In order to learn how chords are made up, we must first learn the 'Major Scale'. Try playing the notes dotted on the diagram below. 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
  • 7th (Dominant) : 1, 3, 5, b7
  • Minor 7th : 1, b3, 5, b7
  • Major 7th : 1, 3, 5, 7
  • Augmented : 1, 3, #5
  • Diminished : 1, b3, b5
  • 6th : 1, 3, 5, 6
  • Minor 6th: 1, b3, 5, 6
  • 9th: 1, 3, 5, b7, 9
  • Minor 9th : 1, b3, 5, b7, 9
  • Major 6+9 : 1, 3, 5, 6, 9
  • 11th : 1, 3, 5, b7, 9, 11
  • Minor 11th : 1, b3, 5, b7, 9, 11
  • Suspended 4th: 1, 4, 5
  • Suspended 2nd : 1, 2, 5
  • 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.
A 9th note is the 2nd note of the next octave, and the 11th note is the 4th.
Chords above the '7th' chord include the flattened 7th note, and an '11th chord' includes the '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.