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How to Construct Guitar Chords

Updated on October 25, 2009

Guitar Chord Construction Made Easy

A guide on constructing pleasing chords for accompanying church special songs is what I have been needing for many years. Most guitar enthusiasts resign from playing when faced with chord names such as “Am7(b5)/G”, “C2(#4)”, “Bb9(13)” or just plain Cadd2 or G(no3). For most songs, this chords can be simplified to their ‘generic’ forms or similar chords e.g. “Am7(b5)/G” to “Am7” and most of the time it is acceptable, but what i want you to experience is the harmony and subtle contribution of these seemingly complicated chords to your singing and listening experience.

Minimum Movement Principle

One of the basic principles in guitar playing is the minimum movement principle. When you move from one chord to the next, minimizing hand and finger movement can help prevent error. One way to achieve this is to group your chords into a position in the fretboard where adjacent chords are as near as possible.

Another way to achieve this is to use guide fingers. As you move to the next chord, do not pull your fingers completely off from the fingerboard but find a finger or two to remain in contact with the string while you slide it to form the next chord form. More importantly, make the adjacent chords as close as possible to each other. If you have a chord G7 and the next chord is C, these two chords must be in close proximity to avoid error caused by moving a lot in the fingerboard. If your chord C is in the first fret, use the G7 also in the first fret. One chord has a lot of forms in different frets, the principle is to use a particular form of the chord in the immediate vicinity of the previous chord. Since guitar chord jingles only show one position for every chord, there is a need to construct your own chord shape or form so that you can select the chord form near to the next chord and make your own fingerings to make the chord transitions very smooth that require only minimum movement of the hand and fingers.

Relative Location of note C in Piano and Guitar

The figure below shows the guitar fingerboard and piano keyboard showing where in the guitar and piano is the location of the lower, middle and higher C.

Location of C

musical notation

Note C in the musical Staff

The location of various C notes are shown in the figure on the right. It corresponds to the fret placement on the guitar and key on the piano.

Chord Formula Table

There are a couple of Tables and figures that we need in order to make this instruction easy to follow. We need the Chord Formula Table, Major Scales Table and Guitar Fret Board Chart with the designated Notes on it.

The chord formula table shows the notes that belongs to the chord. For example a 'Major chord', a major chord is composed of the notes 1,3 and 5 on the major scale.

So we need the major scale table to determine which are the 1, 3 and 5 notes.

and then once we have determine the notes that comprised the particular chord, we need to locate it in the guitar fingerboard. The guitar fingerboard shows the notes of each string and frets. So we are now ready to construct our chords.

Major Scales

Chords are constructed in a very simple manner. Take for example a C major chord or simply called C. Every major chord has the same chord formula. If you look at the table of chord formula above, you will see that major chords have 3 notes = 1, 3 and 5 in the scale. Next identify the 1, 3 and 5 notes in the scale (look at the Major Scales table on the left). You will see that 1 is C, 3 is E and 5 is F notes. The notes that composed the C chord are notes C(do), E(Mi) and F(fa).

Guitar Fret Board with notes

The figure above shows the guitar fretboad with note letter on all frets and strings. If you look at the Guitar fret board with notes, you are actually looking at the guitar fretboard with its head on your left and the sound hole on your right. The 12th fret usually is located on the point where the body of the guitar connects with the neck. the frets are numbered from 0 to 12. Fret 0 is open string, that means you do not press any string. Strings are numbered from 1 to 6. String number 1 is the thinnest string or the treble and the string number 6 is the bass or the thickest string in the guitar. Now that we have the tables and charts we are now ready to construct our first chord.

Chords are constructed in a very simple manner. Take for example a C major chord or simply called C. The notes that make up this chord are taken from the C major scale. Slide 10 Based on the chord formula, every major chord consists of the notes 1, 3 and 5 – that is the rule for all major chords . So based on the table of major scales - look at the 1, 3 and 5 notes in the major scale, the notes are C, E and G. C is 1, E is 3 and G is 5. That is all we need to construct the chord C, only 3 notes.

