Learning chords can be relatively straightforward for newcomers, particularly open shapes that require only minimal finger pressure to press. But once you begin experimenting with more intricate chords their names and construction can quickly become confusing.
Chord-naming requires some basic music theory concepts, including intervallic relationships (Major, Minor), scales and key signatures; it also uses symbols like # for sharps and b for flats to identify these chords.
Major chords consist of the root, third and fifth notes from a major scale; these chords often possess an upbeat feeling.
Minor chords consist of the root, flat third and perfect fifth from a minor scale, creating darker-sounding chords than their counterparts crafted using major scales.
“/” or an ‘X” often appear at the site of one of the notes normally present; this typically indicates that there is an alternative root note present – for instance A/C Major chords have this symbolism.
Chords may also be written using add or sus symbols. For instance, Cadd9 refers to a C major triad with an extra D voiced into it but without seventh chord (C-D-E-G). Sus symbols (usually 2 or 4) give an edge of completion when following regular chord progressions; they don’t need to be included but may be skipped if desired.
If you want a more minor sound, try employing some voicings of major chords with their sixth notes lowered; G/B chord is an easy way to achieve this and can be found on most guitars with fretboards extending an octave (12 frets).
Altered dominant chords follow the same structure as regular dominant 7th chords, but add additional notes like the #9, #11 and b13. Although you won’t encounter these chords very frequently in pop music, having knowledge of them could prove useful in future performances.
A triad is an ensemble of three notes from the scale, composed of the root note (R), major third (4 semitones above R) and perfect fifth (7 semitones above R). All chords that use these intervals are considered triads; those which also employ altered (#5, +5) or diminished (5, o5, aug5) fifths are known as altered triads.
Augmented chords may be disorienting to novice musicians. This is because, unlike the other three diatonic triads constructed from major scale tones, an augmented chord does not contain a perfect fifth. Due to this instability of sound produced by this chord type, augmented chords should generally only be used sparingly.
Augmented chords differ from conventional chords by having a sharpened fifth note that gives them their unique sound and can add drama and tension to your music. Augmented chords are commonly used when transitioning between major and minor chords or two dominant seventh chords.
Just like diminished chords, augmented chords can be combined with extensions to produce richer and more complex sounds. For instance, pairing G-augmented with F-augmented chords creates the Battle Hymn of the Republic feel. This technique also works well when creating dramatic, anguished rock songs using pop and rock styles; but be careful when using only augmented chords alone!
Suspended chords (commonly referred to as sus4 and sus2 chords) are triads in which either the third is replaced with either a perfect fourth or major second note, usually one of these two options being perfect or major two, respectively. Suspended chords are common among popular musicians such as the Police; you might have heard these types of suspension chords used for songs like “Message in a Bottle.”
Dropped thirds are an effective way to add tension and variety to progressions, providing more space and openness in your playing, while serving as an easy transition point between major and minor chords.
Learning suspended chords is best accomplished through listening and playing music featuring them, practicing simple progressions with them and seeing where they fit into your own music. While each chord may have its own distinct sound, most can agree there is at least some degree of subjectivity regarding how each sounds.