12 June 2009

Learn Guitar: Major And Minor Chords

Here's a simple tutorial that shows you how major and minor chords are formed from the notes of a scale.

Majors And Minor Chords

Major chords are used in many songs and have a happy feel to them. Each major key has three major chords that are often used in songs, the so-called three chord song. They occur on the first, fourth and fifth degrees of the major key.

Minor chords have a sad or melancholy feel to them. In each major key there are also three minor chords that occur on the second, third and sixth degrees of the scale.

To understand why the chords on these degrees are either major or minor let's take a look at the major scale and see how the chords are built from it.

The Major Scale

The major scale contains seven notes separated by intervals defined by the major scale formula. Starting from the root note of the scale the intervals between the successive notes are whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step.

Let's take the scale of C major as an example, the notes and intervals are as follows.

C - whole - D - whole - E - half - F - whole - G - whole - A - whole - B - half - C

This scale is the base of the key of C major. In this key notes from the C major scale are used to create the melody and chords (harmony) of the music. A chord can be built on each of the scale's notes, depending on the intervals between the notes the result is either a major or a minor chord. Let's start by looking at a major chord.

Building a Major Chord

A major chord uses three notes from the scale, the first, third and fifth. The first note is the root of the chord and gives it its name. The third and the fifth are found by counting up the scale to the third and fifth notes from the root.

If we start from the C note of the major scale above you can see that the third and fifth notes are E and G. There are two whole steps from the C to the E, and seven half steps from the C to the G.

The interval of two whole steps to the third gives the chord its major sound. Now let's take a look at what happens when we build a chord in the same way starting on the second degree of the scale, D.

Building a Minor Chord

Starting from the D note we count up the scale which gives us an F for the third and an A for the fifth. The intervals between the D and these notes are three half steps (or one and a half whole steps) and seven half steps respectively.

Notice that this time the distance between the chord's root and its third is a half step less than for the C chord. The interval to the fifth remains the same. This three half step interval gives the chord its minor sound, the third is known as a minor third.

These two examples have shown you how chords are built from the notes of a scale in a major key. The chords built on the first, fourth and fifth degrees of the scale will be major chords, and those on the second, third and sixth degrees minor.

You should now know why this is so for the chords on the first and second degrees. Have a go at constructing the chords on the other degrees yourself to understand why the major and minor chords occur where they do in every key.

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