Why There Are Actually Only THREE Types Of CHORDS

Why There Are Actually Only THREE Types Of CHORDS

Tommaso Zillio

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types of chords

Do you ever get confused by all the different types of chords there are? Minor, major, diminished, augmented, half-diminished, dominant, quarter diminished, 6, major 7, minor 9, double augmented, major11no5sus2addb13, when does it end?

Do you even know which of those chords I just made up?:-)

Do I even know which ones I made up? :-))

For chord-obsessed musicians, like we guitar players often are, this confusion may lead to day-to-day life problems, like reduced sleep quality, reduced quality of life, and abdominal cramps. (*)

(*) Not a medical professional. Symptoms exaggerated for humoristic and dramatic effect. Known side effects of music theory include increased enjoyment of music, spontaneously breaking into song, and a tendency to rant about chord and scale names.

… though the abdominal cramp might come in useful, as in: “mommy, I can’t go to school today because I played a major13sus4 chord too many”, “No boss, I can’t come in today, I got a bad case of augmented 6th chords…”

Anyway, if you are saying to yourself, “my tummy hurts, and I think the sheer number of different chords in music theory is the reason why… how can I make the pain go away?”

… well, then I’ll tell you how to make the pain go away: you need to simplify how you think about chords.

See, in reality, there are actually only three types of chords. (yes, that’s three, as in: “Two less than five”). Quite surprising, eh?

But what are they?

Well, I’m glad you asked! If you check out the video linked below, I’ll show you the three categories and explain how we can group all those different chords into these three camps… and why doing it is so useful for:

  • improvising a lead
  • mastering complex chord substitution
  • making sense of music that looks way too complex at first sight

Still confused? Does it feel like chords and harmony are still difficult for you to understand? Check out my Complete Chord Mastery guitar course to skyrocket your understanding of chords.

No matter how much or how little you already know about chords, Complete Chord Mastery will be amazing for your understanding and knowledge… and for writing great music!

Video Transcription

Hello internet so nice to see you. I’m here today to tell you that there are only three kinds of chords. But no not my so there are several several kinds of chords it’s impossible to have only three kinds of chords. No, there are only three kinds of course but not the most.

There are too many I mean we have chords like major chords and minor chords, and seventh chords dominant seventh chords and major seventh chord and sixth chord and add four chords and sus two chord, sus four chord augmented chord, diminished chord diminished seventh chord, half diminished seventh chord, quarter diminished seventh chord.

Now, I invented this last one to make sure you guys were paying attention. Anyway, yeah, it looks like there are a lot of kinds of chords, right, but they all fall in three groups, or at least, or at least, that’s the theory. And these theories seem to work well with at least classical harmony and jazz harmony. Of course, like every theory, in music theory, it does not have a universal application, you can always, if you search enough, find a weird combination of notes that will not fit in this theory.

This theory exists because it classifies the most used chords in music. And indeed, to find the exception on this to this theory, you have to go and search this kind of proves the validity of it. If you want to state this precisely, this is not a theory, like in physics, that it’s true 100% of the time, barring exception, because in physics, there are exceptions to but that’s a good theory to get started in understanding all those chords that we have in music theory.

And we’ll cover the vast majority of music as long as you don’t really go searching for trouble. Once you’ve learned it, go and search for trouble because it’s fun. But before to simplify your life, you can use what I’m going to explain right now. So there are only three kinds of chords.

And in a moment, I’m going to explain to you what are those three kinds of chords. But first, let’s see why we’re doing this because dividing all chords, or at least 99.9% of chords in three groups allow us to do several good things for us. The first thing that is simplifies learning all those chords, because if you can classify a chord in category one, two, or three, and you always play on course, and category one in a specific way, you always play chords in the category two in a specific way.

And always play, of course, in that category three in a specific way, these simplifies your learning a lot. Second, it allows you to understand substitution better because most substitutions are inside this group, meaning that you can change according category one with any other code in category one, you can change our code in Category Two with any other chord in category two, and so on, and so forth. So it really makes it easier for us on this and substitution.

Third, this helps us also in ear training, because it’s much easier to identify chords, if you first identify in what group they are. And you can totally hear that it’s much easier to identify what group the chords are, and then try to understand the details or specifically, what chord is that rather than immediately trying to find? What chord is that at least at the beginning.

So this is something that while it’s not true, literally 100% of the time, it makes your life much, much easier. So what are the three groups, so we’re going to divide practically all the chord in those three groups major, minor, and dominant.

We are going to define as major chords or chords that have or accept both a major third and a major seventh, I’m going to explain what accept means in a moment, we’re going to define as minor chords or chords that have or accept both a minor third and the perfect fifth. And we are going to define as dominant chord or causes have or accept a major third and a minor seventh.

That’s the definition. But what does it mean when I say have or accept, when let’s take the major chords, they need to have an accept major third and major seventh. This means that if the chord contains both a major third and the major seventh, it’s major yay, we are done. As a C major seven with C, E, and B with E being the major third and B, the major seven.

