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Guitar Chords and Theory Lesson

Updated on January 13, 2022

Guitar lesson

This lesson is not for complete beginners, but it could help you with basic music theory, which should save a lot of time learning guitar.

A chord is named by a letter (C) and if there is nothing else, it's just a plain or vanilla major chord.

  • small m means minor (Am)
  • Numbers refer to added notes (6,7,9 etc)
  • For instance, C6: if you add a 6, you are adding an A note.
  • The major scale sequence is C D E F G A B C as shown, so note 6 = A
  • Note 7 would be B
  • Note 2 or 9 would be D (once you reach 8, everything begins again)

Reading the chords

The chord pictures below work in the following manner:

  • The six vertical lines are the strings, string 6 (thickest) is on the left, so the headstock is above the diagram
  • The frets are the horizontal lines. Watch out for fret numbers on the left.
  • The small cross sign means, don't play this string, the O means open string.

Guitar Chords - key of C

Key of C

All of the chord and scale material shown here will work together, as it's all in the key of C.

  • Diatonic chords are the ones built from just the notes of the major scale
  • So all the chords here only use notes from the C major scale
  • Am pentatonic is a simplified C scale, and is ideal for improvising.
  • The C major scale is shown as a note pattern, and also with the notes named. It's a good idea to memorize the note names in the scale.
  • The line of chords C C/B, Am7, F maj7 is an example of a common chord progression in the key of C
  • C maj9 is a more jazz -orientated chord, which can be used as an alternative for C maj7.
  • line 5 shows a typical chord progression with a descending bass part, similar to No Woman No Cry by Bob Marley, but used in dozens of well -known songs. The chord symbol C/B means a C chord with a B in the bass. It connects the two chords C and Am in a smooth transition.

Relative minors

Am is the relative minor of C. This means that if you change the bass note from C to A, you can use any C shape to create an Am type chord. Some examples are shown with the arrows.

  • Am pentatonic scale works the same way, as the relative minor scale in the key of C.
  • You can use this scale over the chords in C: C Dm Em F G Am Bm7b5
  • This is called the harmonised scale of C
  • Am pentatonic scale is the same as a C major scale with the B and the F removed
  • These are the two notes which can clash with some of the chords, leading to easy improvisation with no clashing notes.

Other keys

Refer to my other hubs for more info - but basically the same pattern and distances between the notes and the chords in the key of C are replicated in all the other keys. So you don't have to learn a whole new system for every other key.

  • Both the scales and many of the chord shapes can be used to create chords in other keys
  • For instance, C to D is a two fret interval
  • For a D major scale, just move the scale patterns up 2 frets
  • For an E major scale, move up another 2 frets, or 4 in total.
  • C6 up 2 frets = E6. Just the middle 4 strings though.
  • C maj7 barre shape (last chord on line 1) up 2 frets = D maj7
  • Cmaj9 up 4 = E maj9, etc
  • When learning a new chord shape, always experiment with moving it up the neck - sometimes open strings will cause a problem, sometimes they will only enhance the sound.

Chord tones

When you improvise with the scales shown here, bear in mind that all the notes in all the chords will also fit. So if you know the different C maj7 chord shapes, all of the notes in each chord voicing will also fit the chords in the key of C. This is called using the chord tones, and can help you sound confident and accurate long before you really are!


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