often see chords notated by Roman numerals, so our 1 - 3 - 5 in most books and literature would become (l) (III) (V)

and, if you are not famililiar with Roman numerals, the full sequence of 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 would be (l) (ll) (lll) (lV) (V) (Vl) (Vll)with (V) being 5.
Use of the Roman numeral system helps avoid lots of confusing numerics!