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Chord Types and Symbols

 

Key Signatures

Scales and Modes

How to Transpose

Here is a table showing the common chords and their associated chord symbols as they might appear above the melody in a song- or fake-book, or in guitar tablature. See below for examples and an explanation of how chords are formed.

Chord Symbol (using C as root)

Chord Type

Example

C or CM

Major triad

CEG

Cm or C-

minor triad

CEbG

CM7, CMaj7 or C∆

Major seventh

CEGB

Cm7 or C-7

minor seventh

CEbGBb

Cm7b5 or C-7b5 or Co7

minor seventh with flat fifth (or half-diminished)

CEbGbBb

C7

Dominant seventh

CEGBb

CM9 or CMaj9

Major ninth

CEGBD

Cm9 or C-9

minor ninth

CEbGBbD

Cm7b5b9

minor seventh with flat fifth and flat ninth

CEbGbBbDb

C9

Dominant ninth

CEGBbD

C7b9

Dominant with flat ninth

CEGBbDb

C11

Dominant eleventh

CEGBbDF

C7#11

Dominant with sharp eleven

CEGBbDF#

Cdim or Co

diminished triad

CEbGb

Cdim7 or Co7

diminished seventh

CEbGbA

Caug or C+

Augmented triad

CEG#

Caug7 or C+7

Augmented seventh

CEG#Bb

Triads and 7th chords with C as root

How Chords are Formed and Named

Chords are three or more notes sounded together. It's important to have an understanding of chord types because they form the harmonic structure of a composition. For the songwriter, composer or improviser they are the essential tools for building your work. A simple three-note chord is called a triad; formed by combining the first, third and fifth notes of a scale. The name of the chord is based on this first note or root. When this note is the bottom or bass note the triad is in 'root position'; when the third is in the bass the chord is in the 'first inversion'; when the fifth is the bass note the chord is in 'second inversion'.

triadinversions

When the seventh note of a scale is added to a triad the result is called a seventh chord and a 7 is placed after the chord name; thus a C Major triad (CEG) becomes a C Major 7 (CEGB). If sixth, ninth or eleventh scale tones are added to the triad this is also reflected in the name of the chord. When only a number 7, 9, etc. appears after the chord name it is assumed that the basic four note chord is a dominant seventh chord, i.e. the seventh note of the scale is flatted. Thus C7 is CEGBb, and C9 is CEGBbD. Often the composer will omit a chord tone, but the chord symbol (which indicates the basic harmonic structure) will remain unchanged.

Examples of C triad, CM7 and C7

When 'dim' or 'o'(diminished) appears after the chord name both the third and fifth are lowered one half-step. Cdim or Co is formed CEbGb. The scale to accompany a diminished chord is formed by alternating half-steps and whole steps. This is called the diminished scale (CDEbFGbAbABC).

If 'aug' or '+' (augmented) appears, the fifth is raised one half-step. Thus Caug or C+ is formed CEG#. The associated scale is composed only of whole steps and is called the whole tone scale (CDEF#G#A#C).

In modern usage 'sus' (suspended) refers to a chord in which the fourth has been substituted for the third. Csus or Csus4 is formed CFG.

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