Cyberfret.com: Free Online Guitar lessons - Home

Classic Internet Guitar Lessons

These lessons have been floating around the web for years and were not written by the cyberfret staff. Therefore they are offered AS IS with no warranty, no money back guarantee, no technical support, no ads, and no pretty background (just plain gray and text, the way it was back in the old days, AND WE LIKED IT) The author of the material is at the top of each lesson. This is part of the history of guitar lessons on the Internet...

Title:  How Chords work
Level:  Beginner
Style:  Theory
Instructor:  Tim Fullerton

This is something that I wrote some time ago that I keep on hand as a FAQ
when people ask about how chords work.

    This explanation of harmony really depends on your understanding
the major scale and how it works. If you don't drop me a line and I'll
take a stab at that.

    Given that the major scale is the thing that sounds like
"Do re mi fa sol la ti (do)", let us change each of those syllables to
the numbers "1 2 3 4 5 6 7 (8)." In the following model of how chords
are built, each number represents the corresponding scale degree
above. So... "4" would mean the fourth degree of the major scale, "fa."
#4 means that the fourth scale degree is raised by a half step, or one
fret, and b4 means it is lowered by 1/2 step.

The simplest thing that is treated as a chord (in common practice,
not in theory) is the "power chord" or "Five" chord. Compared to
a major scale, it is:

R - 5 ...(Root - fifth or Do - sol...get the idea?)

Next comes the most common form of harmony, tertiary. It consists
of chords built as stacked thirds. In other words, start at someplace
in the scale and select every other note. The simplest of these are
triads. They are, compared to a major scale:

Major           R - 3 - 5       ex: G
Minor           R -b3 - 5       ex: Gmi or G-
diminished      R -b3 -b5       ex: Go
                           (pretend "o" is a degree symbol)
augmented       R -#3 -#5       ex G+

Aside from suspensions, those are all of the triads.

Next come seventh chords. Those are produced simply by adding and
altering "7." As a rule, unless the word "major" appears in the name
of the chord, the seventh will be flatted. There are a lot more
possible combinations with seventh chords, for example:

Major 7         R - 3 - 5 - 7   ex: Gma7
minor 7         R -b3 - 5 -b7   ex : Gmi7
Dominant 7      R - 3 - 5 -b7   ex : G7
half diminished R -b3 -b5 -b7   ex : Gmi7(b5)
diminished 7    R -b3 -b5 -bb7  ex : Go7
Augmented 7     R - 3 - #5 - b7 ex G+7
major 6         R - 3 - 5 - 6
minor 6         R -b3 - 5 - 6 (note NOT b6)
get the idea?...there are LOTS more.

In case you were wondering about chords with higher numbers,
it continues on in the same way. If you were to put two octaves
of a major scale together, you would have
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 (15).

So... any sort of 9th chord is some type of 1 3 5 7 9, any type of
11th chord is 1 3 5 7 9 11, and any type of 13th chord is some type
of 1 3 5 7 9 11 13. It doesn't go any farther. When you get to 15, you
have started over.

    It is always assumed that these extended notes are as they
would be in a major scale whose root is the root of the chord. If they
are to be altered, they must be addressed individually. For example,
a Dominant9 with a sharped 11 and a flat 13 would be notated
G9(#11 b13).

    Now...it is usually not possible to play all of the notes of
some of these chords. Many notes are optional. Those that are not
are the third, the seventh, and the highest extension. The root is
kind of important, too, but less so...and usually the bass player will
play that.

    That's tertiary harmony in a nutshell. Something else that
some people experiment with is "quartal," or stacked fourths,
"quintal," or stacked fifths, etc... I, myself, am unaware of any
treatises on discerning between qualities of these kinds of chords,
and if anyone knows if anything has been made up in this area or how
different kinds of these harmonies are notated (I've seen Q3 to
represent a quartal triad, Q4 to represent four stacked fourths, etc)
I'd really apreciate hearing about it.



copyright 1992 by Tim Fullerton

by Tim Fullerton
   fullerto@cis.ohio-state.edu
   1987 Upper Chelsea Rd
   Columbus, Ohio 43221
   (614) - 488 - 9322
==============================================================================
FUTURE LESSONS
--------------
No  Name                           Style               Level         Instructor
 11 Right and Left hand techniques theory (etc.)         b        Tim Fullerton
 12 Modes                          Theory                I            Dave Good
 13 Octaves                        Theory                B           Bill Quinn
==============================================================================

Guitar Lesson a Week Maintainers
Editor: Norm Carpenter                           Distributor: Kevin Elphinstone
Lesson Submissions To:                   guitar-lessons-editor@vast.unsw.edu.au
Mailing List Subscriptions To:          guitar-lessons-request@vast.unsw.edu.au
Lessons Archived At:    ftp.vast.unsw.edu.au[149.171.224.9]:/pub/guitar-lessons
                       bugs.specialix.co.uk[192.65.144.4]:/public/netsrc/guitar


back to the Classic Internet Guitar Lesson Index