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Music Theory: Chords

Updated on September 3, 2012

In my last music theory hub, I went over notes, pitch, and scales. Those are the essential "building blocks" of music and everything that revolves around it. Here I will go over chords, how they are built, and how they are used in music that we hear all of the time.

What is a Chord?

Think of it this way, if scales are the "building blocks" of music, then chords are essentially the basic structure or shape of your "musical building." You may hear guitarists and pianists talk about chords all the time and chances are, they probably sound like they are from another planet. "Hey man, let's groove on a C7 and change to an F every four bars." Does this make sense to you? If it does, then you have probably had some musical training. If not, don't worry, I will help!

A chord is a group of 3 or more notes that are combined to form a certain sound. Similarly to the most basic type of scale, the major chord is the most basic type of chord.

Major Chord:

The major chord is comprised of 3 different notes within the corresponding major scale. It is built by using the first note of the scale, the third note, and the fifth note. For example, if we use a C-major scale, (C D E F G A B C), the C-major chord should be C E G because they are the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes of the scale, respectively.

Another way to build a major chord is by starting with one note, and from there using the note that is 4 half-steps away, and then use the note that is 3 half-steps away from the second note. You should still end up with C E G. If you need some help with half-steps and whole-steps, take a look at my hub "Music Theory: Notes, Pitches, and Scales."

Chords are what music is structured from and different sets of notes make up these chords. There are literally an endless amount of combinations for stacking different chords. Once you learn about major chords, different types of chords (minor, 7, augmented, diminished, etc.) will begin to come into play. From there you can begin to learn about chord progressions and the certain "formulas" that are used in almost all types of modern music that we hear today.


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