Finding the 5

Recall, previously we found the root note for the major chords: E,D,C,A and G. And we note that the root note is the note which gives the chord it's name.

We will now look for another note in the major chords (and minor chords as well). This time we are looking for the 5 (by which I mean the perfect 5th). the perfect 5th is an interval ( a distance between two notes) equal to the distance of 7 (consecutive or adjacent) half-steps.

So, recalling the chromatic scale (being a half-step between each note:

We see the following perfect 5th for the 5 chords we are looking at:
E to B = p5
D to A = p5
C to G = p5
A to E = p5
G to D = p5

We compare this to our previous definitions of these 5 chords:
major = 1,3,5
E = E,G#,B
D = D,F#,A
C = C,E,G
A = A,C#,E
G = G,B,D

note: 5 and p5 are the same thing. 5 in the above definition is just an abbreviated way of saying that the major chord contains a perfect 5th interval from its root note.

Looking at open position, we can see how these notes are located in the lower frets in standard tuning.


Now comparing open position with the 5 major chords, we can see the following locations of perfect 5th intervals.

E major (E = E,G#,B)

D major (D = D,F#,A)

C major (C = C,E,G)

A major (A = A,C#,E)

G major (G = G,B,D)

Here the 1 is the root note of the chord (and it's octaves), the 5 is the perfect 5th (and it's octaves), and the circles are any other notes in the chord not a 1 or 5 (for major chords above , they are major 3rds and octaves).

Performing a similar operation on the 5 minor chords we've learned:
minor = 1,b3,5
Em = E,G,B
Dm = D,F,A
Cm = C,Eb,G
Am = A,C,E
Gm = G,Bb,D

We note that the minor chord also has a perfect 5th interval.

Note the locations in the minor chords (and how they correspond to the major chords).

E minor (Em = E,G,B)

D minor (Dm = D,F,A)

C minor (Cm = C,Eb,G)

A minor (Am = A,C,E)

G minor (Gm = G,Bb,D)

We note that both the major chord and the minor chord containa 1 and a 5, and so these are in the same places in both chords. the difference between these two chords is in their 3rds. The major chord has a major 3rd (M3, 3), and the minor chord has a minor third (m3, b3). You could look at the above chords and figure out that the remaining notes with circles must be the corresponding interval (3 for major, b3 for minor).

Curiously, there is another chord used in modern music that is composed of only the perfect 5th interval and its octaves. It is called the power chord and is written with a 5 after the letter (E5, D5, etc.).

We can use the power chord visually to help reinforce where the root note and the p5 are in our chords, and start understanding the fretboard in terms of where the intervals are in relation to a given root note.

5 = 1,5,8(1)
E5 = E,B,E
D5 = D,A,D
C5 = C,G,C
A5 = A,E,A
G5 = G,D,G

* note: I've included the octave of the root in the spelling because technically a chord requires 3 notes to be a chord. some theory texts make a distinction that the notes need to be distinct (not enharmonic or octaves), others don't. But all theory texts that I've seen require that a chord contain at least 3 notes.

E power chord (E5 = E,B,E)

D power chord (D5 = D,A,D)

C power chord (C5 = C,G,C)

A power chord (A5 = A,E,A)

G power chord (G5 = G,D,G)

note: I've included some different notes that are not shown in the above major and minor chords, but they're there. Also the the power chords show more notes than are typically played for that type of chord. Here are some common voicings for these chords:

E5 = 022XXX, D5 = XX023X, C5 = X3X01X
A5 = X022XX, G5 = 3X00XX, G5 = XXX033

This weeks exercise is to memorize where the 5 occurs in the above chords, and we'll apply this more next lesson.

The next lesson is on alternating bass.

Christopher Roberts

How do I change all those numbers to letters (for notes, chords, etc.)? Here's a transposition chart

Back to the Chord lesson index
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Previous Lesson - Open minor chords

Last updated January 24, 2002.
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