A chord is the combination of two or more notes played simultaneously.

This is the definition of chord, but there are innumerous possible combinations of making notes, resulting in many chords. So, to make musicians’ lives easier, each chord receives a name. This is based in the fundamental notes we already know (C, D, E, F, G, A, B).

Definition of natural chords

Before learning how do the chords names are given, it is important to know that some chords receive the same name as the notes (C, D, E, F, G, A, B). They are called natural chords. Each one of these chords is made from three notes. And there is a little rule to discover which ones are these three notes.

The notes that make the natural chords are the first, the third and the fifth degree of its respective scales. Later we will explain this rule in practice, to make this visualization easy. Before that, it is worth to know that a chord can be major, minor or suspended. Theses nomenclatures are related to the third degree. To create major chords, you use the major third degree. To create minor chords, you use minor third degree. When the chord does not have a third degree, it cannot be classified as major nor as minor, receiving then the name of “suspended”. The used symbols are the following ones: “m” to say that the chord is minor and “sus” to say that the chord is suspended. When we don’t have any of these symbols, it means that the chord is major. Let’s see the examples below, using the Do (C) chord:

C –> Do

Cm –> Do minor

Csus –> Do suspended

About the fifth degree in both cases (major and minor chords) it is the perfect fifth.

Triad Chord

Very well, when we talk about the three notes that create the natural chords, we are talking about triad of each chord. This name exists to represent the formation notes of the chord. The definition of triad then is this: three notes that create the natural chords (1st, 3rd and 5th degrees).

Well, now that we learned the rules, let’s create chords using these concepts. Think about a chord that you want create. For example, a C chord.

First degree: C
Major third degree: E
Fifth degree (perfect fifth): G

Therefore, the C chord is made by the notes C, E and G. It is just to play (or let flow) these notes in your instrument and then you have the C chord.

Let’s create now the Fm chord:

First degree: F
Minor third degree: G#
Perfect fifth: C

Therefore, Fm chord is made by the notes F, G# e C.

Tetrad

Until now we saw only natural chords. Enlarging just a little the concept, we can work with 4 notes instead of only 3, and we do this adding the seventh degree of our previous chords. This way we create chords with seventh. The set of degrees first, third, fifth and seventh consists in a tetrad. The seventh degree can be major or minor.

Nice. So, from now on, when you hear “play the tetrad in some chord” you will know that it means the first, the third, the fifth and the seventh degrees of that specific chord. These are the main notes of a chord, known as “chord notes”. In the following studies, you will understand that these are the notes that create a harmonic function. For now, it is enough to know that these notes are the “chord’s spine”. They say of whom we are talking about and they guide us.

Go to: Music Intervals – another view

Back to: Module 2