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April 17, 2013
 

Basic Guitar Chord and Scale Theory

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Written by: Mike Abbott

In this basic guitar chord lesson,
you will learn how
to build a guitar chord two different ways:
Using Major and minor third
intervals and by building a basic chord scale.

There are many benefits to learning basic guitar chord and interval theory,
such as improving your guitar riffs, songwriting, and soloing.

Basic Intervals – Half Steps and Whole Steps

The first requirement for building a guitar chord is knowledge of intervals.
Two basic intervals, the half step and whole step, are covered in our
Music Theory Basics
lesson. These two intervals are essential in building Major and minor
thirds – the most important intervals in chord building.

 

The Major and minor 3rd – chord building blocks

The Major 3rd is equal to 2 whole
steps. You can see and play it in the notation below ( find a Major third
by playing any fret on the guitar, then play four frets above it on the
same string).

The minor 3rd is equal to 1 &
1/2 steps. You can see and play it in the notation below ( find a minor
third by playing any fret on the guitar, then play three frets above it
on the same string).

building a guitar chord with Major and minor thirds

 

Major and Minor Triad Theory

Now that you know how to build 3rds, you can easily
build a basic 3-note guitar chord – otherwise known as a triad.
The Major triad
is built with a Major 3rd on the bottom and a
minor 3rd on the top (see below). The minor triad is
built with a minor 3rd on the bottom and a Major 3rd on the top (see below).

triad - a three note chord

Basic Guitar Chord Scale Theory

Now I will show you another easy way to build a basic Major
or minor guitar chord using scales.

Major and minor Scale theory on the Guitar

Below is a C Major Scale. It is built with whole and
half step intervals. "W" stands for Whole step, and "H"
stands for Half step. Every Major scale is built with this same pattern
of whole steps and half steps! It’s that easy!

C Major Scale theory with guitar tab

Now to build a basic C Major Chord, you just play
the 1st, 3rd, and 5th note of the scale! These are the notes of the C
Major Chord! To build a D minor chord, Play the 2nd, 4th, and 6th note,
and so on…!

This is the first step in sinking your teeth into
theory of scales and chords. You can see how closely chords and scales
are related, right?!! Once you can grasp and apply these basic concepts,
your guitar soloing, songwriting, guitar chord repertoire, and
scale repertoire will take off
! You can learn many other Major
and minor chords from this C Major Scale. See the C Major Chord Scale
below:

A Guitar Chord Scale

A C Major chord scale with guitar tab

small ‘m’
= minor

C = C Major

Dm = D minor

Bdim = B diminished

 

As you see above, The C Major chord scale is made
up of 3 Major Chords, 3 minor chords, and one diminished chord. This theory
holds true for any other Major chord scale.

Building a chord on your guitar

On the guitar, you now need to know
how to build a Major Scale and a Major chord scale in other keys. This
isn’t difficult.
First, build a Major Scale(‘F’ for instance)using
the half and whole step formula (see C Major Scale
theory
). Write down the names of the notes in this F Major Scale.
Put the 1st, 3rd, and 5th note together to build an F Major Chord. Now
if you want to build the F Major chord scale, write down the notes in
the scale starting from the 1st(F), 3rd(A), and 5th note(C). Here’s what
you get:

building the F Major chord scale

F A C = F Major, G Bb
D
= G minor,

A C E = A minor, Bb D F = Bb Major,

C E G = C Major, D F A = D minor,
E G Bb = E diminished.

To review, we have built:

1. Major and minor 3rds

2. The Major scale and Major Chord Scale

3. Basic Major and minor guitar chords

 

Now, on your guitar, try to build a Major Scale and
a Major Chord Scale in a different key! You will understand this process
better after doing it over and over again!



About the Author

Mike Abbott
Mike is a pro guitarist and music educator.  He has performed with such diverse acts as the Rolling Stones Horns, Sammy Davis Jr., and Burt Bacharach.   After spending much of his music career in New York City, He now is a very busy guitarist in the Denver area, performing and teaching extensively. Mike's latest work is a book, The Guitar and Amp Sourcebook, published by Harper Collins and released in December 2012.



 
 

 
 

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