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What Are Chords?

Updated on June 6, 2012

Chords are, in all its simplicity, combinations of notes.

These combinations, however, are not just coincidental. There are a lot of systems to learn when learning chords. In this article, I will go through the most used types of chords.

All examples are showed on a piano. The system is the same for guitar, but the order of the notes may be different and you may have to play a note more than one time for the chord to sound well.

Major Chords

A 'major' chord is the most commenly used chord and is known for having a 'happy' kind of mood. It consists of three notes:

The key note (in this case a C)

The major third (in this case an E)

The fifth (in this case a G)

C Major is written 'C'.

Minor Chords

A 'minor chord' is known for having a 'sad' kind of mood. It also consists of three notes, but notice that the third has changed from a major third to a minor third. This simply means that you have to play the third a half note below.

Notice that the E has now become an E flat (written as 'Eb').

C minor is written 'Cm'.

7 Chords

A '7' chord is mostly used in blues music. This chord consists of four notes. The three first are the same as in the usual major chord, but the fourth note is the 'minor seventh'. This note is three half notes above the fifth. In a C7, the seventh is a B flat (written as 'Bb').

Minor 7 Chords

A 'minor 7' chord has a happy-sad sound and is used in all kinds of music. It is build like the regular 7 chord, but with a minor third instead of a major.

Note that the E has turned into an E flat because it is now a minor chord instead of a major chord.

C minor 7 is written 'Cm7'.

Major 7 Chords

A 'major 7' chord has a flying sound. It is very light and, joyful and is most used in pop and jazz played lightly.

It is almost similar to the regular 7 chord. The only difference is that the minor seventh is now a major seventh - just a half note above.

Note that the B flat is now a B.

C major 7 is written 'Cmaj7'.

Diminished Chords

A 'dimished' chord has a very dark sound. It usually consists of three notes: The key note, the minor third and a note three half notes above the minor third.

C diminished is written 'Cdim' or 'C°'.

Suspended Chords

A 'suspended' chord is just like a regular major chord, except the third is now a fourth, meaning that you move the middle note up half a note. If you play in C, you would have to change the E to an F (suspending the third).

C suspended is written 'Csus' or 'Csus4'.

If you see a 'Csus2', it means that the third has become a second - the middle note will be a D.

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