How to give name to chords
Have you ever been in a sad situation because of the chords names? There you are and you want to play some song. You download it from the internet. Great (you think). And then in a specific moment of that song appears some chord that you have never seen. Wow, which chord is this? You go to chords dictionary, look for the concerned chord, but the dictionary doesn’t bring any chord with that name. This is the end; neither the chords dictionary knows this chord! Actually, maybe you could think that the only way to know how to create a chord is memorizing it. If you don’t have a giant database inside your head, you will never know many chords. Well, you have to know that this is foolishness.
Looking for chords dictionaries is something for the freshmen. Because now you will learn to not depend on it. Even more than this, you will be better than it!
Like everything in music, there is a logic rule to define the names of each chord. If you know this rule, you know how to create the chord and give it a name in your instrument. Wonderful, let’s learn then how to do this! You will see the symbology of a “strange” chord and will know how to create it without external help. And more than this, a friend of yours will create any combination of notes in your instrument and you will say to him/her which chord he/she is playing. It doesn’t matter what he/she does. He/she can spend all day long “inventing” chords and you will always know the names of all of them.
We will use the guitar as example, but these concepts serve to any instrument. So, let’s go:
You have already learned how the major chords, minor chords and chords with seventh are done. But maybe is not really clear how to do these chords in your instrument. Well, it is really easy; it is just to play all the notes that form each chord we study.
Check below a possible drawing to the Dm chord in a guitar:
You can see as all the triad notes in Dm appear in this chord (D, A and F), and just them.
Our first target now will be to create the Dm7 chord. For this, we will add one note to the Dm chord, which is the seventh minor degree (the C note, in this case). Ok, now we need to know where there is a C note so that we could take it to add in our Dm chord. Check below where the C notes are located in the fretboard:
You can see how it is really hard to add the C note to the Dm chord without changing its design. On the other hand, we can use that C that is really closer to the Dm chord:
For this, we need to remove the D (because it is “in front” of it in the fretboard, occupying its place in that string). This way we would have with the chord:
Is there any problem in removing this D as we did? No, because there is already another D in this chord; we only removed a D that was “in excess”.
In guitar this is really common, because practically all the natural chords that we create have some note that is “a double note”, in other words, it appears twice.
In nomenclature point of view, nothing changes when you remove a note that is double. Even you could choose “to double” a note to have chords that are distinct in sonority, but with the same name.
Another example of duplicate notes in chords
You can see it bellow with the G chord:
Probably you have already seen or played this another version of G:
What is the difference between these two versions?
The G note appears 3 times in each one, but in the first drawing, the D note is being doubled, while in the second drawing, it is the B note that is being doubled.
As in both drawings there are only the notes G, B and D, nomenclature doesn’t change, the chords name will be the “G” for both formats.
You will agree that, besides the name/nomenclature doesn’t change, the sound is lightly different, depending on which note you are repeating, because it will be “in evidence”.
With this in mind, we can go on in our studies.
We can now create the Dm7 chord. Let’s now create the Dm7(4). For this, we need to add the perfect fourth to the Dm7 chord.
Creating the Dm7(4) chord
Well, who is the perfect fourth for D? We know that is G. So, let’s try to add it to the chord Dm7. Check bellow where the G notes are located in the fretboard:
Compare it to our Dm7 chord:
Which G note can we use? Well, Maybe you are realizing that, to add any G note, it will be necessary “to lose” any other note, because all the strings are busy with other notes. Maybe you could say: “Look, the sixth string is not being used! We could use the G located in it!”. So, go on and try to do this. Did you see that is impossible?! There are physical limitations for that (Our finger cannot reach there). Let’s try another thing, so.
There is a G note really close from the Dm7 chord that we created, can you see?
However, to use it, we should put it in place of F note, because we cannot play two notes in the same string. Can we do this?
No! Because the F note is the third degree, in other words, it is it which is defining that the chord is minor (Dm). Without it, the Dm7 chord would be a Dsus7, because of it would not exist the third (the chord would not be major, nor minor, it would be suspended). But our target it was not to create D7sus4, but Dm7(4). For this we cannot use the G note as we thought. Let’s try another one. What about this:
You can see that this would replace the A note. Can we do this?
Yes, first because the A note is already doubled. Besides that, even if there was only one A, this could be removed for being a fifth degree for D. To lose the fifth degree doesn’t mischaracterize the chord, it doesn’t get nor major or minor because of the fifth degree. Of course that without the fifth degree the Dm7 chord will not be really “completed”, because the triad note was lost. But this loss is tolerable in nomenclature point of view. Dm7 without the fifth degree is yet a Dm7. So we got it! The Dm7(4) will be:
Steps to create any chord
This method that we used to create the Dm7(4) chord can be used to create any chord we wish. As a basic rule, follow the given steps when facing a symbol of some unknown chord:
1st) You should identify the natural chord present in the symbology and create it in some region of the fretboard of your instrument. For example, the natural of E9(13) is E.
