A Guide To Guitar Chords

Guitar Music Theory 5


Now you know the most important parts about guitar music theory and harmony, but how do we bring this knowledge in action, how can it help us becoming a better guitar player? Read on...

The first thing you need to know: not every chord tone is equally important :

  • 3 and 7 are the most important notes of a chord because they make a chord major, minor or dominant.
  • The 1 is the least important note, because it's the bass player's job the play the 1 (amongst other notes luckily for him)..
  • The 5 is the second least important note and doesn't sound very good most of the times.
  • Tensions add interest and color, so it's better to use tensions instead of the 1 and 5

The second thing you need to know: 1 half step equals one fret on the guitar neck.

Let's have a look at some guitar diagrams:

  • Take a C chord: C E G (1 3 5)
    Here's the guitar chord diagram:

    Guitar Chord Chart : C


    Let me explain the symbols you see under the chord diagram. Read from left to right (from low E string to high E string) and we have:

    • X : don' play the low E string
    • 1 : the 1 is played on the A string
    • 5 : the 5 is played on the D string
    • 1 : the 1 again, now on the G string
    • 3 : the 3 is played on the B string
    • 5 : the 5 again, this time on the high E string

    It's ok to use a note more then one time, like the 1 and 5 in this example, but this can sound a bit harsh.

    Let's spice this chord up a bit:

    Guitar Chrod Chart : Cmaj7


    Instead of playing the 1 again on the G string, we changed it to the 7.

    Let's add some color :

    Guitar Chrod Chart : Cmaj9


    We exchanged the 5 on the D string for the 3 and we changed the 3 on the B string to a 9.

    If you play in a band and you don't want to get in the way of the bass player you better leave the 1 out of your chords. Another good idea when playing in a band is to voice your guitar chords on the higher (4) strings.

    Guitar Chrod Chart : Cmaj9/E


    We exchanged the 1 on the A string for the 5 on the high E string.

    This chord is what we call a chord inversion : a chord voicing that has a note other then the 1 as it's lowest note.  There are three types of chord inversions : 3 is the lowest note (first inversion), 5 is the lowest note (second inversion) or 7 is the lowest note (third inversion).

    Our example is a Cmaj9 chord and the 3 is the lowest note, so this is the first inversion of Cmaj9.

    How can we make this major chord a dominant chord?
    Easy: bring the 7 half a note down (major 1 3 5 7, dominant 1 3 5 b7).
    The chord diagram:

    Guitar Chrod Chart : C9/E


    How can we make this chord minor?
    We have to lower the 3 from the dominant chord half a note (dominant 1 3 5 b7, minor 1 b3 5 b7)
    The guitar chord diagram:

    Guitar Chrod Chart : Cm9/E


Another system to construct your own guitar chords is by using the guitar chord finder. Select the root and the type of chord you're looking for and the guitar chord finder displays all the notes of your chord on the guitar neck. Now it's up to you to pick out the notes you want in the position you want.

Here's a chord exercise for you: find me the chord tones of the following chords  (the solutions are on the next page) :

For example :  Gm7 : G Bb D F

Now it's your turn :

Fm7 :
Abdim7 :
C#maj7 :
E9sus4 :
A7 :
Edim7 :
Gm7b5 :
B7b9 :
D#m7b5 :
Bmaj7 :

Guitar music theory part 3  Next page: part 6 of guitar music theory