CHORDRULER

Building Chords for All Instruments



So you want to build chords. But you have always been afraid that it was too complex to learn. Well, I’m here to tell you that it isn’t difficult at all. All you have to do is follow a few rules.


Building chords is like cooking from a cookbook. If you can follow directions and remember a few simple rules you are in good shape. The first thing to know is that chords are built on scales. For our examples we will use a C major scale. Once you can build chords in this scale you can build them in any scale. It’s just a matter of knowing the correct formula and then knowing how to use the formula to build chords. These formulas work on all instruments because chords aren’t instrument specific.


To understand how scales are derived let’s look at a chromatic scale first. Scales are built on the principal of tones and semi tones. A tone can be defined as a whole step or 2 half steps in a scale. The semitone is a half step. Here is how the chromatic C scale is set up:


C

C#

D

D#

E

F

F#

G

G#

A

Bb

B

C


This is the way the western scale that we use is set up. Just in case you don’t know, C# is also known as a Db, D# as Eb and Bb as A#. It is not necessary to know all of this to be able to build scales and chords, but it is interesting. So back to our scale. The major scale is based on the formula 1_2_34_5_6_78. What that means is that there are steps (tones) between most notes of the scale, but 3 &4 and 7&8 are right next to each other (semi tones). If we use the chromatic scale above and then use the formula for the major scale here is how it will look:


C

C#

D

D#

E

F

F#

G

G#

A

Bb

B

C

1


2


3

4


5


6


7

8



As you can see the notes in the C scale are all what are called naturals. That is no sharps nor flats. They happen to be the white keys on a piano. That’s why the piano is a good way to learn how to build chords. And that’s why the C scale is the easiest to start with.


Now we need to know some formulas for building chords. Lets start with the major chord. The formula for building the major chord is 1, 3, and 5. In the Key of C, the Tonic or I chord, is a C chord. Let’s go to the figure above and figure out the notes in the C chord. The 1 is a C, the 3 is an E and the 5 is a G. So that makes the notes in the C chord CEG. Pretty simple, isn’t it. The chord is built on the scale of the same name. So the C chord is built on the C scale and the G chord is built on the G scale, etc.


Just to show how easy it is lets build a G chord. First we need to know the G scale. Using the chromatic scale and starting on the G note looks like this:


C

C#

D

D#

E

F

F#

G

G#

A

Bb

B

C

C#

D

D#

E

F

F#

G

G#

A

Bb

B

C








1


2


3

4


5


6


7

8







The scale follows the same rules as before, 3&4 a semitone apart and 7&8 a semitone apart. So anyway we want to build the major chord and we know the formula is 1,3,5. So we look at the G scale:


G


A


B

C


D


E


F#

G

1


2


3

4


5


6


7

8


Notice the G scale has only one sharp the F#.


Then we use the formula 135 to get GBD. This works in all the major scales. And since most of our music is in the major scales we are in pretty good shape to build the main chords in most of our music.


I’m not going to list all the formulas now, but will give an example of building another chord. Let’s try the minor chord. We happen to have the formula for the minor chord and it is 1, b3, 5, Where b3 means to flatten the third note in the scale. So using the formula in the A scale, lets build the A minor chord. First lets look at the A major scale using the chromatic scale as a starting point. Use the number scale for the major scale starting with the A note.



C

C#

D

D#

E

F

F#

G

G#

A

Bb

B

C

C#

D

D#

E

F

F#

G

G#

A

Bb

B

C










1


2


3

4


5


6


7

8





Again remember the 3&4 and 7&8 are only semitones, so there aren’t any spaces between the notes. And here we have the A major Scale:


A


B


C#

D


E


F#


G#

A

1


2


3

4


5


6


7

8


The A major scale had three sharps. And the formula for a minor chord is the first, flattened third and the fifth. That makes the notes in the A minor chord A, C, and E.


So now you think, well there are all those major 7th, minor 7th, 9th chords etc. They have to be harder. They may be hard to play or easy to play, but they are easy to build. You just need to know the formula.


You can find numerous chord formulas on the web or check out some theory books.


You can also use the formulas for some of the common chords located on the Chord Rule ™.