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Jazz Guitar Chord Theory

What are jazz guitar chords? How to build jazz guitar chords? What makes a chord minor or major?






If you're not sure about the answers to these questions, then this tutorial is essential for you. The theory that you are about to learn is unmissable when learning how to play guitar chords.


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Major Chord Construction

Let's get started with the C major scale:

C Major Scale
1 2 3 4 5 6 7


The 7 notes in this scale are numbered, these numbers are important (they are like a formula). Chords are based on third intervals. There are 2 kinds of thirds (or 3rds):

minor third
major third
interval of 3 half steps symbol: minor 3rd
interval of 4 half steps symbol: major 3rd


Let's start by stacking 2 thirds on the first note (1, also called root) of the C major scale:

1 5


The result is a C major triad or C (a triad is a chord that contains 3 notes).

  • From note C to E is a major 3rd
  • From note E to G a minor 3rd

Every major chord has this structure: first a major third, then a minor third.

The thing to remember is the chord formula for major chords: 1   3   5

Minor Chord Construction

Now let's stack 2 thirds on top of the second note (2) of the C major scale:

1 b3 5  


The result is a D minor triad or Dm.

  • From D to F is a minor third
  • From F to A is a major third

Every minor chord has this structure: first a minor third, then a major third (the opposite of a major chord).

The chord formula for minor chords: 1 b3 5

Important (to remember): the b (aka flat) before the 3 means a half tone lower (than 3). Further in this tutorial we'll encounter a # (aka sharp), which means a half tone higher. A half tone on the guitar is 1 fret.

Dim Chord Construction

Now we're going to skip a few notes and stack thirds on the 7th note (7) of the C major scale:

1 b3  b5


The result is a B diminished triad or Bdim.  

  • From B to D is a minor 3rd
  • From D to F is also a minor 3rd:

Every diminished triad chord has this structure: a minor third and another minor third.

The chord formula for diminished chords is: 1 b3 b5

Diatonic Chords

I'll summarize and complete the other notes of the C major scale :

Notes Formula Chord Name Symbol
1 C      E      G 1      3      5 C major C
2 D      F      A 1      b3      5 D minor Dm or D- or Dmin
3 E      G      B 1     b3      5 E minor Em or E- or Emin
4 F      A      C 1      3       5 F major F
5 G      B      D 1      3       5 G major G
6 A      C      E 1     b 3      5 A minor Am or A- or Amin
7 B      D      F 1     b 3     b 5 B diminished Bdim or B°


These chords are called the diatonic chords of C major.

Finding Chord Tones

Next you'll learn how to find the notes of a chord in a convenient way. There are actually 2 ways to form chords:

A) The first way starts from the major scale and involves 3 steps:

  1. Find the major scale of a given key. If you're not sure how to do this, you need to follow this tutorial first: How To Construct a Major Scale

    Example: to find the notes of a Gm chord, first find the notes of the G major scale:

    G A B C D E F#

  2. Construct the major chord by using the major chord formula: 1 3 5

    Example: In our G major example that would be:

    G B D

  3. Apply the minor chord formula to the major chord. The chord formula for minor chords is 1 b3 5

    Example: This means the 3rd of the major chord (G B D) has to be lowered half a step. This is because in a minor chord (1 b3 5) there is a b in front of the 3, meaning the 3 is a half tone lower than the 3 in the major chord (1 3 5), where there is no b before the 3.

    Making the 3 (B) a half note lower is done by placing a b behind the note, like this: Bb (aka B flat). This is a bit confusing because in formulas we place the b before the note, but with actual chord tones, we place the b after the note.

    The other notes of the chord don't change, so these are the notes of a G minor chord:

    G Bb D

    To visualize this, have a look at the notes on the guitar neck:
    Left are the 3 notes of G (1 3 5 = G B D). Right are the 3 notes of Gm (1 b3 5 = G Bb D).
    The Bb is one fret (= half tone) lower than B.

    G chord tones vs Gm chord tones

B) The quicker way to form chords will be explained in part 4, after we covered seventh chords and tensions in part 2 and 3. Click the link below to continue:



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