30-day guitar challenge: Chord names can sometimes look incredibly complex. Learn a few simple rules and concepts to demystify this dark art of music.
The best way to understand chord naming is to compare the notes in each chord to the notes in the major scale.
Chords that use lots of notes reference major scale notes an octave higher. These ‘octave up’ intervals are known as compound intervals. These are the notes, and numbered intervals in the key of C major.
Known as ‘triads’, the most basic chords are built from three notes. A flattened note (b3, etc) lowers a note by a semitone; a sharpened note (#5, etc) raises it by a semitone.
The b and # signs tell you how to adjust the major chord to make it either minor, diminished or augmented.
Major and minor 7ths
The major and minor triads are the most common. When you see a complex chord name with lots of numbers, it is usually an extra note added to one of these basic chord types.
The most common of these are chords that add the 7th or b7th.
This can be applied to lots of chords which, at first glance, look complex.
For example, a C6 chord is simply a C major chord with the 6th note of the major scale added, while a Cm6 is a C minor chord that also has a major 6th added.
Even a complex chord such as Cmaj7#11 looks simple when viewed in this way.