One of the most critical and often overlooked aspects of music is music theory. While it is not the most glamorous part of the music-making process, it is crucial, and without it, you will be shooting in the dark as you try to arrange your songs and produce your beats.
There are a lot of parts that play a role in music theory, but the most basic and probably the most important is building chords. Not understanding this theory can leave your music aimless and without melody.
That is why we thought a refresher course on the basic chords could be handy not only for new musicians but for experienced ones as well.
So, tune-up your instrument and get ready for a crash course in chords.
Chords – What are They?
String multiple harmonic notes together, and you will have a chord. The basics are usually constructed of at least three notes and are started with the root note. Then you can string together the other two notes to form the chord that you want based on chord quality.
Chords can be built with any number of notes, but the more notes you use, the more of a resonant mess you will have on your hands. You are better off stringing multiple chords together rather than creating one big chord.
In other words, your song’s foundation is built of these chords, and the stronger they are, the better tonal quality your song will have.
It is also true that most people recognize certain chords that help them connect with the melody. Now that you understand this, we will move on.
What are Intervals?
Another key concept you need to understand when building chords are intervals in music. These are the relationship from note to note in music. This means when boiled down to the basic’s chords are intervals combined in varying forms.
In fact, if you change the intervals, you will see a significant change in the sound quality of the chord. This is because of semi-tones.
Semi-tones relate the space between two notes on the pitch lines. When you are working on a guitar, you will be able to find the semi-tone by the frets.
Understanding tones and semi-tones will help you grasp the fact that chords shape and support the melody. And the chords are supported by semi-tones.
Now that you have a basic understanding of all of that, let’s look at the four basic chords used in music.
These chord types also called chord qualities to use three notes each. There are vast variations as each scale will have chords. For instance, you can build chords in the key of A, and they will be different from the chords crafted in the key of C.
Even with that, you can still lump all the variations in 4 categories:
These chords have the fullest sounds and are the basis of many major hits and iconic songs.
These chords are constructed using intervals in a major third and a perfect fifth above the starting note.
To get the major third interval, you will look at the space between the starting note and the four semi-tones that are situated above it.
Now to get the third note, the perfect fifth is found by following the seven semi-tones above the starter note. If you combine this, you will get a major chord.
These chords sound supremely different than the major chords we just looked at. Instead, most feel that these are the sad or contemplative chords. These chords elicit emotions easily.
These chords are constructed by adding a minor third (or three semi-tones) to a perfect fifth above the starter note.
These are the chords that you often hear used in horror or thriller soundtracks. They create tension and dissonance that has your hair standing on end.
These are constructed by adding a minor third and a tritone to the starter note. Tritones are a compilation of six semi-tones.
These are the chords you may hear in a sci-fi movie. They are eerie and a bit weird and attack your nerves, getting you ready for something strange to happen.
These may be the rarest of the basic chords. They are constructed like major chords but with a raised fifth. A raised fifth may also be called a minor sixth and consists of 8 semi-tones that are above the starter note.
Now that you have a basic understanding of chords, you can begin to build with them. The best thing to do with this information gets using it on your particular instrument. This will give you practical experience with chord placement.
If your instrument plays notes individually, then you may want to take your time and perform each note of the chord individually until you’re comfortable. Then begin to put them together faster and faster until you have the chord down.
This will help you get used to applying what you have just earned until you are a pro.
Building Your Tool Kit
Here are a few extra chords that can help you build out your tool kit and craft beautiful melodies.
These chords are soft and gentle and lend a jazzy feel to a melody.
These chords are constructed by stringing together a starter note, a major third, a perfect 5th, and a major 7th.
These are very moody and find themselves firmly in between both the major and minor chords.
It is constructed with a starter note, a minor third, a perfect 5th, and a minor 7th.
These chords are popular in jazz and blues. Its construction is powerful and offers a sense of high energy.
It is constructed of a starter note, a major third, a perfect 5th, and a minor 7th.
Chords tend to be constructed with starter notes attached to a major chord which in turn is attached to a major second instead of a major third.
This chord is constructed using a starter note, a major third, a perfect 5th, a minor/flat 7th, and a major 9th.
This is built with a starter note combined with a major third, a perfect fifth, a major 7th, a major 9th, and an 11th.
How to Use the Chords
Now that you understand the fundamentals of chords, you can begin to build out melodies and play with more advanced chord progressions.
Chord progressions are when you string together multiple chords to create a melody. Depending on the music, this can be very repetitive and easy or unique and complicated.
There are many chords that new musicians’ practice and one of the easiest in the 12-bar blues chord.
Once you have mastered that one, you will be able to get down into the weeds and really craft chords that are unique to your style.
Just remember they don’t have to be long or hard to make a good melody. In truth, many of the most memorable songs use two-chord progression.
The best thing to do is just to start experimenting until you find your style and chords that make your style sing.
Steps to Training Your Ear
Now that you know how to lay, then learning to hear them is a logical next step. This may take a lot of practice, but you can train your ear to discern the chords.
Here are three easy steps that if repeated regularly, will have you being able to dissect any melody you hear.
- The first thing is to listen and recognize. This is the one step that may take the longest as there are so many variations of chords, but with patience, you will be able to build your skills.
- Once you have your ear trained, you will want to begin singing the chords. Doing this over and over will have your ear learning the key which will help further your skills.
- This step has you putting all of the steps above together to dissect the chord. At this step, you will be able to pick out the 3rd or the 7th out with ease.
This still can help you in so many ways that once you have mastered chord progression, we definitely suggest that you take the next step and begin listening with intent to whatever music you can get your ears on.
This may be a process that takes you a while, but by making an effort to improve your chord skills, you will be able to craft better melodies. This will lead to more unique and rich songs and will get much easier the more you do it.
Making sure to practice playing, building, and hearing chords will make you a better and more rounded musician.
By building these skills eventually you will not only be able to bud your own melodies, but you will be able to simply hear a song and then play it without having to have the sheet music in front of you.
This will make you a better musician and a big hit at parties for sure!