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Guitar Chord Construction: tying it all together

Alright! We're ready to get to making some chords. Let's take a moment to establish exactly what a chord is. A chord is the sound of mulitple notes ringing out simultaneously. When you hear a song on the radio, you may hear the guitar playing throughout the song behind the vocals. We call this rhythm, and it usually consists of chords. The leads are usually played with scales. With the major scale we looked at thus far, you play one note at a time. With chords, you will be playing several notes simultaneously. Now you may be thinking that your attempts to play the major scale have often resulted in the sounding out of multiple notes despite your best intentions, and that these multiple notes may not have sounded so great. Well, keep practicing your major scale, and let's look at how to make some pleasant multiple-note sounds!

Just like we have a major scale ( as opposed to a minor scale or diminished scale), we also have major sounding chords. These chords are built out of the notes of the major scales, and share the names of the keys of the scales. Since the C major scale has no sharps or flats, this is a good scale to build a starter chord from.

We will construct a basic C Major chord by using the first, third, and fifth interval notes of the C major scale. If you remember our previous discussion of intervals, the first interval in C major will be C, of course. The third interval will be E, and the fifth interval will be G. So we need to play C, E, and G notes simultaneously to get the sound of a C major chord. There are several ways to accomplish this on the fretboard. We will start with the C major in the open position.

C major chord chart

Notice the C note on the fifth string, 3rd fret. This will be our first note in the C Major chord, or just C chord for shorthand. We still need an E and a G, and we need them in locations that we can fret all three simultaneously within the limits of finger stretchability. So, look at the third string, 2nd fret, for an E note. If we place the ring finger on the C and the middle finger on the E, we have two of the three notes we need for a C chord. All we need is a G. Guess what? The third string played open is a G note! There it is, our first chord, C major! But wait, we fill out the sound of the chord, because there are a couple of other places within easy reach that we can get some more of the notes in this chord. Put your index finger on the second string, 1st fret. This is a C note. Now remember that the open first string is an E note, so you can include that one in your C chord. So there you have it. Drag the pick across the fifth through first string, holding the notes where appropriate as listed above, and you are playing the most common version of the C major chord, open position. Congratulations!

Now, all we need is a couple of more chords and we will have a chord progression that is starting to sound a lot like music! Let’s look at a couple of more chords that fit musically with the C major chord. Remember that the basic major chord is built out of the 1, 3, and 5 intervals of the major scale associated with that chord. So, the G Major chord or G, will be consist of G (1), B (3), and D (5). Put your ring finger on the sixth string, 3rd fret to get your bass G note. Now, place the ring finger on the fifth string, 2nd fret for the B note. Fourth string open is a D, no problem there. Now you have a G major chord. Let’s go ahead and fill the chord out for a fuller sound. Third string open is a G note, easy enough. Second string open is a B note, great! Now for the hard part. Put your pinky finger on the first string, 3rd fret, for another G note. Now rake the strings with your other hand, and there you have the common form of the G major chord, open position!

You may have noticed by now that your fingers are saying, "forget it, I can't do that." Well, you just ignore your fingers and keep trying. They will come around, just keep trying. Everyone goes through this, it is a normal part of the process of learning to play guitar.

F and G chord charts

We need one more chord to have a progression that sounds like music. The next chord for this progression will be the F Major, or just F for shorthand. We make an F the same way we made the other two: first, third, and fifth intervals out of the F major scale. F is our bass note and first interval. Our third interval note is A, and the fifth interval note is C. This is a tough chord for a beginner, just do the best you can and keep trying! We get the first interval F note on the fourth string, 3rd fret, with the ring finger. The next note is the third interval A on the third string, 2nd fret, with the middle finger. Now the hard part. The fifth interval C note is on the second string, 1st fret, with the index finger. So far, so good? Now, lay the first finger over and grab the F note on the first string, 1st fret. Most new players have trouble with that one, but it will come to you if you practice. You want every note to sound out clearly, so keep working on it and it will work!

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