May 04

Chord Construction – Major and Minor

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The first lesson by our latest author Dr.Furqan Ali Shah looks at constructing the major and minor chords. This is a good place to start seriously learning about music theory.

What is a Chord?

A chord is a set/aggregate of three or more different pitches/notes from a specific key that may or may not sound simultaneously. In western music, the most basic chords are tertian sonorities constructed by stacking notes together that are spaced at intervals of major 3rd or minor 3rd from each other. So a basic major or minor chord, having three notes, each an interval of a Major 3rd or a minor 3rd away, all of which are taken form a specific key can also be called a “Diatonic Tertian Triad”

A chord with less than 3 notes, that is, having 2 notes, is more appropriately called an “Interval” or a “Diad”

Classification and Nomenclature

Chords can be classified, named and constructed on the basis of:

The scale degree of the root note

If the chord starts on the 1st degree of the Major scale, it is I chord (also called the Tonic chord, the C Major chord with respect to the C Major scale), if it starts on the 5th degree of the Major scale, it is the V chord (also called the Dominant, the G Major chord with respect to the C Major scale).

The number of distinct/different pitches used

There are three note chords (for example Major and minor chords, Augmented and Diminished triads, Sus2 and Sus4 chords etc..) four note chords (such as Add9, Add11, 7th chords) five or more note chords (like extended chords used often in jazz, such as 9th 11th chords) and so on.. I personally like to consider three note chords as “triads”, four and five note chords as “arpeggios” and six or seven note aggregates as “scales”.. Remember, count the distint or different pitches only. Pitches being repeated in various octaves all over the fretboard would essentially be the same note.

General type of intervals it contains

Such as seconds, thirds, fourths, fifths.. for example a chord consisting of notes at intervals of perfect fourths from each other [A D G C] as used when implying Quartal Harmony. On analysis A D G C can be an Am7add11 without a 5th.

Precise intervallic construction and Quality

Such as being a Major chord, minor chord, augmented and diminished triads, Major and minor 6th chords, 7th chords.. Generally, an ‘augmented’ chord contains a raised 5th or a #5 often with a Major 3rd, and a ‘diminished’ chord contains a flatted 5th or a b5 often with a minor 3rd.. There are various extended types of Major, minor, augmented and diminished chords.

Whether the chord is in Root position or Inversion

If tbe lowest sounding pitch is the chord Root, the chord voicing is said to be in Root Position, but if the lowest sounding pitch is a chord tone other than the Root note, the chord voicing is said to be an inversion.. (if the 3rd is the lowest sounding pitch, the voicing is said to be in 1st inversion, if the 5th is the lowest sounding pitch, the voicing is said to be in 2nd inversion).

Constructing the Major Chord

So going about constructing chords can be done in a few simple steps.. Say you want to form a Major chord with C as the root.. Lets say, the C major chord?

Step 1

Take the Natural Major scale of the appropriate root, in this case, C Major or C ionian mode. It would be good to recall the notes of the C Major scale here.. [ C D E F G A B C ]

Step 2

Now according to the earlier definition, a chord is an aggregate of pitches/notes. The basic Major or minor chords are “Tertian Triads” (a group of 3 pitches/notes, that are spaced an interval of a 3rd from each other). So you take the Root of the Major scale, that is C.. Then you take a note an interval of a 3rd from it, which is the 3rd degree of the scale, E, and then you take another note an interval of a 3rd from that, which is the 5th degree of the scale, G.

Step 3

Place the notes (of the C Major chord) in order.. C E G, which are the 1st, 3rd and 5th degrees of the Natural Major Scale starting on C (or the C Major scale)

According to the Formula of the Major chord, which is 1 3 5.. you have taken the notes 1 3 5 of the Major scale having the same root as the chord that you want to make.

You can repeat this same procedure

  • with the D Major scale, which will give you the notes D F# A -- D Major triad
  • and the E Major scale, which will give you the notes E G# B -- E Major triad
  • and the F Major scale, which will give you the notes F A C -- F Major triad
  • and the G Major scale, which will give you the notes G B D -- G Major triad
  • and the A Major scale, which will give you the notes A C# E -- A Major triad
  • and the B Major scale, which will give you the notes B D# F# -- B Major triad

and it can also be repeated for the Db, Eb, Gb, Ab, Bb Major chords as well..

Constructing the Minor Chord

Now if you wish to form a minor chord, again say with C as the root, the Formula of the minor chord is 1 b3 5.. So you can repeat the Steps 1, 2 and 3.. and then flatten the 3rd degree of the scale.. Since C was 1, E was 3, G was 5, you can flatten the E and make it Eb.. And so C E G (the C Major triad) becomes C Eb G (the C minor triad)

So the formula for the minor chord becomes 1 b3 5, which can be applied to the Natural Major scale of the same root as the minor chord that you wish to form. Now flatting the 3rd on each of the Major triads, you will get the minor triads.

  • Flatten the 3rd on the D Major triad D F# A to D F A -- D minor triad
  • Flatten the 3rd on the E Major triad E G# B to E G B -- E minor triad
  • Flatten the 3rd on the F Major triad F A C to F Ab C -- F minor triad
  • Flatten the 3rd on the G Major triad G B D to G Bb D -- G minor triad
  • Flatten the 3rd on the A Major triad A C# E to A C E -- A minor triad
  • Flatten the 3rd on the B Major triad B D# F# to B D F# -- B minor triad

It may be helpful to compare the intervals in a Major chord and a minor chord.

In a major triad -- 1 3 5

  • The interval between the Root and the 3 is a major 3rd [4 semitones]
  • The interval between the 3rd and the 5th is a minor 3rd [3 semitones]
  • The interval between the Root and the 5th is a Perfect 5th [7 semitones]

Incase of a minor triad -- 1 b3 5

  • The interval between the Root and the Flatted 3rd is NOW a minor 3rd [3 semitones]
  • The interval between the Flatted 3rd and the 5th is NOW a major 3rd [4 semitones]
  • The interval between the Root and the 5th is STILL a Perfect 5th [7 semitones]

So by keeping that in mind, any Major or minor chord can be formed by locating the notes on a single string as well.. If the Root of a chord is taken on fret 5 of the G string [C], a note 4 semitones up would be fret 9 [E], and a note a further 3 semitones up would be fret 12 [G], thus the C Major chord.

Similarly if the Root of a chord is taken on fret 5 of the G string [C], a note 3 semitones up would be fret 9 [Eb], and a note a further 4 semitones up would be fret 12 [G], thus the C minor chord.

Dr. Furqan Ali Shah -- furqan84@hotmail.com

Written by FurK on Monday 4th May 2009 at 1:16pm and posted in Music Theory

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