Chord construction

Guitar Chord Construction - Theory And Basic Shapes - Essential Guide

This lesson explains how jazz chords are built and how to play them on guitar using common positions. This will help you understand, identify, build and play one of the most important types of chords.

All the shapes proposed in this tutorial are movable and playable anywhere on the fretboard. So, try to play them in all twelve keys.

To simplify learning, the voicings used in this course ensure that the root is always the lowest note, either on the sixth, fifth or fourth string. In other words, there are no chords with third, fifth, seventh or any other note in the bass.

Don't hesitate to create your own chord positions. In the meantime, take a look at the following essential chord shapes proposed below, classified into four distinct categories :

  • TRIADS
    • (major, minor, augmented, diminished, sus4 and sus2). 
  • SEVENTH CHORDS (aka tetrads)
    •  (maj7, min7, dom7, m7b5, dim7, minMaj7, maj7#5, 7b5, 7#5).
  • SIXTH CHORDS
    • (maj6, min6).
  • EXTENDED CHORDS
    •   (min9, maj9, 9, 6/9, 7#9, 7b9, m11, maj11, 11, m13, maj13, 13, 7b13)

Triad Chords

Triads are the most basic chords. As the name implies they contain only three notes. They are the backbone of many chords used in jazz and many other styles of music.

The most important are minor (min), major (maj), diminished (dim), augmented (aug) and suspended (2 and 4). Here are the most basic chord positions to play them on guitar.

Major Triads (maj)

Here are four basic major triad shapes with root in the bass to play on guitar. The formula is root (R), major third (3) and perfect fifth (5). 

Major-triads-guitar-chords

Minor Triads (min)

Minor triads are built with Root (R), minor third (b3) and perfect fifth (5). Here are four basic shapes. To get more triad positions go on the page about open and close triad voicings shapes.

Minor-triads-guitar-shapes

Augmented Triads (aug)

An augmented triad can be seen as a major triad whose fifth has been raised with by a semitone giving the formula Root (R), major third (3) and augmented fifth (#5). These chords are rarely used.

Augmented-triads-guitar

Diminished Triads (dim)

Diminished triads are minor chords with a flat fifth (b5) thus giving root (R), minor third (b3) and diminished fifth (b5). This triad is the basis for any diminished chord.

Diminished-triads-guitar

Suspended Fourth Triads (sus4)

There are no third in a suspended fourth triad, it is replaced by the fourth, thus producing a large, unstable an open sound. Free to you to resolve to a more stable chord.  The formula is Root (1), fourth (4) and fifth (5).

Suspended-fourth-triads-guitar-shapes

Suspended Second Triads (sus2)

These types of triads are made of root (R), major second (2) and perfect fifth (5). Just as sus4 chords there is no third but a second instead.

Suspended second triads for guitar

PDF Method (with audio) and Chord Poster

Seventh Chords / Tetrad Chords

Seventh chords, also called tetrads, contain four chord tones that are : Root, third (minor or major), fifth (perfect, augmented or diminished) and seventh (minor, major or diminished). Here are the most important guitar chord shapes and basic voicings to play them.

Major Seventh Chords (Maj7)

Major seventh chords are made of a major triad with an added major seventh giving the formula : root (R), major third (3), perfect fifth (5) and major seventh (7). You will find major seventh chords on the first (I) and fourth (IV) degree of the major scale. 

Major seventh guitar chords

Minor Seventh Chords (min7)

Minor seventh chords can be seen as minor triads with a supplementary note, the minor seventh (b7) thus giving the formula : Root (R), minor third (b3), perfect fifth (5) and minor seventh (b7).

Min7 chords are present in the harmonized major scale on the second (ii), third (iii) and sixth (vi) degree. On the fourth degree (iv) of the harmonic minor scale. On the third degree (iii) of the harmonic major scale and on the second (ii) of the melodic minor scale.

Minor seventh chords guitar shapes

Dominant Seventh Chords (7)

Like major seventh chords, dominant 7th are built based on major triads but with an additional minor seventh (b7). The formula is Root (R), major third (3), perfect fifth (5) and minor seventh (b7). It's a kind of miw between maj7 and min7 chords.

They can be found on the fifth degree (V) of the major scale, the harmonic major scale and the harmonic minor scale. And also on the degrees four (IV) and five (V) of the melodic minor scale.

