Major Chords

This lesson is on major chords: what they are, how to learn them, how to play them,etc.

Recall, that a chord is a group of notes within an octave typically played at the same time. Recall also that we defined a major chord as the notes 1,3,5. (last lesson- )

Now the "1" refers to the root note (or tonic) of the chord. It is the note which gives it it's name. For example the C major chord is made up of three notes: C,E,G (and any of their octaves). The note C is the root note (tonic,1), the note E is the major third (3), and the note G is the perfect fifth (5). The Root notes have already been found in the beginners lesson root notes. The Perfect fifth (5) have also been found in a previous lesson on finding the 5.

Now since there are three types of notes (1,3,5) in the chord, each note you play in the chords above must be one of these three notes.

We look at the major thirds:

In E = 022100, the major third (3) is found on the first fret of the 3rd string.

In A = 002220, the major third (3) is found on the 2nd fret of the 2nd string.

In C = 032010, the 3 is found on the open 6th string, the 2nd fret of the 4th string, and the open 1rst string.

In D = 200232, the 3 is located on the 2nd fret of the 6th string, and the 2nd fret of the 1rst string.

And in G =320003, the 3 is found on the 2nd fret of the 5th string, and the open 2nd string.

We should note that more than one possibility is given in some of the chords above. They are all legit. Sometimes as a writer you want to specify a particular note in the bass. You can denote this by using slash notation. So:
C/E is with the 3rd in the bass.
C/G is with the 5th in the bass.
If I write these out, it means I as a writer want these to be the bass notes; however, I could also play these in the bass and not notate it as such,allowing the performer to choose for themselves how to interpret it. (with the first notation C - you have choices of bass notes , with the 2nd notation C/E there is no ambiguity and you have no choice)

C = 032010
C/E = 032010
The first one says play some of these notes. the second one says play some of these notes ( but in order to play it correctly, put the E in the bass)

It is not necessary to play all of the notes of the chord. it is more common to play partial chords ( to not play all 6 strings at once). Usually when the first chords are learned, they are given as: E = 022100, A = X02220, C = X32010, D = XX0232, and G = 320033.

What about major chords other than E,A,C,D,and G ?

Solution one:
Use a capo. you can place a capo on any fret, and then play the open chords above that. (You may need a transposition chart if you go this path Look here: )

Solution two:
Learn more chords in the open /1rst position.
G#/Ab = 431114, A#/Bb = 113331, B = 224442, C#/Db = 143121, D3/Eb = X11343, F = 133211, F#/Gb = 244322.

This brings us to :
Solution three: Barre chords
Consider the E = 022100, F = 133211, and F#/Gb = 244322. Careful examination will show that there is a commonality between them. The F and F#/Gb are the barred version on the open "E-shape" major chord. The barre chord is correctly played by placing the first finger across all six strings ( thus following the finger -per-fret rule). The correct fingering is given by the numbers in the F chord.
Recall, that the root note for the " E-shape" is on the 6th string. so knowing the names of the notes on the 6th string gives us the locations of the the chords. ( E=0th fret, F = 1rst fret, F#/Gb = 2nd fret, etc.)

Looking at open A = 002220, A#/Bb = 113331, and B = 224442, we find the "A-shape" barre chord (root on the 5th string) with correct fingering given in Bb. (A=0th fret, A#/Bb = 1rst fret, B = 2nd fret, etc.)

Many people know only these two barre chord shapes (E-shape and A-shape), and seem to do fine. There are three more shapes however.

Looking at open D = X00232, D#/Eb = 11343, we find the "D-shape" (root note on the 4th string)with barre fingering given by D#/Eb. (0th fret = D, 1rst fret = D#/Eb, 2nd fret = E, etc.).

Looking at open C = 032010, C#/Db = 143121, we find the "C-shape" ( root on the 5th string), correct barre fingering given by Db. (3rd fret = C, 4th fret = C#/Db, 5th fret = D, etc.)

And last looking at open G = 320003, G#/Ab = 431114, we find the "G-shape" (root on the 6th string) barre chord fingering given by G#/Ab. ( G = 3rd fret, G#/Ab = 4th fret, etc.)

These last two shapes are rare in comparison to the first two.

Ok. So you've learned all the barre chord shapes? (there's 5 , remember?) They line up in a pattern that covers the fretboard and repeat this pattern: E-shape - D-shape - C-shape - A-shape - G-shape - E-shape, etc.

Here are the five shapes in a visual format:

major "E-shape"(root note on the 6th string)


major "D-shape" (root note on the 4th string)


major "C-shape" (root note on the 5th string)


major "A-shape" (root note on the 5th string)


major "G-shape" (root note on the 6th string)


So here's F up the fret board:
F=133211, F = X33565, F = 587565, F = 8810 10 10 8, F = 13 12 10 10 10 13, F= 13 15 15 14 13 13.

Putting these shapes together in the before mentioned path (E-D-C-A-G-E), we can create a fret board map (here in F, not showing open notes).


And last, many larger chords can be seen as extensions of major chords. They contain major chords within them, plus some other notes.

Major chord = 1,3,5
6  = 1,3,5,6
Major seventh = 1,3,5,7
Dominant seventh = 1,3,5,b7
9 = 1,3,5,b7,9
maj 9 = 1,3,5,7,9
add 9 = 1,3,5,9
6/9 = 1,3,5,6,9
11 = 1,3,5,b7,9,11
maj 11 = 1,3,5,7,9,11
7/11 = 1,3,5,b7,11
13 = 1,3,5,b7,9,11,13
maj 13 = 1,3,5,7,9,11,13
6/7 = 1,3,5,6,b7

Christopher Roberts

p.s. if you learn to play barre chords in the first year you play, then you're ahead of the curve.

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

Back to the Chord lesson index

Next Lesson - Minor chords
Previous Lesson - general chord theory

Last updated December 31, 2002.
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