Shop

Transposing Songs

In this lesson we're going to practice transposing a bit more, but you're going to find some additional perspective and techniques as well! The Circle of Fifths can be used for transposing, which isn't something we covered in the main course. 

This lesson is linked to How To Transpose Songs in Guitar Theory Unlocked

Building Triads

In this lesson we're going to practice building triads. There's some review here, but also some fresh perspective, as we'll look at how to build chords without building a scale first. In fact, we can use some basic fretboard patterns to help us out, and show us the notes we need! 

This lesson is linked to How To Build Chords in Guitar Theory Unlocked

Dominant 7th Chords

So far we’ve looked at minor 7th chords, which stack a minor third on top of a minor triad, and we’ve looked at major 7th chords, which stack a major third on top of a major triad. Dominant 7th chords on the other hand stack a minor third on top of a major triad.


Third

Fifth

Seventh

Minor 7th

minor

perfect

minor

Dominant 7th

major

perfect

minor

Major 7th

major

perfect

major

Side Note: There is a fourth combination: minor 3rd, 5th, major 7th, however it is not very common. Try it out yourself: The major 7th of A is G♯ so just add a G♯ onto an open Am chord and you’ll hear what this chord sounds like. The easiest one to add is on the first string, fourth fret. Try this chord (x02214) and you’ll see why it isn’t very commonly used.

If you look at the scale, you will find that this combination (major triad + minor third) simply doesn’t exist. We have to break the scale to make it work.

That’s fine – we can do that. 😉

Going outside the notes in the scale is allowed; we won’t be getting into that too deeply here, but I did cover some ways to do that in Guitar Theory Unlocked.

When you first start out learning music theory, you learn basic sets of rules. Later on, you learn more comprehensive rule sets that allow for many more possibilities, even though they seem to be “breaking” the original rules.

We need to add a minor third onto a major triad, and the way to do that is to take the major third that would normally exist at the vii position, and make it minor by flatting it.

That may sound complicated, but in reality it is very simple: we’re changing the distance between the V and the vii to be three semitones instead of four. That’s it.

Remember that a minor third is three semitones, and a major third is four semitones. That applies regardless of what scale you’re working with; those are absolute relationships that never change. A minor third interval is always three semitones.

Let’s take a look at our diagram that we’ve been working with. Normally the vii is an F♯, but we’re going to take that note and flat it. We could write that note as a 7.  

So our notes for the G dominant 7 chord are: GBDF, which we could also say are 1357.

 Dominant 7th chords are special, we don’t need to mention the “dominant” part of their name, like we do with minor 7ths and major 7ths. You can of course, for clarity, but often they are simply written as G7, A7 etc.

From the diagram we can see that to create a G7 chord (Gdom7) we need these notes: G, B, D, F.

The dominant 7th chord is sometimes referred to as a fence-sitting chord, and the reason for that is it has qualities of both major and minor chords. The bottom half is a complete major chord. However added onto that is a minor third in the top end, which really affects the character of the chord, pulling it back towards the minor side. In fact, on the top end, you basically have a diminished triad, which pulls very hard toward the minor.

Because of this internal tug of war, the fence sitter can actually be used to substitute for either major or minor chords, depending on the context.

A lot of blues songs are written using exclusively dominant 7th chords for the main I IV V progression; they’re great sounding and versatile chords that are well worth having in your collection. In fact, the dominant 7th is one of the most common 7th chords you’re going to come across, regardless of the type of music.

Let’s look at some common shapes:

Bar Chord Options:

These ones are labeled “dom7” purely because it could be misleading to just have a 7 there with no further information!

Major 7th Chords

Major 7th chords are built by taking a major triad and adding a major 7th to it. In the context of stacking thirds, we’d be adding the next third after the V note as you go along in the scale. 

Looking at it this way, in terms of stacking thirds, you need a major third, a minor third, and a major third to build a maj7 chord. Let’s take an example from the key of G major. We’ll build a Gmaj7:

As you can see, the notes in Gmaj7 are G, B, D, F♯.

You need to be careful though, not all of the notes you need for all of the chords are found in the scale. When you’re building the Vmaj7, the 7 note will naturally be a minor 7; you need to raise this one semitone to make it a major 7 if you want to create a major 7 chord.