Dominant seventh chords chart

Half-Diminished Chords (m7b5)

A half-diminished chord is a diminished triad with an extra minor seventh (b7). The formula is Root (R), minor third (b3), diminished fifth (b5) and minor seventh (b7). It is a minor seventh chord whose fifth has been lowered by a semitone.

You can find m7b5 chords on the seventh degree of the major scale, on the second degree of the harmonic minor scale, on the second degree of the harmonic major scale. On the sixth and seventh degrees of the melodic minor scale.

Half diminished chords for guitar

Diminished Seventh Chords (dim7)

A diminished 7 chord formula is Root (R), minor third (b3), diminished fifth (b5) and diminished seventh (bb7). It's a diminished triad with a supplementary diminished fifth.

Dim7 chords can be foudn on the seventh mode of the harmonic minor and harmonic major scales.

Diminished seventh guitar chord diagrams

Minor Major Seventh Chords (minMaj7)

The chord tones of a minMaj7 chord are Root (R), minor third (b3), perfect fifth (5) and major seventh (7). This is a minor triad with a major seventh.

Minor major seventh chords are associated with the I chord of minor II V I progressions. They have to be found on the first degree of the harmonic and melodic major scales.

Minor major seventh chords

Augmented Major Seventh Chords (Maj7#5) 

Augmented major seventh chords are maj7 chords with an augmented fifth thus giving the following chord tone formula : Root (R), major third (3), augmented fifth (#5) and major seventh.

They are found on the harmonized third degree of the harmonic minor scale and on the seventh degree of the harmonic major scale.

Augmented major seventh chords

Dominant Seventh Flat Fifth (7b5)

As its name implies, a dominant 7 flat 5 chord is a dominant chord with a lowered fifth. Scale degrees are : Root (R), major third (3), diminished fifth (b5) and minor seventh (b7). It is considered as being a diminished triad with a minor seventh.

7b5 are related to 7#11 chords because they have notes in common so the positions on guitar are very similare. But, in theory they are built differently, dom7#11 chords are made of six chord tones (1, 3, 5, b7, 9, #11) in comparison with 7b5 chords that are made of only four notes (1, 3, b5, b7). 

Dominant seventh flat fifth chords

Dominant Seventh Sharp Fifth (7#5)

7#5 chords are dominant chords with an augmented fifth, in other words, they are augmented triads with a b7. The chord tone pattern is Root (R), major third (3), augmented fifth (#5) and minor seventh (b7).

Dom7#5 guitar chord shapes are very similar to 7b13 because they share four chord tones that are 1, b3, #5 (same as b13) and b7.

Dominant seventh sharp fifth chords

Sixth Chords

A sixth chord (also called added sixth chord) is a triad with a supplementary sixth. It can be minor 6 or major 6, here are the main common guitar positions.

Major Sixth Chords (6)

Major sixth chords formula is Root (1), major third (3), perfect fifth (5) and major sixth (6). It is a major triad with a sixth. They can be used as substitutions for major seventh chords (depending on the musical context). Here are four positions to play them on guitar.

Major sixth chords guitar

Minor Sixth Chords (min6)

Minor sixth chords are built with a minor triad and an added major sixth giving the formula Root (R), minor third (b3), perfect fifth (5) and major sixth (6). In comparison with major sixth chords, the third is minor (b3). 

Minor sixth guitar chords

Extended Chords

Extended chords are chords with notes above the octave as the ninth (9), eleventh (11) and thirteenth (13). The main extended chords are min9, 9, maj9, 11, min11, 13 and min13. Here are some usual guitar shapes.

Minor Ninth Chords (m9)

Theoretically m9 chords are made of fifth notes that are Root (1), minor third (b3), perfect fifth (5), minor seventh (b7) and ninth (9). These are actually minor seventh chords extended with a major ninth. 

Because it is physically difficult to play these five notes on guitar, the fifth can be ommited.

Minor 9 chords should not be confused with minadd13 chords that are simply minor triads with an added ninth.

Minor ninth guitar chords

Major Ninth Chords (Maj9)

Major ninth chords can be seen as major seventh chords plus a major ninth giving the chord tones : Root (1), major third (3), perfect fitth (5), major seventh (7) and ninth (9). These are actually major seventh chords extended with a major ninth. Here are four main guitar voicing shapes.

