We covered musical scales first because they give you the knowledge to build chords. Chords give the song emotion and give you a solid foundation to write a melody. So it’s important to know how chords go together (or don’t go together).
A chord is just a combination of two or more notes played together. Each chord has a starting note called the “root note.”
The most common type of chord is a triad chord, meaning you play three notes at a time. It’s important to become familiar with them as they are the beginnings of being able to form more complex chords.
A triad chord includes the root note, a third note (four half-steps above the root), and a fifth note (seven half-steps above the root).
Here are the basic triad chords:
- Major: root note + major third + fifth above the root (ex. A major = A-C#-E)
- Minor: root note + minor third + fifth above the root (ex. A minor = A-C-E)
- Diminished: root note + minor third + diminished fifth (move the fifth note a half-step down) above the root (ex. Adim = A-C-D#)
- Augmented: root note + major third + augmented fifth (move the fifth note a half-step up) above the root (ex. Aaug = A-C#-F)
We talked about how major chords typically sound brighter and minor chords typically sound sadder. Diminished and augmented chords both sound dissonant, so don’t be surprised if you think they sound ugly by themselves.
Okay…want to add a note to these triads? This is where things get really fun — let’s talk about seventh chords.
There are five main types of seventh chords, but we’re only going to mention three:
- Major Seventh: root note + major third + fifth note + major seventh note (11 half-steps above the root)
- Dominant Seventh: root note + major third + fifth note + dominant seventh note (10 half-steps above the root)
- Minor Seventh: root note + minor third + fifth note + seventh note (10 half-steps above the root)
Seventh chords can really add depth and emotion to your progression, so it’s worth learning how to use them.
One last thing to mention in this section: chord inversions. This is when you use the same notes of a chord but play them in different octaves.
For example, if you play a C major (C-E-G), you can drop the G down an octave. So instead of playing C-E-G in order of lowest to highest, you’d play the low G then the C and E above that.
You can basically move the notes of any chord around to different octaves on the piano (or whatever instrument you’re playing) and it will be an inverted version of that chord.