The Empowered Musician The Infinite Guitar
Harmony - The Rules of Chord Construction
Published November 28th, 2002. © Chris Juergensen/chrisjuergensen.com. All Rights Reserved.

Chord Construction Formulas - The following construction rules should help you to learn how to build any chord you want. If this stuff is new to you, simply write out a C major scale and stack and alter the extensions to create any of the chords you desire. Remember the order is not mandatory, you don't have to stack the chords in 3rds. Ex: stacked in thirds: maj7#11 (1 3 5 7 #11), stacked randomly: maj7#11 (1 5 3 #11 7). Experiment with different voicings and have fun finding new sounds. Extensions written in parenthesis can be omitted freely.


triads
5
5
b5
#5
3
b3
b3
3
1
1
1
1
maj
min
dim
aug
 
Triads: Triads are three note chords (a music theory text book will probably state that a chord must have at least three notes to be considered a chord). Any of the notes can be repeated and the order of the notes makes no difference (just a matter of taste). Triads are often played above a bass note that is not present in the triad itself. This technique creates what is known as a slash chord because a slash mark is used in the chord symbol. Ex: G/A (a G triad placed over an A bass note).

sus chords
5
5
4
2
1
1
sus4
sus2
 
Sus chords: In sus chords the 3rd is replaced with a 4th or a 2nd. Although this is the general rule, these days some musicians voice the chord with the natural 3rd included also. Best to be careful when including the 3rd with the 4th, they kind of rub together causing a dissonance but good voice leading or by arpeggiating the notes, you can make it work. As neither the sus4 and sus2 chords contain 3rds, they sound a bit more ambiguous and can replace minor chords as well as major and dominant chords in many situations.

7th chords
7
7
7
b7
b7
7
b7
b7
b7
b7
bb7
5
#5
b5
5
b5
5
5
5
#5
b5
b5
3
3
3
b3
b3
b3
3
4
3
3
b3
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
maj7
maj7#5
maj7b5
min7
min7b5
min/maj7
7
7sus
7#5
7b5
dim7
 
7th chords: 7 chords are four note chords. It may help you to think of them as triads with the extension of the 7th added on. You may want to figure out what triad the top three notes of a 7 chord make. Ex: C maj7#5 (C E G# B) = E/C (E triad over an C note).

6th chords
6
6
5
5
3
b3
1
1
6
min6
 

6th chords: A triad with an added major 6th. Since a 6 chord doesn't contain a 7th, this chord can function as either a major or a dominant chord. The only other thing you may want to keep in mind about the 6 chord is that if you rearrange the order of notes, it turns into a min7 chord. Ex: C6 (C E G A) = Amin7 (A C E G). The notes of the min6 chord can be rearranged to make a min7b5 chord. Ex: Amin6 (A C E F#) = F#min7b5 (F# A C E). For this reason, the min6 chord is a common substitution for a min7b5 chord. Try it yourself, any time a min7b5 chord shows up in a song, play a min6 chord a min3 above it. Ex: F#min7b5 = Amin6, Bmin7b5 = Dmin6, etc..

 
Rule: a 6 and a 13 are the same note, so what's the difference between a 6 chord and a 13 chord? Simple; a 6 chord contains no 7th while a 13 chord contains a 7th. Some textbooks may state that where the 6th is placed also makes a difference (placed above the octave makes it a 13th) but I don't buy it.

9th chords
9
9
9
9
9
9
9
9
b9
#9
b9
#9
b9
#9
9
b9
7
-
6
b7
-
6
b7
b7
b7
b7
b7
b7
b7
b7
b7
b7
5
5
5
5
5
5
b5
5
5
5
b5
b5
#5
#5
5
5
3
3
3
b3
b3
b3
b3
3
3
3
3
3
3
3
4
4
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
1
maj9
add9
69
min9
minadd9
min69
min9b5
9
7b9
7#9
7(b5,b9)
7(b5,#9)
7(#5,b9)
7(#5,#9)
9sus
b9sus
 
9th chords: I've included chords with and without altered extensions.
 
Remember: 9ths are the same as 2nds. Also, you may from time to time run into a chord with both a raised and lowered 9th. Ex: E7(b9,#9).
 
Rule: Without a 7th present in the voicing, the 9 chord turns into an add9 chord. Ex: maj9 (1 3 5 7 9), add9 (1 3 5 9).

11th chords
#11
11
#11
(9)
(9)
(9)
7
b7
b7
5
5
5
3
b3
3
1
1
1
maj7#11
min11
7#11
 
11th chords: When chords get this big you may have to leave some notes out. An 11 chord doesn't need a 9th. After that the 5th will not change the quality of the chord so it can technically be left out. If you are playing with a bassist you won't need to play the root (some bass players actually get mad at you if you play roots at all).
 
Remember: 11ths are the same as 4ths.
 
Rule: technically a major 3rd and natural 11th (4th) can not be included in the same chord (They kind of rub together being so close and all). For this reason, when a major 3rd is present in the chord the 11th gets raised to a #11th. The 3rd can also be omitted, this will however turn the chord into a sus4 chord (when a 3rd is not present, the 11th is considered a 4th). Ex: 7#11 (1 3 5 b7 #11), 7sus4 (1 4 5 b7). For this reason I consider the lydian mode the perfect major scale because the raised 11th doesn't rub against anything. When dealing with the major scale you have to be careful of the natural 4th, but by building chords using the lydian mode, anything goes. The rule about 4ths don't apply to minor chords, the min 3rd doesn't get in the way of anything so don't even worry about it.
 
Breaking the Rules: Although the natural 3rd and 4th technically can't be included in the same major or dominant chord, you can pull it off by placing the 4th in a different octave, either above or below the 3rd and it will keep them from rubbing together. It will create a few naming problems but it still can be done. Try these voicings from the 5th string and you'll see what I mean: C add4 (C F G C E) or B7#9(11) (B D# A D E). Your ear is the final judge on these matters.

13th chords

13
13
13
13
13
13
(#11)
(11)
(#11)
(#11)
(#11)
-
(9)
(9)
(9)
b9
#9
(9)
7
b7
b7
b7
b7
b7
5
5
5
5
5
5
3
b3
3
3
3
4
1
1
1
1
1
1
maj13
min13
13
13b9
13#9
13sus
 
13th chords: The biggest of all the chords. All scale notes are included. Feel free to omit the 11ths, 9ths, 5ths and roots (when a bassist is present).
 
Remember: 13ths are the same as 6ths.
 
Rule: As I stated before, without a 7th present, the 13th is considered a 6th.

Have a question or a suggestion for a lesson, e-mail chris.
Click here to get an e-mail everytime a new lesson is posted.
If this lesson was just what you were looking for, consider making a donation. Only through your support are they made possible.
 

Rather than a donation, help support these free lessons by buying one of Chris' CDs, you'll be happy you did!

Information on the newly published, 266 page "THE INFINITE GUITAR" based on these lessons.
Information on the newly published book, "THE EMPOWERED MUSICIAN" based on these articles.