2nd) You should identify which are the extension notes of the desired chord and find each one of them in your instrument, looking for the closest ones. In the previous example, you would look for the corresponding notes to the degrees 9 and 13 of E, that are the notes F# and C#. Look for one at a time to make your search easy.
3rd) You should see which notes you could change for the ones you want. In general, you can change the note that is doubled (repeated) or the fifth degree (that could disappear).
4th) You should repeat this procedure in another region of the instrument fretboard to check if the resultant chord it is not “easier” to do. It can happen in some case in which is impossible to create the desired chord in certain region, but in other ones this could be possible.
To make some exercises about this method, let’s create one more chord.
Observation: Many steps taught here don’t need to be followed in the keyboard, because the keys organization makes this process easy. If you are a piano or keyboard player you can discard the items that are not related to your instrument.
Creating the Em7(9) chord
Continuing our learning process about creating chords, this time we will create the Em7(9).
The Em7 chord is a Dm7 in one tone above, for this we will save work of creating the seventh degree (it is the same that we did before). You can see the Em7 chord below and its respective notes:
Let’s add then the 9th degree, which is F#. You can check below the F# notes in the fretboard:
Apparently, a good option it would be this F# (in yellow):
But, as you could have noticed, it would be in the place of E. We cannot do this because E is in first degree, the tonic.
Another option to overcome this problem it would be using the E string that is not being used. This could be the first degree and the chord would be:
This chord would be a good option to Em7(9), because it has an interesting sonority. But maybe you wouldn’t want to let this chord as bass as it is (the E string is really bass). There is a big difference of octaves in this chord, and this is why it can be unpleasant depending on the context.
Let’s try to find another universal option that we could apply in any context. Let’s use this F#:
This F# would replace the G note. We already saw in the previous example that we couldn’t do this; because this is the third degree (it is it that says the chord is an E minor). Using this F# in the place of a third degree, the chord would be suspended.
So, are we without options? No. If the problem is G, we could try another G that replaces that one! Look below how there is another G close to the chord we are doing:
If we would use this G, it would be in the place of B. But B is already doubled (it appears twice), so this is not a problem!
Our desire was granted, we could add an F# without damaging the Em7 chord. Look below how was our chord in the end:
Try to do this in your guitar. Did you have any difficulty? Probably yes, because doing a bar chord with the finger 3 and finger 4 it is not easy! Some jazz guitarists like doing this, but I believe that is a minority. So let’s think about the hypothesis of not playing the last note, the B, because this would make our drawing really easy while creating the chord.
Can we do this?
Remember what we talked about fifth degree, that it can be omitted without damaging the chord’s nomenclature.
Then it is solved! The chord is as not complete and “full” as the previous others that we tried to create, but is in a really easy version to do and its sonority is pleasant. Look below its final result:
This is a most common version that you will find in books and dictionaries to the Em7(9) chord.
Practical tips about chord names
The most important thing after this study is that you have assimilated the thought that we had. You can see that there are innumerous possibilities and different combinations to create the same chord. Here in the final part we showed an example of Em7(9), but we could have written dozens pages showing other drawing options for the same chords.
Bit by bit, the way you go practicing and doing exercises, you will see quickly more options, because you will know the fretboard of your instrument and you will have better theorical background in chords already memorized. And all this will allow you a faster and more accurate visualization.
During all this study, we created the chords using as reference the notes, but this is not the fastest way. Actually the fastest way is to think automatically in degrees.
For example, to create the Em7(9) chord, you can search directly the ninth degree, because you know the major scale drawing and you know how to count degrees! In this case, you wouldn’t have to think that the ninth degree is the F#. You would only search the ninth degree (counting the numbers in the major scale) and you would find the ninth degree even without knowing which note is it.
You can see that this way of thinking is faster, because you don’t need to think that the ninth degree is the F# note to search the F# in the instrument.
Obviously, if you master well the notes in the entire instrument, this process will be automatic, and you probably will prefer to think in notes instead of degrees. Our incentive is that you engage yourself in this!
We showed here the process in a more teachable way. To think in notes or only in degrees will be your choice. Everything will depend on your practice and personal taste.
A really good way to exercise these learned concepts is trying to create various chords and after that to check your answers in some chords’ dictionary. That’s a tip.
Before finishing this study, we will show the most used nomenclatures in songbooks. We put this complement as a second part of this topic (chord symbols). Check that!
Go to: Chord symbols
Back to: Module 3