The term “chord quality” is sometimes used to describe a chord. There are 4 major chord qualities in Western music. These are:
Let’s cover each chord quality so you can get an idea of how to talk about chords with other musicians, something that is really important for your musicianship:
The Major Chord
You probably know what a major chord is. The term “major” as in the “major scale” is actually named “major” because it was (and still is) the most common musical mode that’s used. I’ll cover modes in another article.
Since Western music is based on tertian chords, that means that a major chord is built on third intervals.
Let’s take the major C chord, for example.
A C major chord is built with a C note, an E note, and a G note. How did I know that? Let’s look at the C major scale.
A major C chord is made up of a major third interval and a minor third interval. You can write out the scale like this and then just pick every other note stating at C. This gives you C, E, G.
That is how you make a major chord. Take a major scale, and use the first, third, and fifth scale degrees.
Here are the different ways you will see major chords written.
- C: You will often see the chord name written as a capital letter. This is often seen in chord charts.
- C Major: You usually see chords written like this when people are typing out the chord like in articles about music (like this one!)
- CM: You may also see a major chord written like this. This is to make it look a little different from Cm (C minor).
- CMaj: This is often another way that you may see the chord written.
Next, let’s take a look at the minor chord.
The minor chord.
The minor is the second most used scale (mode) in Western music. This is the chord or scale that will sound sad compared to the major scale and major chords.
A minor chord is made of a minor third interval and a major third interval. Let’s take another look at the C major scale.
If we take a major third interval from C, we get an E. That means if we take a minor interval from C we get a C♭ (C flat). Then we take another major third interval and we get G.
Another way to think of this is just writing out the C minor scale like so. Here’s the C minor scale (actually it’s called the C natural minor scale).
Here again we can see that we can just take the first, the third, and the fifth from the minor scale. You can think of it like that, or you can just think of taking the major chord and then lowering the third note half a step down.
Here are some ways that you will see a minor chord written:
- c: A lowercase letter is probably the least used method to notate a minor chord because it’s easy to mistake C for c.
- C minor: This is a common way to see a minor chord when written in text in a paragraph of text.
- Cm: This is probably the most common way to notate a minor chord. You will see this quite a bit. You’ll often see “C” used for a C major chord and “Cm” used for a C minor chord.
- Cmin: This is another way to write C minor.
You have probably heard of major and minor chords before, but now let’s talk about a chord quality that you may not have heard of before: the diminished chord.
The diminished chord
A diminished chord is not as common as major or minor chords. Diminished chords sound dissonant and can sound somewhat like a minor chord.
So, how do we build a diminished chord? Let’s take a look at the C major scale again.
A diminished chord has the flat third and flat fifth of a major scale. You can think of this taking a major chord and lowering the third and fifth buy a half step.
Here’s how to make a diminished chord.
First take a major C chord: C,E,G.
Take the second note of the chord (E) and lower it down to E♭.
Take the third note of the major chord (G) and lower it own to G♭ .
This gives you C, E♭, G♭ for a C diminished chord.
Here’s how you will see a diminished chord written.
- C°: This is the most common way to see a diminished chord. You just take the letter name of the chord and draw a small circle at the top left. You will see diminished chords written like this 99% of the time.
- C diminished: You will most likely see diminished chords written like this when in text form.
- Cdim: You may see diminished chords written like this because the small circle may be difficult to read sometimes.
Let’s look at the last of the four most common chord qualities.
The augmented chord
Here is a chord quality that I almost never use. Actually, at the moment I can’t think of a single time when I have used an augmented chord.
Let’s take another look at the C major scale (it’s the last time, I swear!)
In order to make an augmented chord you build a major chord and raise the fifth up one half step. So in order to make a C augmented chord, you need to do the following:
- Make a C major chord (C,E,G).
- Raise the third note of the chord (G) up one half a step to G#.
That’s it! This is a pretty easy chord to make.
Here are some ways you will see augmented chords notated.
- C+: This is the most common way to see augmented chords written out.
- C augmented: Because the word is so long, you’ll usually only see the full word written out when it’s in an article like this.
- Caug: This is a pretty common way to see the chord written.
A note on the major chord qualities.
The order of the most commonly used chord qualities are major, minor, diminished, augmented. Diminished chords are used was less than minor chords and augmented chords are used way less often that diminished chords.
Now that you know the major chord qualities, I encourage you to practice making chords in random keys.
Pick a random note letter like G and then make a G major chord.
Then pick another note letter like A and make an A augmented chord.
I would really focus on doing this with major and minor chords because those are the ones you are going to use the most often.
What to read next:
You don’t need to a ton of chords to write a good song. You can check out some really easy guitar chords and write a lot of songs with just those.