A chord is when multiple notes (usually three) are played simultaneously. Chords are common in western music. The most popular chords are called triads, because they play three notes at the same time. There are also chords with more than three notes. But in this article we will focus on the triads, the most popular chords.

There are two types of triads or three note chords – Major chords and Minor chords. Each triad also has a name like C Major, C Minor, D Major etc.

White and Blacks keys of an Octave

Understanding the Keys of an Octave

We know that every octave has 12 keys – 7 white and 5 black. The 7 white keys are C, D, E, F, G, A and B.

The black keys are labeled as either sharp or flat, depending on whether it is to the right or to the left of a white key. So the first black key in an octave can be called C# (C Sharp) or Db (D Flat). This is because it is to the right of the C White key and to the left of the D White key. So, you can call it either C# or Db. Similarly the second black key can be called D# or Eb.

So each black key has two names. They are

  • C# or Db
  • D# or Eb
  • F# or Gb
  • G# or Ab
  • A# or Bb

Semitone and Fulltone

The distance between two neighboring keys is called a semitone. So C# is one semitone away from C. A semitone means half a tone.

Any two keys with one key between them are a full tone apart. Any two adjacent keys are a semitone apart.

C to D is a full tone. C to C# and C# to D are semitones.

Difference between Major Chords and Minor Chords

Now that we know about the white and black keys of an octave, let us see the difference between major and minor chords.

In every triad or three note chord, there will be 6 keys between first and last note. Say for example the first note of a 3 note chord is C, the first white key. Then the last note of that chord will be G, because in between there are 6 notes C#, D, D#, E, F and F#. So the first and last note of a chord will be seven semitones apart.

Similarly if the first note is C#, then obviously the last note will be G#.

Now the difference between a major chord and a minor chord is the position of the second note or the middle note of the triad. In case of a major chord, there will be 3 notes between the first note and the middle note. In case of a minor chord, there will be 2 notes between the first note and the middle note.

C Major Chord

For example, in case of C Major chord, the three notes will be C, E and G (see above).

C Minor Chord

In case of C Minor chord, the three notes will be C, Eb and G (see above).

Similary, for D Major chord, the three notes will be D, F# and A. And for D Minor chord, the three notes will be D, F and A.

As you can see, the only difference between a major chord and a minor chord with same first note is the middle note.

The root, third and fifth notes of a Triad

The first note of a three note chord or triad is called the root. In C Major chord, the root is C. In C Minor chord, the root is again C.

The second note or the middle note of a three note chord is called the third. In C Major chord it is the major third (four semitones away) i.e E. In C Minor chord it is the minor third (three semitones away) ie Eb.

The last note of a triad is called the fifth. It is 7 semitones away from the root.

List of Major and Minor Triads

List of Major Chords

C MajorC E G
D MajorD F# A
E MajorE G# B
F MajorF A C
G MajorG B D
A MajorA C# E
B MajorB D# F#
C# MajorC# E# G#
Eb MajorEb G Bb
Ab MajorAb C Eb
Bb MajorBb D F

List of Minor Chords

C MinorC Eb G
D MinorD F A
E MinorE G B
F MinorF Ab C
G MinorG Bb D
A MinorA C E
B MinorB D F#
C# MinorC# E G#
Eb MinorEb Gb Bb
Ab MinorAb B Eb
Bb MinorBb Db F

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