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GO Music Theory Sheets:

Major Scales

Natural Minor Scales

Minor Scales Comparison

Chords Formulae


Guitar Theory Lesson 2 - Major-Minor relationship, Chords and Chord inversions


Now that we have learnt about notes and scales, we are going to take a more global view on them to find out some useful and interesting facts.

Let's see the Major scales of all non-accidental keys:

 I      II      III     IV      V      VI     VII
C      D     E       F        G      A       B

D      E      F#    G       A       B       C#

E      F#    G#    A       B       C#     D#

F      G      A     A#     C       D        E

G      A      B     C       D       E        F#

A      B     C#    D       E        F#     G#

B      C#    D#   E       F#      G#     A#

All these major scales are built applying the 2-2-1-2-2-2-1 formula on the chromatic scale, remember?

Each scale has seven notes (there are a few scale types with more or less than seven notes, but they are more rare). We can give a number to each "slot" on the scale. In fact, it is common to refer to a scale note using roman numbers. The number (from 1 to 7) of a note inside a scale is called the scale degree. For example, C Major's second degree is D. F Major's fifth degree is C.

Now, let's make a grid of the Natural Minor scales:

I      II      III      IV      V      VI      VII
C     D      D#    F        G       G#      A#

D     E      F       G        A       A#      C

E     F#     G      A        B       C        D

F     G       G#    A#     C        C#      D#

G     A       A#    C       D       D#       F

A     B       C       D       E       F         G

B     C#     D       E       F#     G         A

It's time to introduce the concept of relative minor. Let's compare the C Major and the A Minor scales.
C - D - E - F - G - A - B    -    C Major scale
A - B - C - D - E - F - G    -    A Minor scale

The notes of both scales are exactly the same! Now take a look at the D Major and B Minor scales:

D - E - F# - G - A - B - C#   - D Major scale
B - C# - D - E - F# - G - A   - B Minor scale

Again, the notes are the same.

This happens because for each Major scale, there is a Natural Minor scale with exactly the same set of notes. In fact, the Natural Minor of the sixth degree of any Major scale has the same notes; when this happens, we call it the Relative Minor of that Major scale. For example, A is the sixth degree of the C Major scale; so, A Minor is the relative Minor of C Major scale - both these scales have the exact same notes. D Major's sixth degree is B; B Minor is the Relative Minor of D Major.


We are now ready to grasp the concept of chords. A chord is a set of two or more notes played at the same time; the notes chosen for the chord always follow some rules, just like in scales. In fact, chords ARE built based on scales!

The most important chords in music are called triads, because they have only three notes on them. The actual number of notes played can be more than three, but one or more notes will then be repeated on different octaves. If you've already learnt to play chords on the guitar, you might be wondering "if the chords only have three notes, how come I play them on more than three strings?". The answer is exactly this: you're playing only three notes, and you're playing some on them on different octaves at the same time! Maybe it's confusing for now; if it is, don't worry, you'll understand in a second.

Some chords have four notes, like the famous seventh chords; these are usually related to a sense of tension that craves resolution on a posterior chord.

There are four main types of chords, each with its name: major, minor, augmented and diminished. Let's start with the major chord, which is the simplest.

To form a major chord, all you have to do is play the note that gives its name to the chord, the third and the fifth degrees of the major scale on the chord's key.

1 + 3 + 5

This sounds confusing, but it's not. Suppose you want to form the C Major chord. First, you recall the C Major scale:

C - D - E - F - G - A - B

Then, you take the first (C), the third (E) and the fifth (G) notes of the scale and put them together. Those three notes are the C Major chord. Simple as that.

Let's try B Major. Remember B Major scale?

B - C# - D# - E - F# - G# - A#

B is the first degree; D# is the third degree and F# is the fifth degree. So, the B Major chord is B + D# + F#!

Now the other chords. The principle is the same, only the chord formula changes - just like in scales, remember?

For the minor chord, you take the notes from the major chord and lower the third degree half a step:

1 + 3b + 5

So, the C Major chord was C + E + G. The C Minor chord shall be C + Eb + G.

The augmented chord takes the major chord notes again, but this time the fifth degree is raised half a step.

1 + 3 + 5#

C augmented is C + E + G#.

Finally, the diminished chord takes the major chord notes once more, but lower the third and the fifth degree half a step.

1 + 3b + 5b

Yep, you guessed it: C diminished is C + Eb + Gb.

Now, about those six-string chords with only three notes. First, let's see the shape of the C Major chord.

As you can see, C is played on two octaves, and E is played on three! The notes repeat themselves, hence the 6 "notes" on the triad chord. You could play the chord with only the 3 highest strings, for example. It would still be an unambiguous C Major chord.


This brings us to the concept of chord inversions.

A triad has a rigid set of 3 notes. However, the sorting of these notes througout the octaves is irrelevant. For example, the most obvious way to choose the notes for the C major chord is by keeping all notes on one octave, and choosing a C, then the E and the G on that octave - C E G. But there's no rule against playing that C note an octave higher! In that case, E would be the new lowest note, then the G, and finally the C.
We could then go one step further: play the E an octave higher too. G would be the new lowest note; C and E would be an octave higher. All those combinations are by definition C major chords. They're just inverted versions of the same chord. That's what we call chord inversions.

Don't worry if you can't read notation, I'll guide you through this. I do recommend you learn the basics, though; but that's another topic. These are the notation representations of what we just talked about. The possible arrangements of the same notes are the chord inversions. Notice how the notes remain the same:

We are basically flipping the notes, taking the bottom one and stacking it over the others. Each arrangement has its own name:

Root, 1st inversion and 2nd inversion.

On the guitar, this would look like this:

We've been using C Major as an example; any other chord has inversions, of any other key (D, E, F...) and any other type (minor, augmented, diminished...)!