Why do musical harmonies work

Learn chords

Whether it's the piano or the guitar, whether it's songwriting or the first jam session - learning chords is an important step in getting started with music. This guide should show you what intervals are, how you can combine them to form different chords and finally accompany your first songs - learn the basics and basic knowledge that make learning chords child's play.

Here you can find out how learning chords becomes child's play with simple basics and basic knowledge.

By Gilbert Schwarz-Schultz

Why learn music theory at all?

The question “Do I have to learn music theory at all?” Will surely be asked by every musician sooner or later. Some already at the beginning of their musical life, others maybe later.

There are musicians who have written great songs without ever reading a note. On the other hand, there are those who record entire pieces on sheet music before they even pick up an instrument.

Music theory is not a must, but simply in its function as a universal language it facilitates the exchange between musicians immensely.

Whether it's the bassist to whom you want to explain the key of your new song or a guitarist who should find the right accompaniment for your song - being able to communicate with other musicians using standardized terms will always ensure that more space is available for the actual song (creative) process remains.

For many, this process begins with learning chords. In this article I would like to explain the basics and basic knowledge on this topic in more detail.

Also read: Children's guitar: Which guitars are suitable for children

What are chords?

A chord is the harmonious harmony of several tones. Two (two-tone), three (three-tone), four (four-tone) or even more tones can sound at the same time.

The basic chords usually consist of three tones and are formed from the root note. More on that later.

Chords often form the basis of a song, which singers and instrumentalists use for orientation. A chord progression can be taken over, for example, by a guitar, a piano, but also by an entire string ensemble.

To understand how chords are built, you first need to be able to form intervals.


An interval is basically the distance from one note to another. Chords always consist of a combination of different intervals.

To name intervals, you should get into the habit of counting in semitone steps first. A semitone step is always the distance from one higher note to the next.

  • Prim: 0 semitones
  • small second: 1 semitone step
  • large second: 2 semitones
  • minor third: 3 semitones
  • major third: 4 semitones
  • pure fourths: 5 semitones
  • perfect fifth: 7 semitones
  • minor sixth: 8 semitones
  • major sixth: 9 semitones
  • minor seventh: 10 semitones
  • major seventh: 11 semitones
  • pure octave: 12 semitones

Here are some key intervals that will make learning chords easier.


As you've already learned, chords that contain three different tones are triads. These three tones are layered on top of each other in intervals of thirds.

A triad consists of three tones that are layered on top of each other in intervals of thirds.

Since there are major and minor thirds, there are four different ways of combining them:

  • Root + major third + minor third = major triad
  • Root + minor third + major third = minor triad
  • Root + minor third + minor third = diminished triad
  • Root + major third + major third = excessive triad

Major and minor chords are the most common representatives of the triads and thus offer you an important basis for learning chords.

The third as an interval determines which gender the respective chord is - that is, major or minor.

Here you can see the difference between a C major and a C minor chord.

Major chord:

You create a major chord by playing the major third and fifth starting from a root note.

Let's take a look at the C major chord as an example, counting from the root C to the major third E (four semitones) and from the root C to the fifth G (seven semitones).

-> The major chord consists of a root, a major third and a fifth.

Minor chord:

A minor chord is created by playing the minor third and fifth from the root note.

With a C minor chord, you count from the root C to the minor third Eb (three semitones) and from the root C to the fifth G (seven semitones).

-> The minor chord consists of a root, minor third and fifth.

Chords are a combination of different intervals.

We note at this point that the gender of a chord, whether it is a major or a minor chord, depends on whether the third is a minor or a major.

At this point you may be wondering why, for example, a G major chord can be played over all six strings on a guitar. This is because some of the notes in a chord are often doubled to make it sound fuller.

Vierklang and power chord

In addition to the major and minor chords, there are of course many other chord variations. Usually one more is simply added to the three tones, so that the triad becomes a four-tone. Conversely, there are also chord variants in which a note is removed.

Seventh chords

The seventh chord as a four-note chord is mainly used in jazz music. It occurs in different variants and we are looking at four of them with C major and C minor as the basis:

  • Minor major seventh chord: C major chord + minor third = C7
  • Minor minor seventh chord: C minor chord + minor third = C minor 7th
  • Major seventh chord: C major chord + major third = C major 7
  • Major minor seventh chord: C minor chord + major third = C minor major 7th

Using the example of a C7, this would be the tones c, e, g and b. The b is ten semitone steps away from the root c and thus forms the minor seventh.
In the case of C Major 7, the b is added as the fourth tone. This is - again starting from the root c - eleven semitones away and thus forms the major seventh.

Power chord

The power chord is particularly popular with electric guitarists in rock music, as it is perceived as very powerful and full of energy. You will also find it under the name fifth chord, since the third is not played on this chord. So it only consists of a root and a fifth.

  • Power chord: root + fifth

Sometimes it is also supplemented by an octaved keynote in order to make it sound even fuller.
Since the power chord only consists of two different tones, it is a two-tone sound.

Chords in their function

Now that you can create the first chords yourself, it is of course time to combine several of them to write your first songs. A helpful introduction to this is to familiarize yourself with the terms tonic, subdominant and dominant.
Let's take a look at the C major scale as an example:

The C major scale.

If we form a triad from the root c, we get the C major chord. The root note is the 1st level of the scale. The triad on the 1st level of the scale is the tonic.

If we form a triad from the 4th degree of the scale, we get an F major chord. This is the subdominant.

If we now form a triad on the 5th degree, we get the dominant of the key. In this case a G major.

Play the best accompaniment for your first song.

With these three chords you have a first cadence, i.e. a chord progression that can be described as a meaningful, musical unit.

Conclusion on learning chords

Let's summarize: You now know why music theory can make it easier for you to communicate with your fellow musicians, what chords are and how to combine different intervals to create new chords. Learning chords offers you the optimal introduction to your instrument.

Even a Jimi Hendrix has certainly gone wrong and thus established a completely virtuoso chord - use this basic knowledge to give your creativity a foundation and to develop your own sound.