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What are Major and Minor Chords?

Sep 04, 2021
I’ve heard of chords and harmony, but what exactly are major and minor chords? What makes them different?

The short answer:

  • A major chord has a Perfect 1st, Major 3rd and Perfect 5th
  • A minor chord has a Perfect 1st, Minor 3rd and Perfect 5th

Put another way, a minor chord is simply a major chord with the 3rd flattened (down 1 semitone).

Don’t worry, we still have a slightly longer and more informative answer:

First of all, both of these chords are what are called triads. A triad is a set of 3 notes that can be stacked in thirds. In other words:

  • The first note to the second note is a type of 3rd
  • The second note to the third note is a type of 3rd

Another way to look at a triad is this:

  • The distance between the first and second note is a type of 3rd
  • The distance between the first and third note is a type of 5th

So a triad is basically a 1st, 3rd and 5th.

How we get different types of chords are by changing the quality of the interval, as the numbers will stay the same.

So, triads basically look like this:

For both major and minor chords (or triads), we have a 1st and a perfect 5th. It is simply the note in the middle, the 3rd, that is different.

For a major chord, it is a major 3rd.

For a minor chord, it is a minor 3rd.

If you recall from our post on intervals, a major 3rd is 4 semitones from the root note. A minor 3rd is 3 semitones from the root.

Perfect 5ths are 7 semitones away from the root.

So let’s figure out a C Major chord.

Since it’s major, we know the 3rd is a major 3rd, or 4 semitones, from the root.

C -> Db (1)  -> D (2) -> Eb (3) -> E (4)

So the second note of a C major triad is an E.

For the 5th, it is a perfect 5th, so:

C -> Db (1)  -> D (2) -> Eb (3) -> E (4) -> F (5) -> Gb (6) -> G (7)

So a C major triad is a C, E, and G.

For a C minor? Simply flatten the 3rd (or count to 3 semitones instead of 4).

So a C minor triad is a C, Eb, and G.

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