Chord Chemistry

Chord Chemistry

Guitar Level: Advanced

Chords are obviously very important to guitarists.   In this post, I have enumerated the formulas needed for building a variety of chords using the scale of E as an example.  The purpose of this post is not to have you memorize all of these different variations of the E chord.  What is important is to understand the formulas behind these chords and how all the chords are driven from the musical scale.  Knowing these numeric formulas for each chord and knowing the major musical scales in each key signature will enable you to create these chords in any key.

E F# G# A B C# D# E F# G# A B C#
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13
Chord Name Formula Notes  Typical Finger Pattern(s) 
E 1-3-5 E-G#-B 022100
Em 1-b3-5 E-G-B 022000
Edim 1-b3-b5 E-G-Bb 0120xx
Esus2 1-2-5 E-F#-B xx2452 (bar at 2) or x79977 (bar at 7)
Esus4 1-4-5 E-A-B 022200
Esus2sus4 1-2-4-5 E-F#-A-B 002202 or oo2252 (bar at 2) or 004200
E5 1-5 E-B 02xxxx or 022xxx
Eaug 1-3-#5 E-G#-C 032110
E6 1-3-5-6 E-G#-B-C# x22120 or xx9999 (bar at 9) or 446454 (bar at 4)
Em6 1-b3-5-6 E-G-B-C# 022020 or xx2423 (bar at 2)
E6/9 (E6 add 9) 1-3-5-6-9 E-G#-B-C#-F# 022122 or x76677
E7 1-3-5-b7 E-G#-B-D 020100
E7sus4 1-4-5-b7 E-A-B-D 020200
Emaj7 1-3-5-7 E-G#-B-D# 0x110x or 021100
Em7 1-b3-5-b7 E-G-B-D 020000
Edim7 1-b3-b5-bb7 E-G-Bb-C# 012020 or 3x232x (bar at 2)
E9 1-3-5-b7-9 E-G#-B-D-F# 020102 or x76777
Eadd9 1-3-5-9 E-G#-B-F# 022102
Emaj9 1-3-5-7-9 E-G#-B-D#-F# 021102 or x74444 or xx2442 (bar at 2)
Em9 1-b3-5-b7-9 E-G-B-D-F# 020002 or 0x0002
Edominant9 1-3-5-b7-9 E-G#-B-D-F# 020102
Emaj11 1-3-5-7-9-11 E-G#-B-D#-F#-A 001102 or x76855
E11 1-3-5-b7-9-11 E-G#-B-D-F#-A 000102 or x77777 (bar at 7)
Em11 1-b3-5-b7-9-11 E-G-B-D-F#-A 000000 or 000002
Emaj13 1-3-5-7-9-13 E-G#-B-D#-F#-C# 021122 or 12-11-11-11-12-11 (bar at 11)
E13 1-3-5-b7-9-13 E-G#-B-D-F#-C# 020122

 Here’s some helpful things to remember when building chords:

  1. A “minor” chord always has a flat (dropped) third.
  2. A “seventh” chord has a flat (dropped) seven.
  3. A “major seven” chord has the natural seven.
  4. The word “suspend”, abbreviated “sus” is the same as saying “no 3”.
  5. Augmented chords, abbreviated as “aug” have a sharp 5.  This chord sounds unstable and offers a feeling of tension to the music.  It is the only chord in the entire matrix of chords listed above that contains a #5.  Try playing this chord in this voicing for an interesting sound: xx2110.
  6. The diminished 7 chord (Edim7) is frequently used in classical music.  It adds drama to the musical piece.  What’s interesting about this chord is you can move it up or down the neck in three fret intervals without changing the basic chord.  For example,  these following finger patterns are all the same chord: 1x010x, 4x343x, 7x676x and 10-x-9-10-9-x.