This is only one way of making a chord C. There are numerous ways to make a chord C since there are many duplicate notes of C,E and G up in the fret board. As long as the 3 notes are present, you can duplicate as many notes as long as it sounds good and the lowest note is the name of the chord (also called the root note or the number 1 note in the scale).

Chord of Major C

The fretboard above shows the encircled notes that belongs to the C major chord. On the right is the chord chart for guitars. The numbers on top designated the left hand fingering. T is thumb, 1 is index, 2 is middle, 3 is ring and 4 is pinkie.

Each chord is taken from their own scale. For example, C is taken from C major scale, D from D major scale, E from E major scale and so on. The major scale table is your dictionary in constructing guitar chords.

Chord of Major B

Construction of Chord B

The encircled letters in the fret board are the notes of chord B. If you look at the chord chart, you will notice that some notes are duplicated like the notes B and F#. If you look at the fret board diagram, there are a lot of the same note in different octaves. Therefore, a chord can have many forms; it depends on what particular position of the fretboard you want to form the chord as long as the bass of your chord is the note B, the rest of the notes must be higher in pitch than the note B and you must have the rest of the notes in the immediate vicinity or within reach of your fingers in the location where you selected your bass note to be.

Chord for Dm

We have already shown how to make major chords for C and B. We used the formula 1,3 and 5. Now, let us make a minor chord. Take for example the chord Dm. Based on table of chord formula, the formula for a minor chord is 1,b3 and 5. the 3rd note is flat. This is what makes the chord flat - the b3.

First step: Determine the scale to use. From Major scale table, the scale for D is D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#.

Second step:Identify the notes to use. The formula for a minor chord is given in Table of chord formula. A minor chord uses notes 1, b3 and 5. D is 1, F# is 3 and F is b3 and 5 is A.. The flat of F# is F, so b3 is F. So now we have the 3 basic notes for D minor or Dm chord; D, F and A notes.

Third step: Locate the notes of the chord on the fretboard. Encircle all the notes D,F and A in the fretboard diagram to identify it.(See figure below for the encircled notes of Dm)

Fourth step: Select the most appropriate Chord form.The bass for Dm is D note. D should be the lowest sounding note of the chord. We have D in the 4th string.. F and A are within reach of the finger so we have found an easy form of the chord Dm shown in the chord chart at the right.

Slide 13 The lowest note of the chord is the bass. Bass notes are taken from the 4th, 5th and 6th strings. So if the chord is only Dm, the lowest note should be the root of the chord or the number 1 note in the scale which is note D in our case for Dm chord.

Other Shape of Chord Dm

Other Shape of Chord Dm

We can also get the notes of Dm in the 5th fret and take advantage of the open 4th string bass as the root or bass. Alternately, we can also use the bass D of the 5th string. The choice of the chord form is greatly affected by the neighboring chords in the chord progression of a song. The important thing is you can adapt the shape and location of the chord into a form that facilitates easy and smooth transition between chords.

Other Forms of Chords

There are chord names that have a slash in it like the chord C/G. That is called a slash chord. The same principle applies in its construction except that the bass note is the second letter. The chord C/G is read as C major chord with bass note G. In this case, you still follow the usual procedure in constructing the chord C but you use the bass note G as the lowest sounding note of the chord.


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    • profile image

      grace 7 years ago


    • blbhhdcn profile image

      blbhhdcn 7 years ago

      wow Fantabulous! I will study this so I can play guitar...

      how did you do all that?

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      John Lettieri 5 years ago from Greater Saint Louis

      Is there a mistake in the diagram for the musical notation. In the bass clef the description is Low C but, it appears to be showing an E not a C.

      I am not used to reading in the Bass Clef but, am I mistaken?

    • profile image

      Chris 4 years ago

      John, you're right. It looks like a mistake to me.

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