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How to build chords – Beginner to pro

Understanding how to build chords is one of the most important things you can learn as a songwriter or beat maker. Chords are when multiple notes are played at the same time. The emotional foundation chords provide is what gives a song its vibe. Don’t worry if you’re unfamiliar with music theory — These are the tricks to make chord building easy as 1-2-3!

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An interval is the distance between two notes and chords are usually built by stacking notes at different intervals. You can count the intervals up and down the keyboard in steps known as semitones.

The confusing part is that the name of an interval can be a different number from the number of semitones, this is because it’s based on the scale position. For instance, a major third is on the third position on a major scale. In this guide, intervals will be broken up into smaller intervals, so all you need to remember are these intervals:

  • Major second = 2 semitones
  • Minor third = 3 semitones
  • Major third = 4 semitones
  • Perfect fourth = 5 semitones

By stacking these intervals, you can create almost any chord. The starting note is typically called the root, this note will also give the chord its name. For instance, a chord starting on note C will be a C-chord. The following notes will determine if it’s a C major, C minor, C diminished, etc.

Any other intervals mentioned in this guide, such as perfect fifth, minor seventh, major seventh, and major ninth, will be in referring to the different notes of the chords in relation to the root, but you don’t have to remember the total number of semitones.

Basic chords

The most common chord types are major and minor chords. These are both triads, which means they have three notes each and are built with intervals of thirds (3 or 4 semitones). The lowest and highest notes stay the same for both major and minor chords but the middle note is different by 1 semitone.

Two other triads, that are less common because of their dissonance, are diminished and augmented chords. You can ignore these two chord types as a beginner unless you’re feeling adventurous.

Major chords [Beginner]

  1. 1
    Root: start on any note
  2. 2
    Major third: count up 4 semitones
  3. 3
    Perfect fifth: count up 3 semitones

Major chords sound happy.

  • C major

Minor chords [Beginner]

  1. 1
    Root: start on any note
  2. 2
    Minor third: count up 3 semitones
  3. 3
    Perfect fifth: count up 4 semitones

Minor chords sound sad.

  • C minor

Diminished chords [Intermediate]

  1. 1
    Root: start on any note
  2. 2
    Minor third: count up 3 semitones
  3. 3
    Diminished fifth: count up 3 semitones

Diminished chords sound scary. A diminished fifth means the fifth is lowered by 1 semitone.

  • C diminished

Augmented chords [Pro]

  1. 1
    Root: start on any note
  2. 2
    Major third: count up 4 semitones
  3. 3
    Augmented fifth: count up 4 semitones

Augmented chords sound mysterious. An augmented fifth means the fifth is raised by 1 semitone.

  • C augmented

Chord sets

There is a simple trick to get seven triad chords that work great together. First, you need to select a major or minor key. Major and minor keys have seven-note scales, and all notes form the foundation of a chord each. For example, in the key of C major, we have the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, and B (all the white notes.)

  1. 1
    Root: start on any scale note
  2. 2
    Second: skip
  3. 3
    Third: add to the chord
  4. 4
    Fourth: skip
  5. 5
    Fifth: add to the chord

If you do this with every scale note, you automatically get all the chords of the key. In C major, the chords would be C major, D minor, E minor, F major, G major, A minor, and B diminished (C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am, and Bdim for short.)

  • Triad chords

Chord chart

Chord chart.png

Use this chord chart to see all chords in every major and minor key. To the left, you can see the major keys. To the right, you c