How Basic Chords Work – Music Theory Lesson 1

okay um I wanted to do a little music theory lesson on chords and just sort of how they work specifically chord names and how to know what you're looking at whenever you see a different chord written out I don't know exactly what that means and how to sort of put those notes together and how to play it the approach that a lot of people take to learning chords is um they'll sort of see something um you know stay like that and they'll just kind of memorize that chord so I just wanted a tie on okay when I see that I need to play those three notes or um you know if you saw something like that you've learned that okay that means that I play right there and that's fine that works for a while but it turns out to be pretty limiting especially when you get farther along musically or you start to learn a lot more chords and different keys or you start to get into more advanced chords it just turns into so many different things to try to remember and if you were to see a chord say say something like that I'm sorry you're not gonna know what that means there's just so many different advanced chords and things that try to memorize that it just gets to be overwhelming um but if you know how this system works you know what these names mean and how they work then this is simple there's really nothing to that chord you know exactly what to do there really right away so that's what I want to kind of break down and there's actually a bigger reason to learn how the chords work and that's just sort of understanding music in general if you want to learn music theory and is kind of how it all works this is a great way to get into it learning how these chords fit and how they interact that's gonna let you just sort of improvise and compose and just sort of lets you understand how this music fits and it's just a really really wonderful things that to get a hold of so we'll get started we'll start with a real simple one I think we'll just start with this one right here and kind of kind of work your way up from there so let's take that chord and I want to show you how this is gonna work anytime you see a chord doesn't matter how advanced it is there's always just two parts to it there's a there's this first part right here and this is what's called the the root of the chord and the root is just one single note is the note that everything kind of starts on and it's note you're gonna kind of measure everything else again so you're gonna use that note to find the other stuff in the chord so to find the root of the chord you just kind of find the note and there you go there's really nothing to that but it's this next part here this says they cause the chord quality um this is where things get a little more involved this is what I want to kind of break down so what this does this tells you what the other notes in the chord are going to be but it doesn't actually tell you what they are directly it just tells you how far away they are from your root note so to find these notes you have to know how to measure distance in music and in the way you measure distance did you use something called an interval now intervals are just how far apart two notes are there they've tried to be pretty simple so let me show you a few of those and we'll kind of get going that way so the first interval you want to know is a what's called a half step half step is just two notes that are right next to each other so for instance like C C sharp those are right next to each other there's a half step F sharp tip G that's a half step any one of those two notes that are right next to each other those are a half step apart now the one spot where it's a little bit weird is right here you know these two notes are also a half step they are right next to each other there is nothing in between so they're enough stuff but if you're kind of just looking at the white notes that can look kind of strange you know these two are a half step apart but these two are not there's something in between those so just make sure that in that little area there you kind of know how that works but other than that half step real simple and then you can find those if you were so once you have that that's kind of one of the basic building blocks there's another one you need and that's what's called a whole step whole step is kind of just what you think it's just two half steps so if you start on a note and you want to go up a whole step you go up a half step you go up another half step and then you have your your whole step now when you're looking for these you don't really want to have to count up you don't want to be thinking you know half step half step every time you wanted to see these right away so what you're kind of looking for here is you just look for this little shape or you have two notes with one note in between just kind of see that and then this gets to be real easy you know so right here here's another whole step here's your one note in between there there's places where seven the whole stuff now the one weird spot is going to be like right in here right in here where get this now this is a whole step here's your one note in between but it looks a little strange at first so just make sure that you're comfortable with just kind of how the whole step works in that area and and that's pretty much it those two I don't we're gonna use to kind of find any other intervals I mean these bigger ones so as long as you're comfortable with that then figuring out this chord should be pretty simple so let's actually get into what this means this right here this is this name and this chord quality is going to tell you what these other notes are now this is what's called a simple chord and sistah it's a triad means it just has three notes in it and the first note we've already got is that up so this is just telling you where these other two notes are now the first one we're gonna start on our F we already have that one figure out but the first note we need is going to be up above F somewhere and it's going to be a major third higher and that's kind of what this name is coming from this major here is saying your next note up needs to be a major through higher now a major third is just an interval in the same way that that a whole step or a half step because an interval now this interval is two whole steps that's what a major third is it's like the definition of a major third so if you want to go up a major third say we're starting on our F you're gonna go over a whole step that'll put you right here here's that one note in between and you go up another whole step to put you right there in between and there you go there's your major third and it doesn't matter it doesn't matter what instrument you're on or or where you start whatever note it's always going to be the same thing a major third is two whole steps in the same sense that a foot is 12 inches so we could start anywhere else we could start on turning their name and we go up a whole step another whole step I'll