Why not spend a few minutes right now practicing building these? Take a few major chords and figure out what needs to happen to turn them into major 7th chords.

Here are some common major 7 chords:

Bar Chord Options:

Major 7th chords tend to be more common in jazz; however they sound pretty cool - see if you can work them into your playing. One idea to get you started is to move from the major to the major 7th, then see where that leads your ear next. To my ear, going to the IV chord works good at this point, but you can play around with different options. In fact, one really cool transition is to go from major to maj7, to dom7… which brings us right into our next group of chords!

Minor 7th Chords

Before we dig into these 7th chords I want to make a distinction between “7th” chords and “the vii” chord. When we’re talking we don’t have the benefit of the extra information available in print, and it can all begin to sound the same. However, there is a difference between the vii chord, which is the 7th chord in the scale, and 7th chords, which are a collection of chords that all involve the 7th note in relation to the root note of the chord. I’ve seen people get these confused so it merits mentioning. As we saw earlier the vii chord in any major key is diminished, whereas we can make any major or minor chord in a key into a 7th chord simply by adding a note. Make sense? Great, let’s move on.

The suspended chords we just looked at replace the third note in the chord with a fourth, or a second. With minor 7th chords, we’re not replacing any notes; instead we’re adding them. That means we’re getting away from our three note chords (triads), and now we’ll be dealing with four note chords (tetrads or tetrachords).

Technically, you might say that these are actually minor/minor 7th chords, because we are adding a minor 7th onto a minor triad.

We’ve talked before about major and minor thirds, as well as perfect intervals such as the fourth and the fifth, but what is a minor seventh? One way you can determine if a seventh is major or minor is to look at the interval between the V and the vii. If the interval is a minor third (three semitones), then you’re dealing with a minor seventh. If the interval is a major third (four semitones), then you’re dealing with a major seventh. This works because the V chord is a perfect fifth from the tonic, therefore it is a fixed point in the scale, and does not change regardless of whether you are in a major or a minor scale.

Another way to find the quality of the seventh is to compare it to the I. If it is a semitone away from the I, then you have a major seventh; if it is two semitones away from the I, you have a minor seventh.

If you think back to how we built our basic triads, we’re going to do exactly the same thing with minor 7th chords, by stacking an extra third. That means that in order to build a min7 chord, we will need a minor third, a major third, and a minor third.

Let’s do an example. We’ll take an A minor chord from the key of G major. To create the A minor chord, we start with the A and start stacking thirds. We get A, C, and E. Now, to get a minor 7th, we just add on the next third interval, which is G.

So an A minor 7 (Am7) chord looks like this: A, C, E, G. Remember that there is no requirement  for the notes to appear in that same order, and also octave repeats are just fine as well too, as you can see in the Am7 on the far right (repeating the G). 


Here’s the trick: in relation to the key, which is G major, A is the ii note. However, when we’re building chords, we always call the root note of the chord the 1, which in this case is A. If you think of the A as the 1, then it becomes easier to see that the fourth note added is a seventh in relation to the root note, which is A.

Another way to look at it is that you’re adding a minor third (three semitones) to the V, or adding a perfect fifth to the III (which is minor).

Here’s a quick way to find the minor 7; just go down a tone from the root note of your minor chord. Rather than counting up seven scale positions, just go down a tone from A, and you find G. Add that to your minor chord and you have a minor 7th.

Take a few minutes to think through these chords, and find a way to relate to these chords that makes sense to you.

Try taking a few minor chords and figuring out what note needs to be added in order to convert them to minor 7th chords.

Minor 7th chords are very common chords, and can easily be substituted in place of a minor chord pretty much anywhere you want to. In comparison to a standard minor chord, they tend to have an even softer sound. Here are some common versions:

Root 5 Bar Chord Options:
Root 6 Bar Chord Options: 

Suspended 2 Chords

Another type of suspended chord is the suspended second, or sus2, also seen as sus9. On the guitar, adding a 2 doesn’t usually sound that good, because the pitches are too close together and end up sounding muddy, so instead we usually add a 9, which is the same as the 2 but one octave higher (2+7=9).

