Understanding Guitar Chords and Scales

If you have written songs before, chord progressions should already be second nature to you. But to craft complete and effective compositions, additional theory must also be understood in order to do justice to each lyric written.

Once you have mastered major and minor triads, it is time to progress on to seventh chords. A 7th chord is a tertian chord composed of multiple third intervals strung together – it requires additional knowledge in order to compose one successfully.


Triads may seem simple enough, but they’re actually the foundation of much music. By learning them well and practicing them often enough, chords that were previously difficult to hear can now be understood more quickly and played smoothly.

Trids consist of three notes that form an interval – the root note, major third (4 semitones away from it), and perfect fifth (7 semitones from it). By altering these intervals we can change the sound of our chord. Major triads sound complete and resolved while minor ones have an unfinished, melancholic quality to them.

By stacking two minor thirds on top of the root note we can create a diminished triad; also known as dim chords and possessing an eerie, sinister sound. Triads may be written using various notations such as blocked (see image below), inverted, doublings or open spacing within a staff.


Seventh chords contain four notes – root, third and fifth plus an interval of a seventh – with the sixth note serving to represent emotion. They’re used across many genres of music as a way of conveying feelings and are essential components in creating emotional atmospheres.

Quality seventh chords can be determined by their intervallic content, and chords with major sevenths tend to possess an elegant sound, perfect for jazz and bossa nova compositions.

Minor seventh chords create tension, often found in blues, rock and R&B music. Constructed using a diminished triad with an added minor seventh interval (three half steps above its root), they feature tension.

Dominant seventh chords resemble major seventh chords but differ by having the seventh tone lowered by half step, creating an additional dissonance that may cause tension and anxiety, giving these chords their name of “dominant triads.”


Chords fall into two main categories – major and minor. While most chords fall under this umbrella, you will also encounter minors which create tension as well as being associated with darkness and doom. Minors are used to create tension while majors usually sound more upbeat – both are great options when creating more atmospheric songs! Minor chords can also add texture when creating progressions such as those seen here by Jig Band players which use them.

The C minor chord is similar to its major counterpart but played one string lower. Also referred to as a minor triad due to using all notes from one scale for its formation, you can double this chord for an even fuller sound.

Before adding minors to a progression, it is wise to carefully evaluate both its potential advantages and disadvantages. Minors can drastically change the tone of your song; make sure this fits with your overall vision before proceeding; otherwise it might be best to stick with major!


Major scales form the core of classical guitar composition. Used to craft complex chords and harmonies that add structure and drama, major scales also play an integral part of funk, R&B, country/folk music composition – as well as being popular in other styles like pop!

The major scale is constructed using a formula that divides the fretboard into whole and half steps. A whole step refers to distance between adjacent notes on one string; half steps refer to one fret up or down from previous note.

The CAGED mnemonic is an easy way to remember the sequence in which major chords appear as you progress up the neck. For instance, C Major begins as an open C-shape chord at the nut before transitioning through an A-shape barred at third fret, G-shaped chord at fifth fret and eventually D-shape chord at tenth fret.