In order to learn how chords are made up, we must first learn the 'Major Scale'. Try playing the notes dotted on the diagram 
elow. Use your four fingers, spread across the four frets just as you would when playing a chord, but this time, play the notes one by one, in order. Use your first finger to fret the lowest note on the LOW E string, then use your fourth finger to play the next note (two frets higher). Use your first finger to play the next note on the A string and so on. Work your way through the notes from bottom to top and then back again. Depending on where you start playing from, the 'root' note determines which key you are playing in. If you start with the root on the fifth fret you are playing the 'A Major' scale, whereas if you start one fret higher on the sixth fret, you are playing the 'A# Major Scale'.

There are seven notes in the Major scale. - this diagram covers two octaves. What you are in fact playing, is the root note followed by the note 2 frets higher, then the note 2 frets higher again, up 1 note, up 2 notes, up 2, up 2 and finally up 1 more note. You could play these same notes on one single string, it will still be the same scale! These 'intervals' stay the same no matter which key you play the scale in. This is what makes this scale what it is. Other scales use different intervals. Some scales have less notes. However, the Major scale is the most important scale used in Western music today.

If you use the basic songwriting techniques used in this tutorial to come up with the seven chords in any given key, say G#, and play over it with random single notes from the G# Major Scale, it will fit! The seven chords are based around the seven notes of the Major scale.


All chords are built according to the notes in, and around, the Major scale ('A Major' for 'A' chords, 'E Major' for 'E' chords etc. It just depends which notes you string together from the scale as to which type of chord you are playing.

All chords use the first note of this scale (the root note) and take their name from this note. The 'Major' chord uses the first note of the scale, along with the third and fifth notes. These three notes are arranged in a playable order, and certain notes may be played more than once to make the construction of the chord easier. In the key of 'A' the three notes are 'A', 'C#' and 'E'. The 'Minor chord' uses the same first and fifth notes, but the third note is flattened (denoted by a 'b' symbol).

The list below shows exactly which notes are used to construct a variety of chords. This applies to every one of the twelve keys.

  • Major : 1, 3, 5
  • Minor : 1, b3, 5
  • Augmented (+) : 1, 3, #5
  • Diminished (o) : 1, b3, b5
  • Half Diminished (also known as minor 7 flat 5) : 1, b3, b5, b7
  • Suspended 2nd : 1, 2, 5
  • Suspended 4th: 1, 4, 5
  • 6th : 1, 3, 5, 6
  • Minor 6th: 1, b3, 5, 6
  • 7th (Dominant) : 1, 3, 5, b7
  • Minor 7th : 1, b3, 5, b7
  • Major 7th : 1, 3, 5, 7
  • 9th: 1, 3, 5, b7, 9
  • Minor 9th : 1, b3, 5, b7, 9
  • Major 9th : 1, 3, 5, 7, 9
  • Major 6+9 : 1, 3, 5, 6, 9
  • 11th : 1, 3, 5, b7, 9, 11
  • Minor 11th : 1, b3, 5, b7, 9, 11
  • Major 11th : 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11
  • 13th : 1, 3, 5, b7, 9, 11, 13
  • Minor 13th : 1, b3, 5, b7, 9, 11, 13
  • Major 13th : 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13
  • 5th (Power Chord) : 1, 5

Notes: If a note shows the (b) symbol, the flatten that note. Likewise, if a note shows the (#) symbol, sharpen it.

If a chord has a 7 or b7 in it, any 2nd notes are called 9ths (the same note but in the next octave up, 9 notes above the root). Likewise, a 4th is called an 11th and a 6th is called a 13th. 

All chords above the '7th' chord include either the 7th (major) or the flattened (dominant) 7th note. An '11th chord' includes the 9th and a '13th' includes the 11th and 9th . This is how chords are constructed, building on lower chords. The 'Major 6+9 chord works differently, because of the plus sign.

The 'Dominant 7th' chord with the flattened 7th is the chord you are used to. Just to confuse you, the 'Major 7th' chord is different again, and uses a natural (major) 7th. Any chord using this note is referred to as 'major', for example the major 9th chord (1, 3, 5, 7, 9).

A 13th chord is made up of seven notes. That is a major chord plus a dominant 7th, 9th, 11th and the 13th. Since this is impossible to play on a six-string guitar, the fifth and the third are often left out.#

An augmented chord is sometimes written as '+', for example G+ is G augmented, and a diminished chord can be shown as a degree sign (o).