Major ninth guitar chord voicing shapes

Dominant Ninth Chords (9)

Dom9 chords should not be confused with major ninth chords. They contain a minor seventh (b7). The chord tone formula is therefore ;  Root (1), major third (3), perfect fitth (5), minor seventh (b7) and ninth (9). Just as min9 and maj9 chords, the fifth is not played in the following guitar diagrams (except for last shape, free to you to play it).

Ninth guitar chord positions

Sixth Ninth Chords (6/9)

The name of the chord is explicit, 6/9 chords are sixht chords with an added ninth. The formula is Root (R), major third (3), perfect fifth (5), sixth (6) and ninth (9). As it is shown below in the chart, the fifth or the third can be leaved out in order to facilitate the fingering.

 Sixth ninth chords guitar

Dominant Seventh Augmented Ninth Chords (7#9)

There are two ways of altering the ninth of a dominant chord. The first is to raise it with a semitone giving a dominant seventh chord with an added #9. The formula is : Root (1), major third (3), perfect fifth (5), minor seventh (b7), augmented ninth (#9). 

Here are three basic 7#9 shapes to play on guitar. You can notice that the fifth is ommited in the first two shapes.

Dominant seventh augmented ninth chords

Dominant Seventh Flat Ninth Chords (7b9)

The second way of altering the ninth of a dominant chord is to lower it with a semitone. The scale degrees are : Root (1), major third (3), perfect fifth (5), minor seventh (b7), diminished ninth (b9). 

Dominant seventh flat ninth chords

 

Minor Eleventh Chords (min11)

A minor 11 chord is a minor seventh chord extended with a ninth and an eleventh. Theoretically the formula would be : Root (1), minor third (b3), perfect fifth (5), minor seventh (b7), major ninth (9) and eleventh (11).

As guitarists, it is difficult to play the sixth tones of an eleventh chord. So some chord tones must be removed in order to simplify the fingering while keeping the most important tones that makes the sound of the eleventh chord.

As shown in the shapes below, the fifth and the ninth have been removed. It means that the chords in the chart below can be renamed min7add11.

Minor eleventh chords for guitar

Major Eleventh Chords (Maj11)

Theoretically major 11 chords are major seventh chords with two added chord tones, the ninth and the eleventh giving the formula : Root (1), major third (3), perfect fifth (5), major seventh (7), major ninth (9) and eleventh (11). 

In practice this is different, as the guitar diagrams proves it is necessary to leave out some chord tones that are generally the fifth and the ninth.

Major eleventh guitar chord chart

Dominant Eleventh Chords (11)

Dominant eleventh chords are dominant 7 chords with an added ninth and eleventh. The theoretical formula is Root (1), major third (3), perfect fifth (5), minor seventh (b7), major ninth (9) and eleventh (11).

Once again it is very hard to play all the sixth tones of the chord on guitar. Some notes must be omitted as shown in the shapes below. 

Dominant eleventh chords guitar

Minor Thirteenth Chords (m13)

The chord tone formula for minor 13 chords is Root (1), minor third (b3), perfect fifth (5), minor seventh (b7), ninth (9), eleventh (11) and thirteenth (13). They can be seen as minor seventh chords with three added notes (9, 11, 13).

Minor thirteenth guitar chords chart

Major Thirteenth Chords (Maj13)

When adding the ninth, eleventh and thirteenth to a major seventh chord you get a major thirteenth chord so the following shapes and formula : Root (1), major third (3), perfect fifth (5), major seventh (7), ninth (9), eleventh (11) and thirteenth (13).

Major thirteenth chords

 

 

Dominant Thirteenth Chords (13)

Dominant thirteenth chords are dominant tetrad chords with three extra notes (ninth, eleventh and thirteenth). The theoretical chord tone formula is root (1), major third (3), perfect fifth (5), minor seventh (b7), major ninth (9), eleventh (11), thirteenth (13).

Dominant thirteenth chord shapes guitar

Dominant Seventh Flat Thirteenth (7b13)

7b13 chords are extended dominant seventh chords with an altered tone, the thirteenth lowered by a semitone. They have an important place in minor 2 5 1 sequence because they are generally used to enrich the V7 chord.

Dominant 7 flat thirteenth chords

 

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