The
Sterner TM

Chordkey

Learn how to build chords

The name of the chord tells you how to build it!

This page, will teach you the principles of building any chord on any instrument.
Save or print out the page, if you want to study it unconnected.

The major scale is numbered
Every note has a function

The major scale is numbered from 1 to 8. Semitones in between are numbered with - or + in front of the number.
A number does not specify a certain note. Depending on what chord you want to build, you use different major scales. If you want to build some kind of G#-chord, the numbers correspond to the G# major scale. The numbers always relates to the major scale - even if you want to build a minor chord.
If the chord covers more than one octave, continue to count:  1 = 8,  2 = 9,   3 = 10...

Each note in the scale has a function when you build a chord. For instance:
The root determines the name of the chord. The root of a G-chord is the note G.
The third note determines whether a chord is major or minor.
Most chords are built upon the major or minor triads:
A major chord contains these three notes:  1  3  5
A minor chord contains these three notes:  1 -3  5

How chords are built and named

CHORD TYPE: NOTES: CHORD NAME:

Major chords

That a chord is a major chord is implicit. In chord context, the word "major" refers to the seventh degree of the scale.
(Major) 1   3   5 C
Seven 1   3   5  -7 C7
Nine 1   3   5  -7   9 C9
Eleven 1   3   5  -7   9   11 C11
Thirteen 1   3   5  -7   9   11   13 C13
Major seven 1   3   5   7 Cmaj7
Major-nine 1   3   5   7   9 Cmaj9
Six 1   3   5   6 C6
Six-add nine 1   3   5   6   9 C6add9
Nine-add six 1   3   5   6  -7   9 C9add6
Major-nine-add six 1   3   5   6   7   9 Cmaj9add6

Minor chords

Minor 1  -3   5 Cm
Minor-seven 1  -3   5  -7 Cm7
Minor-nine 1  -3   5  -7   9 Cm9
Minor-eleven 1  -3   5  -7   9   11 Cm11
Minor-thirteen 1  -3   5  -7   9   11   13 Cm13
Minor-major seven 1  -3   5   7 Cm maj7
Minor-major-nine 1  -3   5   7   9 Cm maj9
Minor-six 1  -3   5   6 Cm6
Minor-six-add nine 1  -3   5   6   9 Cm6add9
Minor-nine-add six 1  -3   5   6  -7   9 Cm9add6
Minor-major-nine-add six 1  -3   5   6   7   9 Cm maj9add6

Diminished chords

Diminished 1  -3  -5 Cdim
Normally the diminished seventh chord is played. Flatten all notes except the root in a seventh chord:
Diminished (seven) 1  -3  -5   6 Cdim, C

Augmented chords

Augmented 1   3  +5 C+  (C+5, Caug)
Augmented-seven 1   3  +5  -7 C+7  (C7+5, C7aug)

Suspended chords

Suspended 1   4   5 Csus  (Csus4)
Suspended-seven 1   4   5  -7 Csus7

ALTERATIONS

Alterations are semitone changes to the upper elements of a chord. +9 and +11are used instead of  -10 and   -12, to preserve the odd-numbered naming.  # and  b  are often used instead of  +  and  - .
Minus five 1   3  -5 C-5
Seven-minus five 1   3  -5  -7 C7-5
Minor-seven-minus five
(Halfdiminished)
1  -3  -5  -7 Cm7-5, C
Minus nine 1   3   5  -7  -9 C-9   (C7-9)
Plus nine 1   3   5  -7  +9 C+9  (C7+9)
Minor-nine-minus five 1  -3  -5  -7   9 Cm9-5
Nine-plus eleven 1   3   5  -7    9  +11 C+11  (C9+11)
Major seven-minus five 1   3  -5   7 Cmaj7-5
Major-nine-plus eleven 1   3   5    7    9  +11 Cmaj9+11
Augmented-seven-plus nine-plus eleven 1   3  +5  -7   +9  +11 C+7+9+11

* * *

Added notes are indicated with add:  C7add 13
Left out notes are indicated with no:   Cno 3
Alternate notes are indicated with parenthesis:  Cmaj7(9)
C/A# indicates that the C major chord is played over the bass note A#.
  C   
Asus
indicates that two chords are required simultaneously.

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Comments

Learn from the first table, that the major scale is numbered from 1 - 8, and that the rest of the notes have + or - in front of the numbers. Learn the funktions.

Note from the second table, how the chord builds up. Starting from a three note chord, the -7, 9, 11 and 13 extensions are added. Only the uppermost extensions are indicated in the chord name, assuming the presence of the intermediate elements. Changes from this pattern are noted with +/- or #/b in superscript. The material is chosen to show the principles. If you  find a chord that is not mentioned here, you should be able to figure it out on your own.

The notes in a chord don't have to be in a specific order. The order changes when the chord is played in different positions up or down the instrument neck - a chord has different inversions.

Some chords have more notes than you have strings on your instrument - or fingers, for that matter. You don't have to include all the notes. For instance: The notes 1 and 5 are included in every major and minor chord. First, exclude the 5, then the 1. These two notes are heavily established by the bass player anyway. If you play alone, don't worry. When the chord is played in context, the listener will, in some strange way, hear the missing notes in his/her imagination. You are free to exclude other notes as well, but try to keep the characteristic sound of the chord. There are no strict rules: "If it sounds good, it is good" [Duke Ellington].

Here is one way of thinking:
Learn the different ways (there are not that many) to form the major chord on your instrument, and learn the position of  the notes  1 (= 8),  3  and  5  within these inversions. Starting from a major chord, it is easy to adjust and find the rest of the notes to the chord you want.

Here is another way:
Find the root of the chord somewhere in the area of the fretboard where you want to place it. Count as you play the major scale in that area. Adjust to the notes you want.

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