How to Tell Which Chords Are Major and Minor

Majors and minors form the two basic styles in music, providing us with an opportunity to explore all that chords have to offer us.

Example: the sorrowful and haunting sound of “Comfortably Numb” can be found in F minor. Conversely, most upbeat songs tend to use major keys.

The Root Note

Root notes of chords can be easily identified by looking at their chord symbols. To identify which note makes up a particular chord’s root note, take note of its symbol.

An example of a C major seventh chord features C as its root note; therefore it can also be written as Cadd9. However, adding another note doesn’t automatically imply the existence of a seventh under its surface – as shown by this diagram.

Discovering what kind of scale the chord is built upon can also help determine its root note, since different scales create distinct moods. For example, melodic minor scale has a raised seventh tone which pulls towards its tonic more strongly than other minor scales do; hence chords constructed on melodic minor will sound more major than those constructed using natural minor.

The Major Third

The major third is an interval between the third and fifth scale degrees. Since it is the second-most prominent chord in any key, also referred to as its dominant, it presents tension which must be released by tonic chords.

That is why, in both major and minor keys, the 5th degree of the scale appears as either major or perfect. All other scale degrees follow suit.

As such, we use a triangle to represent a major third, as illustrated above. This triangle acts like the root of a triad and sits atop the initial note in our scale (C).

Notation for this chord usually reads as Cm6/9 in jazz settings; we tend to add one in order to highlight the contrast between brightness and darkness between these sounds.

The Major Triad

Triads may contain any scale degree as their root note; its third note determines its major or minor identity. Triads built using do, fa, and sol (1, 4, and 5) scale degrees (1, 4, 5, respectively) are major; major chords can be identified using capital letters of the root names as they appear in notation for major chords; minor chords built using re, mi, and la scale degrees (1, 3, and 5) are indicated with lowercase “mi” after root letter name notation notation for minor chords.

Major chords feature not only a third note but also an elevated fifth tone that pulls strongly toward its tonic, creating a bright glistening quality that’s much different from minor chords’ dark depths.

Chords derived from other scale degrees can also be major or minor, yet do not display such an obvious tonic influence due to having raised sevenths instead of flat sevenths in their chord progressions.

The Minor Triad

Minor triads are constructed by using the first, third and fifth notes from a minor scale to form three chords – C, Eb and G are often represented but it could use any combination of notes from this scale. Closed and open chord versions exist – closed chords have close together notes in one octave while open triads spread them out over more than one octave respectively.

Closed and open triads can also be distinguished by their note interval qualities; major triads feature a major third with a perfect fifth while minor ones consist of minor thirds and diminished fifths.

To add a seventh note to a minor triad, we create a minor major 7th chord (written Cm7). The name itself refers to how its minor seventh note has been raised one semitone and now serves as a major seventh note.