This lesson will teach you the theory behind building a few basic chords. After learning the concepts in this lesson, you will be able to figure out the notes required to build different chord types. This will enable you to build your own chord voicings all over the fretboard. (Note: In order to fully understand and apply all of the concepts in this lesson you will need to have an understanding of basic major scale theory).
Scale degrees refer to the notes within a scale. Scale degrees are often expressed in numbers, usually roman numerals (there are also special names for each scale degree, but those won’t be covered in this lesson). These numbers simply express the distance of each note in the scale from the root note. The second note of the scale will be the second degree of the scale, and so on. Below are the notes of the C Major Scale with their scale degree below.
Each chord type has a formula that tells you how to build it. The chord formula will tell you which scale degrees, or notes from the scale, are used to make a specific type of chord. Regardless of chord type, the chord formulas always relate to the major scale. Below is a chart showing you the chord formulas for some basic chord types. I have included some examples to show you how to use the chord formulas.
Example 1: Building a C Major Chord
- The chord formula for a major chord is I – III – V. This means that the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes/degrees of the major scale will be used to build the chord.
- Since this is a C Chord, use the C Major Scale
- C Major Scale: C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C
- Looking at the C Major Scale:
- The I note = C
- The III note = E
- The V note = G
- Now you know that the notes C-E-G make up a C Major Chord. As long as you are playing each of these 3 notes at least once (and no other notes) you will be playing a C Major Chord.
- This process will work for any major chord (if you want to build a D Major Chord then use the D Major Scale, and so on)
Example 2: Building a D Minor Chord
- The chord formula for a minor chord is I – b III – V. This means that the 1st, flat 3rd, and 5th notes/degrees of the major scale will be used to build the chord.
- Since this is a D Chord, use the D Major Scale (note that although we are building a minor chord we always use the major scale to build chords with the chord formulas)
- D Major Scale: D – E – F# – G – A – B – C# – D
- Looking at the D Major Scale:
- The I note = D
- The b III-note = F (since F# is the III note)
- The V note = A
- Now you know that the notes D-F-A make up a D Minor Chord. As long as you are playing each of these 3 notes at least once (and no other notes) you will be playing a D Minor Chord.
- This process will work for any minor chord
Use the process in the two examples above to construct any of the chord types listed in the chart above. Just remember that regardless of chord type, the chord formulas always apply to the major scale. If you don’t know how to build a major scale, then check out my lesson on the major scale.
If you feel comfortable with chord construction and would like formulas for more chord types take a look here.