Since the key of E is one of the moveable chords in the CAGED system, you should be able to move any of these chords up and down the neck to create other chords.  Just remember that “open strings” need to covered when moved up the neck.  The Em11 is a great example of this.  Take a look at this chord in the above table.  It’s formed by simply strumming all six open strings.  You should therefore be able to bar your first finger across all six strings at any fret to make a new chord.  So, the following chords can be formed by sliding your barred finger to these frets (note that the root is on the sixth string):

Chord              Barred Fret Location

Em11               Open
Fm11               first
F#m11             second
Gm11               third (usually marked with a dot on your fretboard)
Abm11            fourth
Am11               fifth (usually marked with a dot on your fretboard)
Bbm11             sixth
Bm11               seventh
Cm11               eighth
Dbm11            ninth
Dm11               tenth
Ebm11             eleventh
Em11               Twelfth or back to the open position (usually marked with a dot on your fretboard)

A few additional chord commentaries follow:

  1. The “power chord”, also called the “five” chord (E5) has a rock sound and sounds good with electric guitars and distortion.
  2. The 6/9 chord (E6/9) is calming and tranquil.  It also consists of the five notes in the pentatonic scale.
  3. The diminished seven chord (Edim7) has a spooky feel.  It is sometimes written as “E°7”.
  4. The major 9 chord (Emaj9) has a mellow sound.
  5. The minor 9 chord (Em9) is smooth and jazzy.
  6. The dominant 9 chord (Edom9) is funky.

Here’s all the key signatures that you will need to create the above chords in any key:

MAJOR SCALE   R   -   2   -   3   4   -   5   -   6   -   7
   C  maj.:   C   -   D   -   E   F   -   G   -   A   -   B
   Db maj.:   Db  -   Eb  -   F   Gb  -   Ab  -   Bb  -   C
   D  maj.:   D   -   E   -   F#  G   -   A   -   B   -   C#
   Eb maj.:   Eb  -   F   -   G   Ab  -   Bb  -   C   -   D
   E  maj.:   E   -   F#  -   G#  A   -   B   -   C#  -   D#
   F  maj.:   F   -   G   -   A   Bb  -   C   -   D   -   E
   F# maj.:   F#  -   G#  -   A#  B   -   C#  -   D#  -  (E#)
   G  maj.:   G   -   A   -   B   C   -   D   -   E   -   F#
   Ab maj.:   Ab  -   Bb  -   C   Db  -   Eb  -   F   -   G
   A  maj.:   A   -   B   -   C#  D   -   E   -   F#  -   G#
   Bb maj.:   Bb  -   C   -   D   Eb  -   F   -   G   -   A
   B  maj.:   B   -   C#  -   D#  E   -   F#  -   G#  -   A#

MINOR SCALE   R   -   2   b3  -   4   -   5   b6  -   b7  -
   A  min.:   A   -   B   C   -   D   -   E   F   -   G   -
   Bb min.:   Bb  -   Cb  Db  -   Eb  -   F   Gb  -   Ab  -
   B  min.:   B   -   C#  D   -   E   -   F#  G   -   A   -
   C  min.:   C   -   D   Eb  -   F   -   G   Ab  -   Bb  -
   C# min.:   C#  -   D#  E   -   F#  -   G#  A   -   B   -
   D  min.:   D   -   E   F   -   G   -   A   Bb  -   C   -
   Eb min.:   Eb  -   F   Gb  -   Ab  -   Bb (Cb) -   Db  -
   E  min.:   E   -   F#  G   -   A   -   B   C   -   D   -
   F  min.:   F   -   G   Ab  -   Bb  -   C   Db  -   Eb  -
   F# min.:   F#  -   G#  A   -   B   -   C#  D   -   E   -
   G  min.:   G   -   A   Bb  -   C   -   D   Eb  -   F   -
   G# min.:   G#  -   A#  B   -   C#  -   D#  E   -   F#  -

This document is available for free download in my file storage area.  It is a good document to keep in your guitar case.

I believe all of the above information to be correct, but please help me out and drop a comment if you find an error, or if some of the statements made are not true for all key signatures.


One thought on “Chord Chemistry”

  1. Steve, Thank you for this very helpful guitar chord resource. I don’t think I have ever seen these formulas all put together so well in one spot. good job!


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