put you right there there's a major third you can start saying there's a flat go up a whole step another one there's a major thing really now same with the with the whole step you don't really want to have to count your way through this this is I'm showing you this to start with but you want to get good at just kind of seeing those just kind of looking for that pattern kind of seeing those those two whole steps right away so it'd be great to just kind of spend a little while just sort of trying to find it real quickly just sort of starting on random notes and and spend a little while in these little areas this is where things tend to look a little bit strange just because of a little fun business around these notes so there's your major third there's a major but after a little while it's pretty easy so there's our major third we started on half that was our root note and then this told us that we need to go up a major third to get to our next note and that's two out of three notes already now there's one more note of this chord and that node is going to be up a little higher it's gonna be up here somewhere I don't know what it is yes was even like that and though it's going to be what's called a perfect fifth higher than F now a perfect fifth is just another interval in the same sense that the major third is an interval it's a bigger one this one is going to be three whole steps and a half steps and I'll show you how to kind of find that in a second but first you may be thinking okay I understand how this would be telling you that you need to do a major third that sort of makes sense but there's nothing in this chord name that really says anything about a perfect fifth do you think okay how do I know that I'm supposed to do a perfect fifth and the way this works just about every course you do is going to have a v in it they almost always have a perfect fifth and so it would be kind of nice if this chord was called you know fm your third perfect fifth I'll be like okay that tells you exactly what you need to do over here but almost every court has this and so you usually just leave this off most courts just kind of tell you this part and they don't really tell you anything about the fifth and whenever that happens you just assume that you need to have a perfect fifth of the chord now there are times when your fifth is going to be different you can do like an altered fit that called like a diminished fifth or an Augmented fifth or something like that but if that ever happens the chord is going to tell you that it will specifically say diminished or augmented or something like that to change his fifth if it doesn't say anything about it you just assume that you have a perfect fifth and you kind of get used to that pretty quickly so anyway we have our thorough you figure that out now I need to find this perfect fifth and like I said it's just three whole steps and a half step so if we start from start from this F again we start counting over here's a whole step there's one go another whole step is to another whole step it's three then this last little half step that takes us right there that gives us our fifth now same as the third you don't really want to have to count through this you will look first to kind of get used to where this is but you want to just be able to see this right away but this is kind of a bigger interval and it can be kind of hard to to count all the way up with something like this so there's a real simple pattern you can kind of look for on a piano that makes this really easy to find if you start on a white note and you sort of skip over three windows and you wind up right here that should give you a perfect fifth right here good right there I have those three white notes in between there is your perfect fifth so really knew where you start you should just be having those three notes right in between that makes that really easy to find if you were to start on a black note like here you want to have exactly two black notes in between so you should be seeing that and that would be really easy to find to just look for this two in between and you've got your perfect so that works great the only time that doesn't actually work is when you start on the note B or B flat if you start on B you try to do that little pattern you kind of skip over these three you wind up right here and if you get it this actually isn't quite far enough if you start from here you go up a whole step go up another whole step another whole step you wind up with three whole steps between here and here and that's not quite enough you actually need three whole steps and a half step to make a perfect fit so you need to go all the way up to there and the reason for that is just because there's these two spots where there's no black note and that means that these notes are kind of squished closer together than they would be if you were saying over here there's actually more notes in between these two so that's the the one spot where it's gonna be weird you have to kinda just watch out for that so we go all the way up to here then there is your perfect fifth and then for b-flat if you tried to go to this black note to put these two in between you have kind of a same problem this is actually going to be too wide you've got all these extra notes kind of crammed in here so you need to do this and that will give you a perfect fit so most cases it's really easy to find but just watch out for B if you start on B you got to kind of remember that you need to be doing that or if you start a b-flat you're gonna go to right there so the longer use to that these these fists get real easy so anywhere you start from like safe for our court here yeah first thing you find is your major third then for that fifth just here to there you should be able to see those three notes in between so that's our major chord and and this is going to work for any any room note and you can put any kind of note in here this is not going to change this is like the definition of what a major chord is so this is not able to change so it's let's say we started on c-sharp we would start right here here's our new root note but we're going to go up a major third so that'll take you from there to right there and then you're going to have your perfect fit so from here to right there you can kind of see here's these two with those two black notes in between gives you C sharp major right there we could start on G there's our major third and then a perfect fifth anywhere you want to start from this is not going to change okay so there's a major chord and that's probably the most common chord you're gonna see now quick little note a lot of times since this is such a common chord a lot of times you'll see it written just like that it's just a single note and what's happening here is just kind of the the court quality is just being left off completely figure that a major chord is kind of your default chord if if you just see a chord like F or D sharp assume that it's a major chord such a