Major,Minor and Diminished Chords

Major and Minor Chords

The different notes used to form major and minor chords can all be found within the musical alphabet of the scale we use. A major and minor chord have a difference of only one note. First things first: we need to learn how to form a chord by combining the right notes.

For a major chord, we use the first, third and fifth notes of the major scale. We know by now that there are different ways of naming the musical alphabet, but in this section we will mainly focus on the method with numbers.

Let's start with an example. When we want to play a C-major chord, we need the first, third and fifth notes from this musical family. We discovered that this family consists of the notes C, D, E, F, G, A and B. So if we take the first, third and fifth notes, we have C, E and G, as you can see in the illustration below. Without realising it, you have just found the C-major chord!

The C-major chord can also be converted to a C-minor chord. How do you do that? By lowering the third by a semitone (making the third flat). In a C-minor chord, we get the note Eb instead of E.

More precisely: if we play the notes C, Eb and G simultaneously, we get the chord C-minor. By using this technique, you can change any major chord into a minor or vice versa.

This tip might help: Compare the interval between the first and third note versus the interval between the third and fifth note. This works more efficiently than going through all the notes of the alphabet.

For example, within the family of C-major, the interval between the first and third note is C to E. We can see it is three semitones to go from C to E. The interval between the third and fifth note is E to G. We can see it is two semitones to go from E to G. So we may say that a major chord is formed by the formula 3/2*.

To form a minor chord, we turn the tables. That means the distance between the first and the third tone is two semitones and the distance between the third and the fifth tone is three semitones. So we use the formula 2/3*. We do exactly the opposite compared to major chords, so this is quite easy to remember.

Below you see an image of a B-minor chord and a B-major chord. Just focus on the distances between these notes and you will understand the formula immediately!

It is especially important to play the right keys (or notes); the order in which you play them is not important.

Are you totally on board with those intervals? Perfect, you can apply them to any chord from now on!

Diminished Chords

In both major and minor scales, one chord is always diminished. So you can say that the three types of chords (major, minor and diminished) form the basis on which you can build later on. We learned that within the major scale, the seventh position is diminished. Within a minor scale, we find a diminished chord in the second position.

Diminished chords are a bit dark, tense and unstable. This is precisely why they are not so common within popular music.

Although these chords are not often found in contemporary music, they can be fun to create some variety as a musician. That's why I made it my mission to explain this part as simply as possible.

Let's start at the beginning: What causes the instability of these diminished chords? Can you still remember the previous part about musical intervals? If so, great! If not, you can always go back to that section. Now, you remember that we compared a minor and major chord, right?

Specifically, we discovered that there is only one key difference between a minor and a major chord. To transform a major chord into a minor chord, we only need to flatten the third. This is important to know, as the instability of a diminished chord lies in the distance between the first and third notes and between the third and fifth notes.

By now, we know that we can use the formula 3/2* to find any major chord. To form a minor chord, we follow the opposite reasoning and use the formula 2/3*.

A diminished chord can be formed by applying the formula 2/2*. In other words, to make a diminished chord, we leave two semitones between the first and the third and also two semitones between the third and the fifth.

Pfew! We had to go through that. Now that you know the basic concepts, it's time to put that theory into practice by using the Circle of Fifths! By doing so you will learn that you don't have to remember all the theory we just learned. The second chapter explains how the circle of fifths will be your guide to instantly read all notes or chords within a major or minor scale. Furthermore we can use the circle of fifths to add more colour to self written songs.