What is a major chord? A minor chord? What do all those numbers and letters and other symbols in a chord's name mean? Find out in this free mini-course.
All through this course we talked about moving notes to find diferent chords but we visually focused more on which fingers to use to play the chords than on the intervals themselves.
We said that an interval (3rd, 5th, 7th, etc.) is the distance of a note from the Root, the note that gives the name to the chord and we learned that we can have a Major or Minor third or seventh and a perfect or flat fifth. These are not the only 'movements' that the notes can make but they're enough for our purposes in this course.
If you want to know more about the relationship between intervals and chords you may want to check out this other minicourse.
Let's go back to our basic A major shape and see where all the intervals are with a different diagram.
The Root is the open 5th string and then we have a 5th on the 4th string, 2nd fret. On the third string we find an octave and on the second one we have the major third. Finally, on the first string, we get another perfect fifth.
As you can see, the intervals are not in ascending order and some of them are repeated but it's not a problem unless we consider the lowest and highest notes: if the lowest note is not the Root we have an 'inversion' and the sound will be different, a trick that with some experience we can really use to our advantage.
The highest note usually stands out and we can use different notes or shapes to create movement inside a single chord and transitioning from chord to chord, another cool arranging tool.
Moving the top most note in any of the three main open shapes (E, A and D) will have the same, important consequence: changing the character of the chord from Major to Minor or Suspended.
As we can see from the diagram for the Major chord, that note is the Major third and moving it back one fret will give us a minor third and a minor chord.
If we keep moving backwards, we will lose the third altogether and end up with a Sus 2 (or Sus 9) chord (this is not possible with the E shape since the minor third is already an open string.
If we move the major third up one fret we'll get a Sus4 chord.
The note in the middle of the shape is an octave and moving it backwards one fret will transform it into a major seventh.
Keep moving backwards and what you get is a minor seventh and a Dominant (7th) chord.
Even though we only saw a limited number of chords we can actually move any note anywhere with the only limitation of the stretch of our hands and our tolerance to dissonant chords.
For example, we can move the octaveup two frets to get this cool, non suspended 9thchord.
It's a bit of a stretch but it sounds very nice and works for all three shapes. Please note that we moved the notes in the diagram, check the roman numbers for the correct fret position.
We can also move the lowest note, the fifth, but we have to be careful because we have another fifth in both the E and A shapes that could create unwanted dissonances… It is safe, though, to move it up two frets for a great sounding 6th chord.
So, to recap, in the three main open shapes the top note is a major third that we can move to a minorthird, second (ninth) or fourth (eleventh). The middle note is an octave that can be moved to a major or minor seventh (or even a sixth only in the D shape) and a ninth. It is less common to move the lowest note (perfect fifth) but we can transform it into a flat or sharp fifth provided we don't play the other fifth in the shape. It is safe to move it to a sixth.
These are the common movements of notes and intervals for the three shapes but we can also move the open strings where we can.
For the E and A shapes we can move the open fifth to a sixth and a seventh.
And only for the E shape we can move the higher octave to a ninth.
We don't have to repeat it all for the E and D shapes, I'll just put the basic major shapes and their intervals here for reference.
As we saw earlier, the C and G shapes are not this flexible but knowing where the different intervals are may help us memorize the different chords.
Be very careful because both shapes have multiple thirds and fifths (and roots/octaves, but that is not usually a problem) and there is a high risk of unwanted dissonances.
In the next chapter we're going to examine one last aspect of open chords.