Chord Cheat Sheet

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How many different chords do
you have to know?  Probably
not as many as you think. 
Below are examples of the chords
I will regularly talk about.  
By the way, you will not see
simple triads here because they
are rarely used.  You are
going to learn that we are
almost always going to add a 6th
or 7th to every chord.

In the examples, I will give
the basic chord and then an
example of how it might be
voiced in a song.  In the
parenthesis, I will also tell
you how these chords are
named–sometimes there are
multiple ways.

Major 7th (CMaj7)

The major 7th chord is a
major triad with a major 7th
added.  The major 7th is
the note that is a half step
lower than the root of the
chord.  For a C chord, the
major 7th is a B natural.

Dominant (C7)

A dominant chord looks just
like a major 7th except the 7th
is lowered a half step and is
called a minor 7th.  It is
the note that is a whole step
lower than the root of the
chord.  For a C chord, the
minor 7th is Bb.  Note that
the 5th is missing from the
second example–I rarely play
the 5th in a dominant chord, and
it is not needed.

Minor 7th (C-7,
Cmin7)

A minor 7th chord is a minor
triad with a minor 7th added. 
It looks just like the dominant
chord except the 3rd is lowered
a half step.

Major 6 or Minor 6 (C6,
Cmin6)

A major or minor 6 chord
simply has a major 6th added to
it.  In a C chord (major or
minor), the 6th is A natural.  If you are wondering, yes,
this does look like A minor 7 in first inversion, and if you want to
call it that, feel free. However, in modern harmony, chords are rarely
labeled as inversions because they too complex to invert.

Diminished 7th (C,
Cdim)

A diminished chord is simply
four notes that are all a minor
third apart.  Sorry about
the double flat–that is
technically correct and
demonstrates that the notes are
a third apart.  However, in
real life, you are likely to see
diminished chords written in a
more readable way such as in the
second example (The A natural is
written rather than B double
flat).

Half Diminished 7th (Cmin7(b5),
Co)

A half diminished chord is a
minor 7th chord with a lowered
5th.  So, the first three
notes are a minor third apart
and the fourth note is a major
third higher than the third
note.

Believe it or not, those are
all the chords we need to talk
about right now.
 

Read this: It will clear a
lot of things up.

I wish someone had told me a
long time ago what I am about to
tell you.  Study this
section carefully.

While the chords you see in a
piece of music might appear
complex, most of the time, they
fit naturally into the key. 
What does this mean? 
Consider the chart below. Also, remember that we use
capital roman numerals for major chords and lower case roman numerals
for minor chords.

This chart shows the natural
7th chords for each tone of a
scale.  Note that there are
no accidentals–each chord is
just built with four notes a
third apart and whether each
third is minor or major is based
on the normal notes in the
scale.

Assuming that almost every
chord you use will be a 7th
chord (and they will be once you
get used to using them), note
that the chord number determines
what kind of 7th chord you
normally are going to play. 
For example, if you see a D
chord in a song written in C
major, it is most likely to be a
minor 7th chord.  If you
see a major IV chord, the
seventh is likely to be major
rather than minor.

According to the chart, I and
IV chords are Major 7th chords,
the V chord is dominant, and the
ii, iii, and vi chords are minor
7th chords.  The vii chord
is half diminished.  Are
there exceptions?  Of
course.  But get used to
choosing your chords based on
this chart.  One very
useful takeaway is that you will
usually use a minor 7th rather
than a major 7th unless the
chord is a I or IV.

One more important thing

Depending on who you talk to,
you may know that there are
sixty or more different possible
chords to play.  In this
lesson, I have only gone over a
few of them. 

Do we need to cover more
chords?  Yes, but the ones
I have just given you summarize
all of them.  We are going
to extend these basic chords in
a lot of ways and each one of
those variations is technically
its own chord. 

Here is what I mean by this. 
I may tell you to play an F7 at
a certain place in a song. 
When I say that, you can play a
plain F7.  Or you might
choose to play an F7 with an
added 9th or maybe a flat 9th. 
Perhaps you will add a flat 9th
and a 13th.  That choice is
up to you. 

When you add this level of
complexity, you can see how
these chords can quickly grow to
a very large number. 
Within the next few weeks, I am
going to extend this lesson to
another page to cover this topic
in more detail.

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Latest Comments

  • Josh

    GREG,
    I ACTUALLY NEED MATERIALS ON ALL CHORDS FOR EVERY KEY.DO THIS AND I’LL BE GRATEFULL.
    THANKS.
    JOSH.

  • Josh, that sounds like an excellent exercise for each of us to do for ourselves! What a way to hard-wire this theory into our brains!

    Yes, thank you Greg for your comprehensive but accessible teaching. I recommended your course this evening for a budding accompanist who is interested in theory.

    God bless you and all the lives you touch!

  • carene

    Hi,
    Thank you so much for all your teaching. I have been able to learn a lot from all the videos you put up on this website.
    God bless !!

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