common thing that this sort of gets left off the next one we're gonna do is a minor chord and if if a chord is gonna be a minor chord it has to say minor you can't just put an F and imagine that it's a minor chord this would mean major chord is kind of your your default but let's go ahead and do the minor chord once we have the major chord the minor chord is really easy so let's say we actually wanted to do this this time alright so for a minor chord for now we have the same root note so we're gonna start at F again but our quality is different this is telling you that now you need a minor third that's why this says minor you're doing a minor third here now a minor third is just another interval and there's actually a lot of intervals that sort of have these two versions you have sort of the major version and a minor version for a third major third minor third there's also an interval of a second there's a major second in a minor second there's also a sixth you'll have a major sixth and a minor sixth and a seventh of a major seventh and a minor seventh and and understanding a minor is real easy it's always just a half step lower than the major interval so if our major third was two whole steps then our minor third is just going to be a whole step in the house of just one half step back so if you're if you're pretty familiar with this major third by now than finding those blighters should be really easy let me go ahead and change that and that gives us our minor through that's all you really need now up here there there's nothing about the fifth here again and so you're just gonna assume that you still need a perfect fifth so this isn't gonna change if we start on that you know now we have our minor third so that's a whole step on a half-step number just a half step lower than a major third that's gonna put you right here and then the perfect fifth isn't gonna change there too there's still a perfect fist so that's going to be the same thing so that right there is minor chord now same deal that's gonna work on any root note you want to start from so let's say we were doing a flat start on E flat go up a minor third remember be careful in this little area things look strange but there's your whole step and a half step and then for your fifth same deal here to here here's those two black notes in between and there you have your okay so those two chords the the major and the minor those are by far the most common you're going to see lots and lots of those and even the more advanced chords are usually built kind of on top of those we sort of adding extra notes on top but you want to be very familiar with the majors in the minors just sort of spend a little while just kind of picking a random note to start on and just kind of finding the rest of the core try to see it as quickly as you can just get used to how this whole shake works and if you're pretty good with your intervals you know you will see you major third minor third then this should be pretty simple oh now there's two other three note chords that I want to show you and these are these are a little less common but they do still happen and that there's still good courts so I'll show you those so I'm gonna start with what's called a diminished chord and we'll pick a different root note this time let's say we'll start on a okay so we're gonna do it's called an a diminished now sometimes you'll see the minister in like this sometimes you'll see this little circle thing that means the same thing that's an eighth diminished for now I'm just gonna leave it as this as bill easier to remember but a diminished now same thing is before you have a root note then you have a chord quality so to find the root note that simple just look for an a there's already now this name here this chord quality this is actually referring to the fifth this time what do the fifth wouldn't change much but it does for this chord so over here we're still starting on a that's our root note and we're still gonna have a third we're gonna have you know some note here then we're gonna go up to with a third but we don't actually know what kind of third that's gonna be it might be a major third or minor third I'll show you that in a second but this interval going all the way up to to this note up here this is what this needs to be what's called a diminished fifth there right there now diminished fifth real simple this is just a it's just like a perfect fifth but it's a half step lower sort of the same way that like a minor third is a half step lower than a major third so we're starting on our note a and right here to get a perfect fifth we go from here right to there but that's not what we need this time we need our diminished fist so just gonna lower it by a half step put it right there now you might think okay why not just call it a major fifth and a minor fifth that seems like it's doing the same thing as a third and that kind of has to do with just how the music is set up and how these things work but kind of think of it this way that the fifth is not gonna change very often this is a little bit of an unusual chord you're gonna see it but not that much so that the fifth is almost always going to be this it's a it's what's called a perfect intervals usually that right there but the other ones like the third you're gonna have major thirds and minor thirds all the time those are constantly being kind of shifted around so think of that as something it's going to change a lot this doesn't change much so you just kind of think of it as it has this one version of this perfect fifth and every now and then you get these sort of altered fits but they're a little bit less usual so anyway this diminished thing that's referring to this your fifth becomes a little bit lower so so far we have that a here's a perfect fifth lower it a little bit and they have your diminished fifth now this chord name is cord quality doesn't tell you anything about this third so you don't actually know what kind of third you need here so you could think okay this could be a major third or it could be a minor third but when you start looking at it it actually turns out that it can only be a minor third and I'll show you why let's say that we tried to put in a major third thinking okay maybe this should be a major third and we have our diminished a bit so you start on in you go up your major third and there's a whole step whole step so put you right there and then we still have our diminished fifth which was right here now this doesn't actually work as a cord and there's there's a sort of rule about the way courts have to work any to knows when you line a cord up like this any two notes can at the most be a major third apart and at the least be a minor third apart so from here to there that note to that that's a major third and that works fine it's no bigger or smaller than the major third a minor fiercer that that fits perfect but from here to there these two notes they're only a whole step apart that's even smaller than a minor third and