Easy, but what if I have a plain C major triad? Will this code be a major chord or a dominant chord? Well, a major triad could be either a major chord or a dominant chord. Let’s take the plain old C major scale C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and let’s write all the triads in that C D minor, E minor, F, G, A minor B diminished. If I also write all the sevens in those chords, I have C major seven D minor seven E minor seven, F major seven G dominant seven, a minor seven and B minor seven flat five.

So as you see this C triad and the F triad in the key of C major, or if you want, the one and the four are major chords, because they both accept the major seven, meaning that when I play the scale on top, I naturally play the major seven. But the G major triad, the fifth, it’s a dominant chord, because when I play the scale on top, I naturally play the dominant seven, the F note over this G Major Triad.

So if I just play a G major triad, out of nothing, and I don’t know, it’s in the C major scale, I can technically not classify it, but I can give a default ruling that it’s a major chord simply because to most ear, the major seventh, it’s more agreeable than the dominant seventh, Your experience may be different. When this theory was invented, this was the case for the vast majority of people.

But if I play the G major triad, and I know I am in the key of C major, because this G Major Triad is in a chord progression in C major, then this G Major Triad, it’s our dominant chord, even if it doesn’t contain the minor seven, because in context, it’s a dominant chord. Of course, these being the internet, a vast majority of you are now trying to find counter examples.

Of course, that would not fit this classification. And always these being the internet, many of you are convinced that you are succeeding. So for instance, I am pretty sure some of you are just telling me but then as you just write a chord that does not fit this classification, and it’s there is to be diminished. Good. Oh, well joke’s on you because I’ve already published a video showing you how diminished chords are actually dominant chords in these guys.

And I totally recommend you guys go and see it. Other people are just thinking about, what about suspended chord, suspend a second or suspended fourth chord could be major chord or minor chord, or even dominant chord or federal law suspended fourth chord could be in many different places in a scale and could totally accept a major third, or a minor third, or a major seventh or a minor seventh.

So it could be anything. Yes, that is exactly true. This is not a counter example. This is just showing that some specific chord just like the major triad can fit more than one category depending on where we are in the scale and depending on the context.

So all suspended fourth quarter suspend, the second chord could be a major chords, or minor quarter dominant chords in disguise, but they still be classified as one of those three, the same thing is going to happen with other strange structures like augmented chords, or augmented chords, two can be classified in any one of those three as major, minor or dominant. And indeed, let me show you let’s say I have a C augmented chord notes or C, E, G sharp, well, these could be classified as a major chord if I can put in a major seven, so a B note.

Or it could be classified as a dominant chord, if it accepts up minor seven, technically, it can even be classified as a minor chord, if I put it over a base of a so the notes are a C, E, G sharp, because that will be an A minor major seven.

And respect to the root of a, we have the minor third C, and the perfect fifth E is a technicality if you want but it does happen in music. Now, why we are doing all this because if you have a long and very complex chord progression, and you want to play over this chord progression, or you want to substitute the chords in this chord progression, what you need to know is not so much if a specific chords contains a six or a major seven or a sus two or a sus four or other things, what you need to know is that that chord is major.

Once you know that your chord is major, you have very specific scales and note choices that will work on all major chords. If the chord is minor, you will have specific scale choices and note choices that will work over that minor chord. And if a chord is dominant, you have specific scale choices and not choices that will work great over the dominant chord.

And the idea is that you can choose the scale and the classification of major minor end dominant will give you specific set of scales to choose from that will work good and the rest is up to your taste. In other words, this classification, simplify your notes choices and scale choices and substitution choices a lot so it’s really worth to learn it.

Now what I want you guys to do your homework, if you choose to accept it is pick a chord and then in the comments write down if you think this chord is major minor or dominant seven and I’m going to read your comment, and then I’m going to comment on that and I’ll make videos on that to help you understand this classification.

Now if you want to use this specific case you want to see how this is used. This classification is a big part of my course master of the modes, where I teach you how to play over chord progressions because this distinction is how we go about choosing the correct scale to play every chord progression.

So if you haven’t seen it yet, go and check out my course master of the modes. Master of the Modes, it’s not a book, and it will never be a book. It’s a complete video course made by guitar players for guitar players that take you from zero to become an expert in using modes and scales.

This course is for people who are not afraid to do some exercises, theory is important. Applying theory is more important. So the course is taught through exercises that you have to do and the more you practice them, the better you become. If you have just a minute check out master of the modes or the link on the top right.

If you liked this video, smash that like button don’t forget to subscribe and click on notification. Otherwise YouTube will not let you know when I put up a new video. And if you have any idea, any feedback, any suggestions, please write them down in the comments. I love to read from you. This is Tommaso Zillio of musictheoryforguitar.com. And until next time, enjoy.

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