Building Major Scale Chords | Beginner Guitar 101

Chord construction: how to build chords from the major scale. Quick Read for beginner and experienced guitar players

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Major scale guitar chords how chords are built c major key triad table beginner guitarist Chord Guide

Developing a basic knowledge of the theory behind how chords are put together will go a long way towards developing your guitar playing skills.

The major scale is the building blocks of chords. Each tone in the seven note major scale becomes a new root for new a chord. We call these scale degrees.

In this quick lesson, you will learn how the chords in the key of C major are formed.

For some background knowledge, in case you didn't know, here are the notes in the key of C major:

C Major scale = C - D - E - F - G - A - B

Take a look at the table below showing you how the chords are constructed in this key:

Pro Tip: Once you know the types of chords found in the C major key, the rules apply to all musical keys. Just change the starting (root) note.

Building Chords major scale chords in the key of c major beginner guitar lesson

Fig 1.1 - Building chords - how the major scale notes become the building blocks for creating 7 chords known as triads.

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Building Chords

The chords in a major key are collectively called triads. Triads are three note chords that are created by layering 2 notes on top of a root. Each note is an interval of a third away from the next. 

The 3rd interval separating the notes in a triad is either a major third (4 semitones apart - M3), or minor third (3 semitones apart - m3).

Here's a run down of how the 7 chords in the key of C Major are constructed:

The first chord in the key is made by starting on the C root note and layering two thirds. The first third (between notes C-E) is a major third, the second (between notes E-G) is a minor third.

The chord formula for a major triad is 1-3-5:

Chord degree 1: C major chord (triad) = C - E - G 

We follow the same third layering idea to make the second chord of the major scale. You start on the second note along (D) which acts as the chord root, then add a minor third (F) and and a major third (A). This gives you the D minor chord.

The chord formula for a minor triad is 1-b3-5:

Chord degree 2: D minor chord (triad) = D - F - A 

Chord degree 3: E minor chord (triad) = E - G - B 

Chord degree 4: F major chord (triad) = F - A - C 

Chord degree 5: G major chord (triad) = G - B - D 

Chord degree 6: A minor chord (triad) = A - C - E 

The last chord in a major key is a diminished chord owing to the fact when you layer two thirds, they are both minor thirds. This gives us the chord formula of 1-b3-b5.

Chord degree 7: B diminished chord (triad) = B - D - F 

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