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Chords

Two notes played harmonically, (at the same time), constitute an interval. Three or more notes played harmonically comprise a chord. There are many different types of chords. Generally, chords are categorized by the number of notes and type of intervals they contain. Most chords are built upon a pattern of successive thirds.

Since the guitar has only 6 strings, you can't really play a complete thirteenth chord. By skipping one of the other notes, it is possible to play a chord that functions as a thirteenth.

The simplest of the chord types is the triad. The triad consists of three notes separated by two consecutive thirds. There are four types of triads that are commonly used:

click on each of the chords below to hear them play

The first inversion of a triad occurs when you flip the bottom note of the triad up an octave. The second inversion occurs when you flip the bottom two notes of a triad up an octave. Triads, as they appear in the above figure are all in root position, which occurs when the root of the triad is the bass, or lowest note.

By knowing the intervals which comprise specific chords, you can construct the chord to start on any note. As listed in the above table, the Major triad consists of a Major 3rd (M3) supporting a minor 3rd (m3), which comprise a Perfect 5th (P5). Therefore, from the root note going up to the other two notes, the intervals are M3, P5. Other symbols in the figure above are diminished 5th (d5) and Augmented 5th (A5). The following table lists the intervals for many types of chords from any root note to the other notes in the chord.

Chord Intervals Table

Major

M3

P5

 

 

 

 

minor

m3

P5

 

 

 

 

Augmented

M3

A5

 

 

 

 

diminished (fifth)

m3

d5

 

 

 

 

suspended fourth

P4

P5

 

 

 

 

             
seventh

M3

P5

m7

 

 

 

Major seventh

M3

P5

M7

 

 

 

minor seventh

m3

P5

m7

 

 

 

seventh augmented fifth

M3

A5

m7

 

 

 

seventh diminished fifth

M3

d5

m7

 

 

 

diminished seventh

m3

d5

d7

     
seventh suspended fourth

P4

P5

m7

     
sixth

M3

P5

M6

     
minor sixth

m3

P5

M6

     
             
ninth

M3

P5

m7

M9

 

 

major ninth

M3

P5

M7

M9

 

 

minor ninth

m3

P5

m7

M9

   
ninth diminished fifth

M3

d5

m7

M9

   
seventh augmented ninth

M3

P5

m7

A9

 

 

seventh minor ninth

M3

P5

m7

m9

 

 

six / nine

M3

P5

M6

M9

   
             
eleventh

M3

P5

m7

M9

P11

 

             
thirteenth

M3

P5

m7

M9

P11

M13

Chords strummed on the guitar can and usually do contain copies of some of the notes. An E Major triad contains E, G sharp and B. When strumming the chord on guitar however, it is customary to play all of the notes that lie within the triad in that hand position, repeating notes in other octaves if possible (here listed with their octave numbers): E2, B2, E3, G3 sharp, B3, E4.

Chords are sometimes described as being consonant or dissonant, meaning that they are a stable, agreeable, harsh or require resolution, etc. These terms are completely subjective and depend on the culture that you are raised in, also, certain chords that are considered consonant today were considered dissonant in the past. Listen to the different chord types and make up your own mind how they make you feel. Use them in music when you want to convey that emotion. Keep in mind that the most important element of music is the sound that you produce.


ACTIVITY: Explore chords

In the Sheet Music window, select the "Key Signature" menu's "Choose Key Signature" menu item. Select C Major by clicking on the very middle button in the Choose Key Signature window.

Use the Mode menu and select Explore Chords Mode.

In the Chord menu, make sure "Major" is selected.

Look at the notes on the Virtualoso Guitar window. You are looking at the pattern that C, E and G make on the entire fretboard. The light blue notes represent the root note of the chord, and the darker blue circles represent the other notes of the chord. The red notes indicate notes that you don't play since they are either out of reach, or require more than the minimal number of fingers to play, or simply are not needed.


By clicking on the "Play Chord" button in the Explore Chords window, you can hear the chord.

Select "G" from the "Root" menu in the Explore Chords window. This will move the assumed position of your hand but in general, keep the shape of the "form" the same! This means that you can play a C Major or G Major chord using the same pattern of notes! The difference is that you play C Major in Open Position, so you don't have to bar it. Being able to move a form around on the fretboard like this allows you to play chord progressions anywhere on the fretboard.

You can move the assumed position that your hand would be in with the "arrow" buttons, try moving the position higher with the > button, then play the chord again. By moving the assumed position of your hand with the << or >> buttons, you move to the next "easy" place to play the chord. By "easy" we mean the next location where you can either play a root position chord or a moveable bar chord. After clicking on >>, check the name of the form in the Explore Chord window. The name of the form is the name of that shape if it was in open position, (as displayed in the above graphic). The form displayed above is the C form since the C chord is shown there in open position. By moving the C form on the fretboard, you can create any other chord by moving the root note to a fret with the desired name!

