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Different chords and how to make music with them

This article is a lesson on using different chords and creating music with them. Chords are a fundamental part of music theory. Perfecting the chord theory down will make the voyage into music theory a smooth one.

Chords are the building blocks of music. You cannot add colors to a song with a single note. A decent chord progression is required to build and improvise. Chords are hence the first thing that music schools and coaching classes teach.

Chords and classifications

Chords are a group of notes played at a time or one after another. When played at a time, it is called "strumming" on a guitar and when you play notes of a chord one after another, it is called an arpeggio. In general terms, strumming is called playing a chord. There are two ways you can play pitches. You can either play chords or arpeggios. Wind instruments lack the advantage of playing a group of notes at once. String instruments do them the best.

Classification of chords

Before we move further, follow this lesson if you don't know what intervals are. From that last lesson, we came to know how to create a major scale with intervals.
Root, Major second, Major third, Perfect fourth, Perfect fifth, Major sixth and Major Seventh, all together make the major scale. For our purposes let us consider the terms scale and key as synonymous. If a chord only uses the notes of the key/scale, it is called a "Diatonic chord". Otherwise, it can be called a "borrowed" or a "substituted chord".

Following are the types of Diatonic chords:
  • Triads: These are chords with only three notes in them. They can be a major triad, Root, Major third and Perfect fifth. Or minor triad, Root, Minor third and Perfect fifth. They can be Suspended chords. Sus2 chords have Root, Major Second and Perfect fifth. Sus4 chords have Root, Perfect fourth and Perfect fifth. Though these are general trials used, you can use any combination you prefer. Music never decrees a rule. It just says what sounds generally musical. While Major and Minor triads evoke happy and sad emotions respectively, suspended chords evoke tension or sound directionless, as they lack a third interval to tell you what to feel.

    You notate major chords just with their name while you follow up a minor chord with m. Ex: A (A major chord). Am is the A minor chord. Asus2 and Asus4 are Suspended chords of A.
    Inversions of triads Triads are just three notes. But don't let that limit you. A chord usually has a bass note(the lowest note, usually the root) and a treble note( could be root, third or fifth). You can make the same chord sound different by swapping the positions they are played at.
    Example: A major is A, C# and E played together, with A as the bass note. A first inversion is where the third, C#, will become the bass note. A second inversion is where the fifth, E, is the bass note of the chord. There is a third inversion too, where you play the seventh of root, as a bass note. This way you can use a particular voicing of a chord and experiment with need.

  • Extended chords: Instead of sticking to just triads, you can add more notes to your basic triad. There are many types of extended chords.

    1. Seventh chords: Root, Major third, Fifth and Major seventh are major seventh chords. A maj7 is how a major chord is notated. A,C#,E and G# are the notes in this chord. Root, Minor third, fifth and minor seventh are the notes of minor seventh chords. Am7 is A,C,E,G. Dominant seventh chords have a minor seventh to a major triad. A7 is how it is donated. A.C#,E and G give a dominant seventh and it is a non-diatonic chord. G is a note that is not present in A major scale. You can also make Asus2(7) chord and Asus4(7) chord.

    2. Added chords: As the name says, you add a note from the scale to a major or minor or suspended triad. Add9 chords are simply the major second of root added to the triad but in higher octave. Confusing? Since an octave comprises of eight notes, the ninth note is the same as major second. The 11th note is the same as the fourth and so on. Cadd9 chord has C,E,G and D, where D is in a higher octave range. Cmadd9 has notes C,Eb, G and D. Cadd11 has notes C,E,G and F. Cmadd11 has notes C,Eb, G and F. Add13 chords exist too. Cadd13 is C,E,G and A. Cmadd b13 has notes C,Eb,G and Ab.
      These are some added chords -
      If C11 is the name of the chord, you are supposed to C,E,G,B and D at a time.
      If Cm11 is the name, C,Eb,G,Bb and D.
      If C13 is the name of the chord, you play C,E,G,B,D and A.
      If Cm b13, we play C,Eb,G,Bb,D and Ab.
      If C9 is the name, C,E,G,B and D. If Cm9, C,Eb,G,Bb and D.

    3. Those are the extended chords that are generally used. But you are free to experiment around in music always.

  • Dyads are chords with only two notes. In popular music, that comes in form of "power" chords. Power chords only have a root and fifth. This is a very strong sound and is used as signature move in punk rock, rock and roll and metal. You can also make octave chords. "A" can be played on two different registers, one high, one low, giving a droning effect.

How to use these music chords

A song rides at the back of the backing chord progression. For the beginners, it is advised to stay in a key throughout the song. Chords are notated in Roman numericals. Major chords are notated in capital and minor in small numbers.

I, ii, iii, IV, V, vi, VII0, are the chords of a major scale. Seventh chord of a key is called a half diminished chord. We will speak about it later. ii,iii and vi chords here are minor. Rest are major chords. Using these chord combinations one can lay down a good chord progression. If you are playing in the key/scale of C major, following are your chords: C major, D minor, E minor, F major, G major, A minor and B half diminished.

About the diminished chords (VII0) These chords don't sound very good on their own. They are a bit difficult to accommodate in music so they deserve a lesson on their own. B half diminished has the following notes, B, D, F and A.

These are the general directions and information regarding chords. Generally chord progressions start with the root chord, but one is always free to experiment. And remember, you always play a chord with all notes together or arpeggiate it, playing notes one after another. I hope this brief lesson on chords was helpful.


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