Basic Guitar Chord Theory

In this basic guitar chord lesson, you will learn 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 must be known. 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).

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).

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

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. Write down the names of the notes in this F Major Scale. Put the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes 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:

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

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!


Josh Morison said...

Great post! I keep coming back to the basics when I try to apply music theory to guitar and you've summed a lot of it up nicely.

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Thanks from Steve