4.5 How Chords are made [basics]

How Chords are Made

This lesson will be a quick look at how chords are made. If you want to look at the advanced version with more  theory, click here.

Chords are made with 3 or more notes being played together. When we play these notes, they will give us a sound that is a lot thicker and more filling that a standard note. You may have seen some Open Chords or maybe played some, so we will look at them a little later.

For now, let’s look at the notes we can play together to make a chord.

The most popular chords are Major and Minor. Major chords sound ‘happier’ and will sound more together. The notes will all fit well and nothing will stand out to make the sound bad. This is great because our ears hear these and think: “Great, this sounds good and the notes work together, I am a happy set of ears!”

Minor chords are very close to Major chords with the notes we choose, the difference is one of the notes we play is lowered a semi-tone which makes it stand out a little bit. Since that note doesn’t completely fit with the rest of the chord, your ears can pick that up and think: “This doesn’t sound like the other chord, Something isn’t quite right, these ears are not as happy as they were earlier!”

Let’s have a look at an A Major Chord. The notes that work well with A (the notes in the Key of A):

A    B    C#    D    E    F#    G#

We now have a set of notes that all work with each other. We need to pick certain ones out that work with each other. There is a pattern that we can use to get a chord. It is called “Stacking Thirds” and while it sounds technical, it’s really easy to do. All we do is take the 3rd note and add it to the first one, so in this case we would start with A, then count up 3 notes (including the first one) and we land on C#. 

[insert diagram of this]

We do the same again starting on the C# and we land on E. We add these 3 notes together and we get A - C# - E, and we have our first chord!

This is a Major chord. If we match up that chord to the notes that work in A (the Key) and switch them to numbers we get 

1 - 3 - 5

That is the pattern for a major chord, no matter what key you start in. If we had the Key of C we would have the notes:

C    D    E    F     G    A    B

And if we use the 1 - 3 - 5 we get the chord:

C - E - G    C Major

If we look at Minor chords, they are very similar, but instead of 1 - 3 - 5, we flatten the 3rd, which means we use the same note but we drop it down a semi-tone.

If we look at our C Major chord and make it a C Minor, we would use the pattern:

1 - b3 - 5

And that would give us:

C - Eb - G

That flattened note sounds a little out of place to what our ears want to hear which gives it that ‘Minor’ and ‘sad’ sound.

Putting this on to a guitar, we just need to put the notes on the fret board and see which shapes we see. You just might find they match up to the open chord shapes you may have seen already…


There is only a small difference between Major and Minor chords and this is great news for us as guitarists because we will only have to move 1 finger in most cases. If we look at A Major above, and compare it to A Minor, we can see that the 3rd has been flattened. 

The important thing to take from this is that Major chords are made from the pattern 1 - 3 - 5 and Minor patterns are 1 - b3 - 5. As well as that, chords on the guitar are simply made by putting the notes in their group on the fret board and that makes the shapes we will use.

If we look back at our Key of C:

C    D    E    F    G    A    B

We can use the “stacking thirds” for every note in there. So lets add the third note to each of them and see where we get:


Now we have those notes, let’s do the same again to get 3 notes


We now have 7 chords, but the cool thing is all of these chords will work together every time. No matter what. We could write a song with these chords and they would always work together because they all use the same notes! This is what we call harmonising a scale but this is pretty advanced stuff for theory. For now, just know that the chords we play this way will always work with each other.