Just like with the sus4 chords, we’re replacing the third in the chord. For example, where D major would normally be D, F♯ and A, if we want to make that a sus2, we need to replace the third, which is F♯ and put a 2 or a 9 in its place. Remember, in a major chord, the third is four semitones from the root note, so to get a 2, we need to drop that third by a tone, which gives us an E.

In our example of Dsus9, the easiest way to add an E to the chord is to play the first string open. That removes the F♯ and replaces it with an E. Note that from a technical perspective, this is a Dsus9, because the note that is changed is more than an octave higher than the root note of the chord.

The Asus9 is a pretty common one, and can be easily barred as well.

The Csus2 chord is a great example of the difference in sound between a sus2 and a sus9. My personal preference is to either mute the fourth string entirely and use the higher octave D, or alternatively, just play a Cadd9. I don’t really like the sound of the 2 in the lower octaves; it just feels muddy and indistinct to me.

Which do you prefer? Let me know in the comments below! 

The Gsus2 chord is very similar, and again, my preference would be to simply mute the 2nd string here and not let that low 2 interfere with the root note too much. Also, here's the Cadd9 chord we talked about in the video: 

Suspended 4 Chords

A suspended chord is one in which the third (major or minor) is left out, and is instead replaced by a perfect fourth or a major second. When we’re counting through the scale, VIII is the octave, so if you keep going, technically you can keep counting up, IX, X, XI etc. This is why sometimes you’ll see a sus4 chord written as a sus11; the 11 is the same note as the 4, just one octave higher in relation to the root note of the chord. The same goes for the 2, an octave higher that same note is a 9. On the guitar, having the extra octave of separation usually makes the chord sound much better.

For our purposes here, we’ll usually be using the lower numbers, because they’re easier to relate to, but keep in mind that technically there’s an extra octave being added in there.

A perfect fourth is always the distance of five semitones; a perfect fifth is always seven semitones. This means we can’t just stack intervals from the scale the way we did with normal triads; sometimes the perfect fourth is not actually present in the key.  

Dsus4 is probably the most common suspended chord on the guitar. In a normal D, we have D, F♯ and A. The F♯ is the major third, so to get a Dsus4, we’re going to remove that F♯ (on the 1st string) and replace it with a perfect fourth, which is G.

Keep in mind that for ease and clarity, whenever we’re talking about the notes in a chord, we essentially shift into the mode for that chord; in other words, the root note of the chord becomes the 1 of its scale, although all of the notes in the scale remain consistent with our key.

There are many more sus4 chords you can play; I’m not going to list them all out here, but now that you know the principle, you can figure out on your own how to turn any major or minor chord, anywhere on the fretboard into a sus4 chord.

“Add” Chords

Sometimes you might come across a chord that looks like this: Dadd4. What’s happening here? In a Dadd4, we’re doing something very similar to the Dsus4, however instead of replacing the third, we’re adding the fourth, and keeping the third, making it a true four-note chord (D, F♯, A, G).  In the interests of time, I did not go into all the different variants of chords available, because there are simply too many. Adding a note to a chord is a fairly common practice, and once you break down the notes in the chord, it is fairly easy to understand.  

Some of the other sus4 chords we covered are shown below for reference – as you look at the chord diagrams and practice them, pay attention to the notes that are present in each, and quickly in your mind, reason out why they are the way they are. This simple exercise will help you tremendously in your chord knowledge.

Bar Chord Options (use these to get any chords not covered above). The superscript indicates the string number that the root note is found on.

Slash Chords

The lowest note of a slash chord is different than the root note of the chord. You can identify a slash chord by the slash “/” in it. The actual chord is shown first, then a slash, then the bass note. A slash chord is also sometimes called an inverted chord because the lowest note is one that is normally found higher in the chord, and has thus been inverted, to a position below the root note.

The D/F♯ chord is a really popular slash chord on the guitar. I’ve seen people play it different ways. The way I usually play it is on the left – a normal D chord, with the thumb wrapped around to hit the F♯ bass note. Alternatively, hit the bass note with your first finger, and use fingers 2, 3 and 4 for strings 3, 2, 1, respectively.

