PhatPhish

Chords...Lots of Chords

 

A little while ago, somebody asked me about a type of chord that they'd discovered. It was a suspended chord which was a totally new type of chord to them. This prompted the question, "so just what chords are there then?" My answer to this was "Lots..."

What follows is possibly the longest and most involved tutorial here on the website. If you want to get the most out of it, then you really out to be familiar with the theory behind chord construction covered in earlier tutorials rather than just diving straight in here.

What we're going to look at here is the basic chords available within a key, and then look at the way that these can be extended and altered to arrive at a reasonably comprehensive set of chords. This list is by no means complete but it should include most of the chords you're likely to need, plus it should also provide you with an insight as to how you may derive some further chords.

Basic Triads

The most basic type of chord available within a key is the triad. For this tutorial, we'll use the C major scale and look at the chords available, so at a triad level we have:

I C
C - E - G
1 - 3 - 5
ii Dm
D - F - A
1 - b3 - 5
iii Em
E - G - B
1 - b3 - 5
IV F
F - A - C
1 - 3 - 5
V G
G - B - D
1 - 3 - 5
vi Am
A - C - E
1 - b3 - 5
vii Bo
B - D - F
1 - b3 - b5

 

Sus2 Triads

Before we look at extending the basic triads, let's look at replacing 3rd degrees to get suspended triads. First off, we could use a 2nd degree in place of the 3rd degree to get sus2 chords. In the following examples, note how we sometimes need to use a b2 degree in order to stick with notes that are diatonic to the parent major key - some of these chords are not necessarily formally recognised, but if they sound good, then there's no reason not to use them:

I C sus 2
C - D - G
1 - 2 - 5
ii D sus 2
D - E - A
1 - 2 - 5
iii E sus b2
E - F - B
1 - b2 - 5
IV F sus 2
F - G - C
1 - 2 - 5
V G sus 2
G - A - D
1 - 2 - 5
vi A sus 2
A - B - E
1 - 2 - 5
vii Bo sus b2
B - C - F
1 - b2 - b5

 

Sus4 Triads

Like the previous example, we can replace the 3rd degree of the triad, but here we're going to use a 4th degree:

I C sus 4
C - F - G
1 - 4 - 5
ii D sus 4
D - G - A
1 - 4 - 5
iii E sus 4
E - A - B
1 - 4 - 5
IV F sus #4
F - B - C
1 - #4 - 5
V G sus 4
G - C - D
1 - 4 - 5
vi A sus 4
A - D - E
1 - 4 - 5
vii Bo sus 4
B - E - F
1 - 4 - b5

 

Seventh Chords

Any triad can be extended to include a seventh degree. Staying with the scale of C major, that gives us the following seventh chords:

I C7
C - E - G - B
1 - 3 - 5 - 7
ii Dm7
D - F - A - C
1 - b3 - 5 - b7
iii Em7
E - G - B - D
1 - b3 - 5 - b7
IV F7
F - A - C - E
1 - 3 - 5 - 7
V G7
G - B - D - F
1 - 3 - 5 - b7
vi Am7
A - C - E - G
1 - b3 - 5 - b7
vii B7
B - D - F - A
1 - b3 - b5 - b7

 

Seventh Sus2 Chords

Now let's try combining the two ideas that we've seen already. We can take the seventh chords from the previous example and replace the 3rd degrees with either 2nd or 4th degrees to get suspended versions of these seventh chords (alternatively, you could think of these as extensions of the suspended triads to include a seventh degree). Let's start with sus2 variations:

I C7 sus 2
C - D - G - B
1 - 2 - 5 - 7
ii D7 sus 2
D - E - A - C
1 - 2 - 5 - b7
iii E7 sus b2
E - F - B - D
1 - b2 - 5 - b7
IV F7 sus 2
F - G - C - E
1 - 2 - 5 - 7
V G7 sus 2
G - A - D - F
1 - 2 - 5 - b7
vi A7 sus 2
A - B - E - G
1 - 2 - 5 - b7
vii B7 sus b2
B - C - F - A
1 - b2 - b5 - b7

In the table above, take a look at how the 'minor' 7th chords and the 'dominant' 7th chords now ave the same formula - by removing the 3rd degree, we remove any indication as to whether the chord is derived from a major or a minor triad. The 'major' 7th chords are still obviously 'major' because they have a 7 rather than a b7 degree. Likewise, the half-diminished nature of the last chord is displayed by virtue of it's b5 and b7 degree.

