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#1 2013-12-06 18:15:24

Junior Member
Registered: 2013-12-05
Posts: 2

Understanding major, minor, augmented and diminished

Hello everyone, I just joined up. I've been a casual acoustic guitar picker since my teenage years and I'll soon apply for Medicare. So I've got the callouses and the finger moves you get from years of experience. But I have no formal training. I just play for my enjoyment.

However, I would be interested in understanding the what's and whys behind the make-up of a guitar chord. I have a very long way to go to understanding music theory terms. I just play the chords as I learn finger positions on the fretboard. I picked up the guitar to play the A chord. Then I played the scale. A B C# D E F# G# A. But I know the scale simply because it sounds right. Not because of the math or theory behind what determines which notes belong in it. The terms major, minor, augmented and diminished are just words I see as chord labels so far. I do not understand why they're called major, minor, augmented and diminished. What makes them that?  And the numbers too? Like in a 7 chord.



#2 2013-12-06 19:54:35

From: Bellevue, WA
Registered: 2006-06-15
Posts: 3032

Re: Understanding major, minor, augmented and diminished

A couple of general rules (meaning that they aren't always true, but for these purposes will work for you)

You will hear a lot of folks tell you that a minor chord is a "major with a flattened third" and an augmented chord is a "sharpened fifth" but I've found that to be a whole lot of information to keep track of.

So I remember it this way.

All of your chords are derived from scales.   They will generally be the first, third, and fifth notes.   Chords with a '7' in them will add in the 7th note of the scale as well.

As an example, lets look at C major.

The scale is C D E F G A B

As a chord, that's C E G - the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes.

A minor -

Scale is  A B C D E F G

Chord is  A C E, again, the 1st, 3rd, and 5th.

Scales is where it's at.  They're pretty much the foundation of everything, including the chord structures.

Someday we'll win this thing...



#3 2014-04-14 19:28:12

Lee Wanner
Junior Member
From: Hollywood, CA
Registered: 2014-04-14
Posts: 21

Re: Understanding major, minor, augmented and diminished

Hey, DVC!

Jerome's answer was spot on! I'd like to give your question a shot, too... just in case I am able to add anything helpful.

People convert the letters into numbers, or rather intervals, because although the letters change for every key, the intervals of chords and scales do not. For example:


Two notes are cannot be a chord because they are only an interval, so the fundamental foundation of a chord must be three notes. Also chords can only be built by stacking thirds. This means that the most basic chord possible is a triad, meaning: 1-3-5 (Root-third-fifth).

Now the root can never change, but the 3rd and 5th can. So that gives us these variations.

Maj: R-3-5
Min: R-b3-5
Dim: R-b3-b5
Aug: R-3-#5

Augmented triads are kind of rare; but if you wanna hear a good example, check the intro to "Stardust" by Nat King Cole.
Diminished chords are a lot more common; they often act as transitions between diatonic chords. Check out the Jazz standard "Bewitched" as an example.

Now, about the 7... The seven is just following the formula used to find triads, stacking 3rds.

Most common 7th chords:
Maj7 chord: 1-3-5-7
Min7 chord: 1-b2-5-b7
(Dom)7 chord: 1-3-5-b7

Notice that those 7th chords are built from the Maj and Min triads. Other 7th chords can be build from Dim and Aug triads.

So now about the 9, 11, 13... you may have noticed that while stacking thirds, we skipped over the 2, 4 and 6. A quick recap:
CDEFGABC = 12345678

Well 8 is the same as 1 again, C and C. If we stack thirds beyond the point of 1-3-5-7, well moving a third over 7 will pass over 8 and lands at 9, which is the same as two... check it out, CDEFGABCD = 123456789. C is 1 also 8. D is 2 and also 9. A third above the 2/9 is 4/11. A third above 4/11 is 6/13.

9, 11 and 13 are considered extensions or scale tones. as where 1-3-5-7 are considered chord tones. Anything in between a chord tone and a scale tone are passing tones.

Hope that helps.

P.S. A quick tip, try adding a 9, just as an example, to any chord you play. It's never a "wrong" note, unless you are playing with someone who knows to altered a functioning Dom chord.

All the best, dudes! Check out my youtube channel if you want to see some videos with weird chord voicings (and normal ones too) and other lessons :-).

I make albums and lesson videos:



#4 2014-04-14 19:57:17

Tenement Funster
Senior Member
From: Nova Scotia, Canada
Registered: 2013-01-20
Posts: 630

Re: Understanding major, minor, augmented and diminished

Hello DVC ... welcome to Chrodie!

The material given by Jerome and Lee is excellent. Jerome has helped me understand some music theory questions in the past, for which I'm grateful. Here's another good online resource for this sort of thing:

One of the biggest barriers I've had in learning this stuff (and I'm a long ways away yet!) is simply the vocabulary. I've found that this site is a bit easier to understand than most. Like you, I'm a self-taught guitarist with almost zero formal training, can't read music, etc. Understanding music theory isn't essential to actually enjoying playing a guitar, but it's is necessary to make progress in ones abilities. In the long run, I suppose that in itself will increase the enjoyment.

Last edited by Tenement Funster (2014-04-14 21:01:31)

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#5 2014-04-14 20:36:03

Lee Wanner
Junior Member
From: Hollywood, CA
Registered: 2014-04-14
Posts: 21

Re: Understanding major, minor, augmented and diminished

Thanks, Funster!

Huge props to you guys for being able to tackle stuff on your own. These days with sweet forums and stuff on the internet - self-teaching, so to speak is made ultra viable.

I had always had private lessons and eventually went on to the Musicians Institute in CA and I can say this much in regard to music theory; it's worth really comes through after what I would call some kind of third stage.

1st stage - Attaining general understanding of what the heck is going on with all this mumbo jumbo.
2nd stage - Knowing it... and particularly, I should add, how to apply it. Focusing on it's usefulness as a tool, rather than as an end in itself.
3rd stage - "Forgetting it". Not literally, haha, but after truly internalizing this stuff it becomes unconscious and effortless.

Main point:
Knowing theory has been an invaluable asset to me as an artists who creates original music. Knowing the theory means that when I sit down, I know exactly how to achieve the effect I want to create with a progression, how complex or direct/straight-forward it might be "emotionally" or "intellectually". Best of all, I don't have to sit around fishing for what I want when inspiration hits!

Stage 1 - Courtship
Stage 2 - Companionship
Stage 3 - Inter-dependant symbiosis

I make albums and lesson videos:



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