Again, look at the notes. We need D, F♯ and A to make a D major, and we have two of each in this chord. So, this qualifies as a D major, right? Thing is, when you play this chord, the F♯ bass note really changes the dynamic of the chord, and gives it a whole new character that is definitely different than a standard D major with a D bass note.

The great thing about the D chord is you have a whole octave to play with below the root note – for instance, on the right (above) you can see another version of D/F♯ but this one uses a different F♯.

You can experiment with trying different bass notes on your chords; this is a great technique for adding a bit of a walking bass line to your picking or strumming, and can be used effectively to lead into another chord. A chord like this D chord is especially great for experimentation, because the bulk of the chord happens in the top three strings, leaving you tons of room on other strings to try other bass notes.

I won’t explain each of these chords in detail, because that was done in the video; however here are the ones we covered in there, for reference.

Bar Chord Options

These bar chord diagrams are written in such a way so they are universal, and don’t have to be written out for every single version of the chord shape. We’re dealing with chord shapes here, so the first on the left for instance, deals with a Root 5 major chord, with a perfect 5th bass note.

This last chord shape relates to a Root 5 chord, but the root has now moved to the third string, as we’ve inserted an alternate bass note on the fifth string where the root used to be.

One of the most common ways to use this shape is a A/C♯, however it’s really helpful to know that it’s a moveable shape that you can transpose anywhere.

The #1 Rule For Chord Exploration

In this course we’re going to cover some of the more common chord modifications you’re likely to run into. But what if you just want to experiment a little, and see where your ear leads you?

Well, I’ve got a handy rule that can really help you experiment:

Any of the notes from the key can be added on to any of the chords in the key to produce new variations.

While you may not know the name of the chord you’ve created, there’s also a fair chance you just don’t care (let’s be honest!)! However, you still want to work with it.

So, identify the scale pattern that overlays the area where you’re playing, and then start experimenting to see what chords you can create, by adding notes from that scale into your different chords from the key.

You don’t even need the scale pattern, though it helps. You simply need to know which notes are in the key. Here’s the first seven frets of G major:

Visualize where your chords fit in there, then try to identify a few additional notes you could use to try with them. Have some fun with it!  Is it possible to use notes outside the key? Maybe, but start with the ones inside first, that’s where you will find the lowest-hanging fruit.  

In the lesson I mentioned a video I did covering 13 different ways to modify a G chord. You can find that video here, if you want to check it out! 

13 Ways To Spiff Up A Lowly "G" Chord


Welcome & Review

Let’s start with a super quick review of how chords are constructed.

We need three notes to make a triad, and we get these notes by stacking thirds out of the key. Let’s do an example from the key of A major; we’ll build the IV chord, which is D major:

The distance between the first two notes in this chord is two tones; a major third. The distance between the last two notes in this chord is a tone and a semitone; a minor third. That makes this a major triad.

There are four main types of triads, and these form the foundation of most of the chords we work with. Triads are three note chords, and the specific distance between the first and the second note, and the second and the third note, is what gives the chord it’s unique quality.

Type of Chord

Intervals

Shorthand

Major

major 3rd + minor 3rd

maj

Minor

minor 3rd + major 3rd

min

Augmented

major 3rd + major 3rd

aug

Diminished

minor 3rd + minor 3rd

dim

This is the starting point; all of the chord modifications we’re looking at are related in some way to this principle of how chords are built.

So D major could be represented as DF♯A; this is the naturally occurring order of the notes in scale. On our instrument, we would make sure the first note is the lowest in pitch, which forms a foundation for the rest of the chord.

We can also change the order of these notes, which we will discover with our first modification.

Transposing Practice

This lesson covers some additional examples and perspective on the topic of transposing chord progressions and songs. 

This lesson is linked to the How To Transpose Songs lesson in Guitar Theory Unlocked. 

Finding the Key Practice

This lesson contains additional practice finding the key of chord charts, as well as some additional perspective on how to go about doing that, along with a non-standard example. 

This lesson is linked with Finding the Key of a Chord Chart in Guitar Theory Unlocked. 

Building Triads Practice

This lesson includes more examples of building triads, as well as some additional perspective on how you can approach this topic. 

This lesson is linked to How To Build Chords in Guitar Theory Unlocked. 

1 2 3 7