 

Seventh Sus4 Chords

Like the previous example, but using 4th degrees in place of 3rd degrees. Again, note the minor/dominant ambiguity of some chords:

I C7 sus 4
C - F - G - B
1 - 4 - 5 - 7
ii D7 sus 4
D - G - A - C
1 - 4 - 5 - b7
iii E7 sus 4
E - A - B - D
1 - 4 - 5 - b7
IV F7 sus #4
F - B - C - E
1 - #4 - 5 - 7
V G7 sus 4
G - C - D - F
1 - 4 - 5 - b7
vi A7 sus 4
A - D - E - G
1 - 4 - 5 - b7
vii B7 sus 4
B - E - F - A
1 - 4 - b5 - b7

 

Ninth Chords

Let's put the suspended chords idea on hold for a while and think about extending basic chords a bit further. We've already seen triads extended to include a seventh degree, now let's look at what we get if we extend the chords a bit further to include a ninth degree as well:

I C9
C - E - G - B - D
1 - 3 - 5 - 7 - 9
ii Dm9
D - F - A - C - E
1 - b3 - 5 - b7 - 9
iii Em7b9
E - G - B - D - F
1 - b3 - 5 - b7 - b9
IV F9
F - A - C - E - G
1 - 3 - 5 - 7 - 9
V G9
G - B - D - F - A
1 - 3 - 5 - b7 - 9
vi Am9
A - C - E - G - B
1 - b3 - 5 - b7 - 9
vii B7b9
B - D - F - A - C
1 - b3 - b5 - b7 - b9

When you think about it, a ninth and a second could be viewed as the same note. However, this set of chords are distinct from the sus2 versions of 7th chords as these also include a 3rd degree. That means that we can't really do sus2 versions of these 9th chords, but let's see what happens when we replace the 3rd degrees with 4th degrees...

Ninth Sus4 Chords

Like with the Seventh Sus4 chords, we introduce some minor/dominant ambiguity:

I C9 sus 4
C - F - G - B - D
1 - 4 - 5 - 7 - 9
ii D9 sus 4
D - G - A - C - E
1 - 4 - 5 - b7 - 9
iii E7 b9 sus 4
E - A - B - D - F
1 - 4 - 5 - b7 - b9
IV F9 sus #4
F - B - C - E - G
1 - #4 - 5 - 7 - 9
V G9 sus 4
G - C - D - F - A
1 - 4 - 5 - b7 - 9
vi Am9 sus 4
A - D - E - G - B
1 - 4 - 5 - b7 - 9
vii B7b9 sus 4
B - E - F - A - C
1 - 4 - b5 - b7 - b9

 

Add Ninth Chords

Rather than extending triads to include both 7th and 9th degrees, we could simply add a ninth degree to a triad. These are known as 'add 9' chords as they are not full extentions of the chord. Also note that as the 3rd degree is included in the chord, they are also different to the sus2 chords that we've already looked at:

I C add 9
C - E - G - D
1 - 3 - 5 - 9
ii Dm add 9
D - F - A - E
1 - b3 - 5 - 9
iii Em add b9
E - G - B - F
1 - b3 - 5 - b9
IV F add 9
F - A - C - G
1 - 3 - 5 - 9
V G add 9
G - B - D - A
1 - 3 - 5 - 9
vi Am add 9
A - C - E - B
1 - b3 - 5 - 9
vii Bo add b9
B - D - F - C
1 - b3 - b5 - b9

 

Sus4 Add Ninth Chords

Another possible variation is to replace the 3rd degrees of the add 9th chords from the previous example with 4th degrees:

I C sus 4 add 9
C - F - G - D
1 - 4 - 5 - 9
ii D sus 4 add 9
D - G - A - E
1 - 4 - 5 - 9
iii E sus 4 add b9
E - A - B - F
1 - 4 - 5 - b9
IV F sus #4 add 9
F - B - C - G
1 - #4 - 5 - 9
V G sus 4 add 9
G - C - D - A
1 - 4 - 5 - 9
vi A sus 4 add 9
A - D - E - B
1 - 4 - 5 - 9
vii Bo sus 4 add b9
B - E - F - C
1 - 4 - b5 - b9

 

Time Out

OK, so we've seen a fair number of chords so far, and you're probably starting to get a bit worried right now about just how much you need to know. The examples we've seen so far are based around C major, but you could do this with any major key. Also, the same principles could be applied to other scale types, such as natural minor, harmonic minor, etc.

So you'd be right to be a bit concerned, but don't worry because you don't need to know absolutely everything off-by-heart. The most important thing is to understand the theory and to be able to appy it to whatever key you're working in, rather than learning all combinations multiplied by all possible keys. Learning everything by rote would be just too daunting a task.

With that in mind, and considering that if we consider every possible combination then this will just go on and on and on, let's cut to the chase. The following table shows the harmony of the major scale, based on the ideas that we've started to explore, and continuing them to include some other combinations and extensions.


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