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Chord Construction - 3 Note Chords - Part 1

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Applying the formulas to the neck

By this point you should already know many major and minor chords. So now that you understand the basics of how they are built, and what their chord formulas are, it is time to roll up your sleeves and start applying this theory to the neck of the guitar. Take every major and minor chord that you know and figure out what notes are in the chord, and what the function of each note is within the chord. The function is the formula number. A D major chord is D(1), F#(3), and A(5). So the function of the A note in the D major chord is 5. Another way to think about the function is the role that a note plays within the chord. Every note in a chord has a certain sound and role in the overall chord sound.

At a minimum you should become familiar with the these chords....

The basic open position chords A, C, D, E, F, G, Am, Dm, Em, and the basic major and minor barre chord forms. Check out the lesson links below if you do not know some of these chords.

Em, C, G, D, am, E and A
Dm and F
Basic major and minor barre chords

You are also going to need to know the names of the notes on the neck of the guitar, or at least be able to figure out what they are. It is going to be slow going if you don't have a good grasp on the names of the notes on the neck. That is going to be key to being able to apply music theory to the guitar.

Counting on your fingers

So step one is to figure out what the names of the notes in the chord are. But what if there is a sharp or flat, how will you know what to call the note?

For example the note on the 1st string, 2nd fret in a D major chord could be an F#, or a Gb.....or can it?


From what you have learn about chord theory so far, you know that a major chord has a 1, 3 and 5. Now if you count on your fingers starting with D as 1, E as 2, F as 3, G as 4, and A as 5.

hand diagram Note - I find it easier to count starting from my 4th finger, you can start from your thumb if you doesn't matter.

So we can see that the D is obviously the 1 of the chord, the A is the 5, but the 3 has to be some sort of F note. So therefore the F# is the correct way to name the note. Calling it a G would make that note some sort of 4. So in this case it does make a difference what you call the note.

When you are using your fingers like this, you are just using natural notes. This is not meant to figure out exactly what note is in a chord, only how the notes function within the chord. And if there is more than one name for a note like F# and Gb, then it will help you decide between the 2.

Click the button below for the note names and chord functions of all of the basic major and minor chord. Only look at these answers after you have worked through each chord yourself. The idea is to learn, and that takes a little effort on your part. Jumping right to the answers will not be of any value to your education.

Intro to 3 note chords
Comparing major and minor chords
Major and minor chord formula
Applying the formula to the neck
Chord formulas for augmented, diminished, sus2, and sus4 chords

Free Download - 17 Essential Strum Patterns PDF

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