Chord Building Theory

The ability to name every note in every chord is absolutely necessary for a jazz guitarist. This knowledge needs to be reflexive. It’s not good enough to be able to “figure out” the notes. You have to know them cold – all chords – all keys.

The chords will be organized in 3 parts, 4 parts, 5 parts, 6 parts and 7 parts. Beyond these, we’ll cover alterations and several “miscellaneous” categories.

I’ve included a chart that shows the 13 scale degrees in every key. We’ll use this chart to build our chords in every key.

13 Degree Scale Chart in every key

C D  E  F  G  A  B  C  D  E  F  G  A
G  A  B  C  D  E  F#  G  A  B  C  D  E
D  E  F#  G  A  B  C#  D  E  F#  G  A  B
A  B  C#  D  E  F#  G#  A  B  C#  D  E  F#
E  F#  G#  A  B  C#  D#  E  F#  G#  A  B  C#
B  C#  D#  E  F#  G#  A#  B  C#  D#  E  F#  G#
F#  G#  A#  B  C#  D#  E#  F#  G#  A#  B  C#  D#
C#  D#  E#  F#  G#  A#  B#  C#  D#  E#  F#  G#  A#
F  G  A  Bb  C  D  E  F  G  A  Bb  C  D
Bb  C  D  Eb  F  G  A  Bb  C  D  Eb  F  G
Eb  F  G  Ab  Bb  C  D  Eb  F  G  Ab  Bb  C
Ab  Bb  C  Db  Eb  F  G  Ab  Bb  C  Db  Eb  F
Db  Eb  F  Gb  Ab  Bb  C  Db  Eb  F  Gb  Ab  Bb
Gb  Ab  Bb  Cb  Db  Eb  F  Gb  Ab  Bb  Cb  Db  Eb
Cb  Db  Eb  Fb  Gb  Ab  Bb  Cb  Db  Eb  Fb  Gb  Ab

Triads

A triad is a 3 note chord. Our format will be to show each chord type with a building formula that uses the 13 Degree Scale Chart.

Major

Take the first, third  and fifth notes of any line on the chart. This will produce a major chord. For example: C, E, G = Cmajor   G, B, D = G major etc.

Minor

Take the first, third and fifth notes of any line on the chart. Lower the third 1/2 step. This produces a minor chord.

Diminished

Use the first, third and 5th of any line but lower the third and the fifth 1/2 step.

Augmented

Use the first, third and 5th of any line but raise the 5th 1/2 step.

Sus4

Use the first, 4th and 5th of any line.

Follow this same procedure for all the chords in the following sections.

Four Part Chords

add 9 = 1359
m add9 = 1b359
dim add9 = 1b3b59
aug add9 = 13#59

maj7 = 1357
7 = 135b7
6 = 1356
mL7 = 1b357
m7 = 1b35b7
m6 = 1b356
dim L7 = 1b3b57
half dim 7 = 1b3b5b7
dim 7 = 1b3b5bb7
aug L7 = 13#57
aug 7 = 13#5b7

Work on these chords until you can name the notes easily and quickly for each chord.