If you have registered your software, select Seventh. Can you hear the difference in the chord with the previous chord? Select some of the other chords and play them.

Chords on the guitar are unique. There are several different shapes or "forms" for a given chord on the guitar. Virtualoso Guitar shows you the "movable forms", i.e., the forms that you can generally Bar and play anywhere on the guitar. (Bar chords require you to use your index finger on your fretting hand to make a "bar" and cover up to 6 notes at a time with this one finger).

Explore Chords mode allows you to see and play 22 different chord types, with 12 different root notes, in 13 different positions (we make use of open chords in open position) for a grand total of over 3400 different chord shapes. The amazing thing is that if you just know a 3 different shapes or "Forms" of the 22 chord types (66), you basically can play any chord by simply moving the form to a different location!

Virtualoso Guitar does not show you fingerings for the chords for two reasons:

Chords can always be fingered using this algorithm. Sometimes the context of the notes that you are playing require you to break these rules. Although these chords could be played more easily by using this algorithm, in the context of where they are being played, you might be using different fingers since you don't have much time to switch to the next chord or note, since you would hear a small gap in time. This is a consequence of what is known as preparation. Preparation is covered in the chapter on Deciphering and Reading Sheet Music.

Bar chords are extremely useful since you can move them on the fretboard in order to play multiple chords with the same shape. All you have to know is the shape of the chord type, and where the root notes lie within the bar chord (light blue color above), and the names of all of the notes on the bottom three strings and you can play chords anywhere on the fretboard.

The rule for fingering chords is as follows. (Fretting fingers are numbered 1=index, 2=middle, 3=ring and 4=little.) Barring a chord means that you use your index finger as a "bar" in which to fret multiple notes at the same time.

Use successively higher numbered fingers on successively higher pitched strings on successively higher pitched frets. Use your index finger as a Bar to cover multiple frets if there are multiple notes to play in the lowest pitched position.

This is shown in the following figure (possibly bar on the gold arrow, continue with successive fingers on the orange arrows).

Examples with Bar:

Example without Bar:


In the middle picture above, the Bar chord example, an "E" Major "form" bar chord is being played at position V. Since the root note (light blue note) on string 6 is an "A", you're really playing an "A" Major chord with the "E" form! Chords do not have to be in Bar form for them to be moveable, however, if you plan on strumming the chord, you should choose forms that have frets lying on contiguous strings. The second example without a Bar chord, has a root note on string 4 that is a "G". This type of chord is a 7th chord, in the "D" Seventh "form". Therefore, the chord is a G7 (or G Seventh) chord.

These "form" names take their name from the shape of the chord when it is in the open position. They are clearly displayed on the bottom of the Explore Chords window. This window provides you with a virtual chord calculator from which you can set and view any chord type.

Chords are sometimes symbolized relative to the tonic of the piece of music. The following table lists the names of the different scale degrees and the names of the chords that are constructed on each scale degree.

Scale Degree

Name

Chord Degree

1

Tonic

I

2

Supertonic

II

3

Mediant

III

4

Subdominant

IV

5

Dominant

V

6

Submediant

VI

7

Leading Tone (or subtonic)

VII

Chord degree Roman Numerals are used to specify the relative distance a given chord is away from the tonic chord of the piece. Musical compositions often contain chord progressions of I-IV-V, meaning the chord progression will consist of chords that are built on the 1st, 4th and 5th scale degrees. If the piece of music is written in C Major, building the Major scale on C results in C-D-E-F-G-A-B, so the chords I-IV-V in C Major would consist of the notes (C-E-G or) C Major, (F-A-C or) F Major and (G-B-D or) G Major.

If the piece of music is in "B minor", build a minor scale on B and use the resulting notes from it. Building the minor scale on B results in B-C sharp-D-E-F sharp-G-A, so the chords I-IV-V would consist of the notes (B-D-F or) B minor, (E-G-B or) E minor and (F sharp-A-C sharp or) F sharp minor.

How about a chord progression of I-III? Assuming C Major, the third scale degree is E. Building a triad on E creates the following chord, E-G-B which is minor (from the Chord Intervals Table). As long as you can count up a scale and figure out what the notes are in that scale and look up the associated intervals in the Chord Intervals Table, you can use chord degrees to calculate and hence play any chord progressions.

Once you know the chord progression in chord degrees, you can easily transpose the progression to another key. Simply choose a different tonic, and relate all of the chords names to this new tonic.

Congratulations, it is time to begin using Virtualoso Guitar to solidify your understanding of the theoretical concepts described in this manual.

Table of Contents

Next: Learning Notes, Harmonics and Perfect Pitch

Previous: Intervals