that kind of breaks that rule that means that this can't really work as a cord so when you see that you got to think okay this doesn't work it doesn't fit that rule so I can't be using a minor third here that I would put these two notes too close together so the only kind of third you can use is that minor third and when you do that everything works fine you start on a and you go to here there's your minor third and then if you compare this note to that note that's also just a minor third and both of those work just fine so just remember that rule when you're kind of figuring out chords they have any two notes have to be either a major third a partner a Minor Threat they can't be anything else so when you see this you think okay that can't work it has to be this and that's why there's there's nothing about the third in this chord name is because it can only be one thing it can only be a minor third right then in just you can see it and that's how that's how diminished chord works so and same thing as before you can start at any room don't you want like let's say you start on F open major third and then your diminished fit over here is your perfect fifth now one thing that could maybe make these a little easier to find is um if you think about how this lines up there's a there's a minor third between here and there just measuring that distance that's a minor third but when you're doing this diminished chord you have your minor third in your diminished fifth there's also a minor third between here and there if you measure the distance between these two notes it's also a minor third so when you're putting together this chord instead of looking for your fifth to diminish offense you can't just kind of compare this note to that middle note thing okay this needs to be a minor third that's just how this is gonna work out so that can sometimes be easier to see either way it's the same thing but sort of be able to see that from both directions so okay said any remember you want to start on say see right there there's any flat diminished oh they all work the same way same formula no matter what you're doing and that's a diminished chord pretty basic once you get sort of how this works there's there's one more I want to show you out of the kind of these simple three note chords you know this is what's called an Augmented chord and this chord is pretty unusual you're really not gonna see very many of these the major and minor are by far the most common you're going to see some diminished chords they pop up from time to time but the Augmented chord doesn't happen a whole lot so let's start on say a G this time this a lot of times get written like this like just a plus and other times you'll actually see the words I'm kind of abbreviated Aug let's go and leave it at that for enough so when you do an Augmented chord it works a little bit like the diminished this this quality here is referring to that fifth again so here's our root note starting on G we're gonna have this third still not sure which kind it is yet but we know that our fifth going all the way up to whatever that note is needs to be what's called an Augmented fifth now an Augmented fifth is it's just a perfect fifth that is raised by a half-step this time so if you start on G and you look for your perfect fifth which would put you right here you just have to raise that by a half step put you right there and there's your Augmented fifth easy as that if you if you get confused between these two just remember that the word diminished means like to make smaller to kind of think of it as being squished so when you diminish a fifth you're sort of squeezing it together you know lower that when you augment something you make it bigger he's sort of expanding it so it's gonna sort of push you out words you're gonna get to a bigger interval just try to keep those straight you should be fine now same as before this doesn't tell you anything about the third but if you look at the way this board works turns out there's only one kind of third you can use if you tried to use a minor third so you want to try that first start on G and go up your minor third puts you right here you have kind of the same problem if you look at these two notes they work fine but if you compare this note to that note they're too far apart this is this is bigger than a major third a major third from here it puts you right here there's a whole step there's a whole step right there and this is too far away it's bigger than that so this can't really work as a chord so that means that putting a minor third into an Augmented chord is not gonna work the only one that's going to work is that major third so you go from here put it right there there's your major third and then from here to there to our augment fifth that's also a major third think from there to there's a whole step there is there's a whole stuff and that works fine so same as before this cord doesn't tell you anything about the third because it can only be one thing it can only be that that major third and that's that's how that's course gonna work same thing as before same same formula here anywhere you start it's all gonna wind up the same way start on a D major third and then you have your here Augmented fifth and then same as the other cord too if you if you want kind of a different way to look at this you know your find your major third if you're looking for this bogman at fifth you know you when you think Othman and fifth you're measuring from this root note here all the way up to here but if you want to just measure it from this second note it should just be a major third you can think of it that way I think okay if I need to do an Augmented chord I go up a major third and then from here I go up another major third or you can just think of the other way think okay the major third from my root note and then an Augmented fifth from the root note either way he's gonna take you to the same place so that's um that's pretty much it for these these three note chords um all the other more advanced chords are gonna be built right on top of these and then if you have a pretty solid understanding of how these work then those more advanced scores of four note chord of five note chords there's really not a lot extra to that it's all just sort of real simple intervals you're gonna kind of put on top and sort of learn what these different names mean and I think I'm gonna leave it at that for now is already pretty long so I'm probably gonna do some of these other chords in like a separate video so yeah that's gonna be it if this helps you um if it's work for you then I'll let me know leave me like a comment or something like that you get thumbs up the video or um or even subscribe if this works for people and this is helpful and I probably gonna make a lot more if not then I'm probably just gonna play more starcraft2 so let me know and I'll kind of decide what I want to do but um yeah that's it for now so I hope that helps you and I will see you next time Thanks

40 thoughts on “How Basic Chords Work – Music Theory Lesson 1”

  1. watching this video while following along with this chart helps a lot.

  2. You are a really informed teacher and very enthusiastic about your craft. You remind me of those teachers who love a particular subject and have soooo much they want to share but either have to spend much of their day (A) working with less than receptive learners or (B) trying to impart info in a time frame that does not allow you to fit everything in. Anyway, I'm glad to have found your site. I enjoy your comprehensive, all-in approach– where, if you think viewers might run into convention X somewhere along the way, you go ahead and explain what it means. Thank you. And don't worry about making mistakes. The only way to avoid them is to never do anything.

  3. Top Notch Teacher .
    Explained into the minutest detail , for even the most clueless who can't help but understand

  4. there is an easy way to just find any major or minor.. Put your index finger on any white key, count up 4 keys (including black) place middle finger there, now count up 3 keys (including black) place your ring finger there. PRESS ALL 3, that is a major!

    for the minor just move you middle finger down one key to the previous black or white and that is a minor!

    What ever key your index is on, that is the ROOT I.E. Cmaj….

  5. Excellent video! I'm learning bass but this solidified a lot of what I've already learned so far about music theory.

  6. Great stuff Michael. You helped me understand what years of classical education failed to teach me (or i failed to learn properly) as a child. This is so empowering to get into piano practice again!!

  7. Thanks for this amazing video
    Thanks for this amazing video
    U make the best videos
    Do u have a video for nectar 3?

    I am the guitar player for the rock band
    Borderline Delusion band.we usually play shows for non profit organizations.
    We are trying to help raise awareness for suicide prevention.
    I want our music to be good so that people who listen can get into it.

    Can anyone please listen to my tracks?
    Mixing is a nightmare.any advice
    Sometimes I feel like giving up.
    But these videos give me hope
    I got a lot of help on the ballads from a well known producer.

    But he is not available.

    Our bass player is on tour with a major band in Europe
    I am stuck In the studio trying to play bass and I really suck
    CAn neutron 2 help me not sound so bad?
    God do I need help
    Words and lead guitars
    Borderline Delusion band

  8. This could be a lot simpler, and starts to run into errors once you embark on the diminished chords. A Major chord is R+M3rd+P5th, a minor, dim and aug exactly the same type of explanation with tweaks. Your insistence that only Major and minor intervals are used precludes suspended chords – 1-2-5 and 1-4-5. The term "perfect" is used because it is common to both Major and minor chords and scales. Our theory assigns a function to each degree of a heptatonic scale, there is only one note fulfilling the function of a 4th or a 5th, but there are two for each of the 2-3-6-7th degrees, meaning they get split into Major and minor categories. The notes immediately outside all of the degrees are designated dim or aug, and the name of any dual designated notes depends on other notes within the chord (e.g. it's an augmented 5th when there's no perfect 5th, but when there is it becomes a minor 6th). The term "diminished" doesn't need an explanation therefore as to why the minor or Major-ness of the chord isn't in the quality – it just is, no different to the logic that says "F" on its own means "F Major".

  9. Incredibly helpful. I've been banging out chords on guitar for years, enough to "get by". It's time to know why I'm hitting a wall. Theory, and just knowing the fret board should have been my foundation for a much faster progress. Great guitar players always promote this, but laziness becomes too easy.

  10. Thanks for this series. you are seriously a good teacher. subbed and got my keyboard coming tomorrow! plan on rewatching a couple times

  11. Just a brief summary to help anyone:

    A half-interval, or a semitone, refers to two adjacent notes on a piano. Like C and C#.
    An interval, or a whole tone, is two semitones. Like C and D.

    A Major Second is 2 semitones.
    A Minor Third is 3 semitones.
    A Major Third is 4 semitones.

    An Augmented 5th is 8 semitones. C to G#.
    A Perfect 5th is 7 semitones. C to G.
    A Diminished 5th is 6 semitones. C to F#.

    A Major chord, consists of a root note, a major third, and a perfect 5th.
    A Minor chord consists of a root note, a minor third, and a perfect 5th.
    An Augmented Chord consists of a root note, a major third, and an augmented 5th.

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