Meaning of Guitar Chord Names
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Guitar chords are identified by the name of the root note or tonic (A-G plus sharps and flats) followed by various numbers or abbreviations indicating the type of chord, which affects which other notes are used.

Some German music uses the letter H to represent the note B. Where this is the case, the letter B actually represents Bb. None of the music in the Song Lyrics Archive uses this notation.

Major Chords

The name of the root note is used on its own to represent the most commonly occuring type of chord - the major chord. The diagram to the right shows the fingering for the chord of G Major (or simply "the chord of G"). This is one of the most commonly occuring guitar chords in contemporary music.

The chord of G contains three different notes, known as a "triad" - the root note (G) together with B and D. The fingering for the chord is such that each string plays either a G, B or D note. The lowest note of the chord is the root note (G).

(lowest note)
--- G (tonic)
--- B (major 3rd above tonic)
--- D (perfect 5th above tonic)
--- G (tonic)
--- B (major 3rd above tonic)
--- G (tonic)
(highest note)

The other notes in the chord (B and D) are always a fixed number of semitones above the root note. In the chord of G major, the note B is 5 semitones above the tonic (in more formal terminology, a major 3rd) while the note D is 8 semitones above the tonic (a perfect 5th). The lowest note played (bass note) is the root note of the chord.

Chord types other than major use different numbers of semitones between the notes.

The Chords of C Major and D Major - Omitting Bass Strings

The diagrams to the right and below show the fingering and notes that make up another very common chord - the chord of C major.

(lowest note)
--- Bass E String is not played
--- C (tonic)
--- E (major 3rd)
--- G (perfect 5th)
--- C (tonic)
--- E (major 3rd)
(highest note)

Like the chord of G major, three notes are used - in this case C, E and G - and the lowest note played is the root note (C). Unlike the chord of G, the bass E string is not played (indicated by the symbol X in the fingering chart). The lowest C playable on the E string would have needed a finger on the 8th fret, which would require a very long finger indeed!

Here are the fingerings and notes making up the chord of D Major. The chord is made up of the notes D, F# and A. In this chord, neither the bass E and A strings are used in order that the lowest note is D whilst making the chord is easily playable.

(lowest note)
--- Bass E string is not played
--- Bass A string is not played
--- D (tonic)
--- A (perfect 5th)
--- D (tonic)
--- F# (major 3rd)
(highest note)

Together with F, the chords of G, C, and D major are the most commonly used in music. The chords C, F and G can be used to play any piece written entirely within the key of C Major (which has no sharps or flats, making very simple to follow), while the chords G, C and D can be used to play any piece written entirely within the key of G Major (which includes a single sharp (F#)).

Alternate Bass Notes

Some songs include chords where the lowest note played is not the root note. This may be done for a variety of reasons, for example to provide a more "interesting" transition between chords or make certain sequences of chords sound better when played one after the other. This is indicated by putting a slash (/) followed by the bass note after the name of the chord.

An easily played chord with an alternate bass note is C/E. The fingering is identical to the normal C chord, except that the bass E string is also played.

A common use of these chords is to produce a run of bass notes leading up to a chord change. Here's how to do a change from G to C incorporating a bass run: Begin by play a few bars of G, strumming up and down (4/4 time). Then change to C by doing the following:

(bars of                                   (bars of
G strumming)     (G)   (/G)  (/A)  (/B)    C strumming)

The single notes should be played by plucking with the thumb, plectrum or thumbpick. You may like to damp the G chord at the start of the bar by lightly touching the strings with the side of your right hand.

In all cases where alternate bass notes occur, the song can be made easier to play by just ignoring the alternate bass notes (such as by playing G only, instead of G, G/A, G/B in the example above). This can also be done when playing in an ensemble or band where the bass note(s) would be played by a bass guitarist.

The Other Chord Types

The various letters, numbers and symbols following the name of the root note of the chord indicate different schemes used to determine the other notes used in the chord. For example the suffix m indicates a "minor chord", where a note 4 semitones above the root is used in place of the note 5 semitones above the root used in a major chord. The following table shows the notation and meaning for the most commonly occuring chord types.

NoneMajor triad: Root, major 3rd (5 semitones above root) and perfect 5th (8 semitones above root)
mMinor triad: Root, minor 3rd (4 semitones above root) and perfect 5th
augAugmented triad: Root, major 3rd and augmented 5th (9 semitones above root)
+Alternative notation for the above
dimDiminished triad
°Alternative notation for the above. As a simplification, the letter o is often used when the chord is entered into a computer
5Root and 5th only (known as a "power chord")
(no 3rd)Alternative notation for the above
sus4Suspended: 4th from major triad instead of 3rd
susAlternative notation for the above
6sus44th from major tried instead of 3rd, plus 6th (sus4 triad plus 6th)
6susAlternative notation for the above
7sus4sus4 triad plus minor 7th
7susAlternative notation for the above
7Dominant 7th: Major triad plus minor 7th
dom7Alternative notation for the above (rarely used)
7add11Minor triad, minor 7th, 11th
add9Major triad plus 9th
maj7Major triad plus major 7th
m(maj7)Minor triad plus major 7th
mM7Alternative notation for the above
add9(no 3rd)No 3rd but a 2nd from a major triad
6add9Major triad plus 6th and 9th
6/9Alternative notation for the above
maj9Major triad, major 9th plus 7th
m7(b5)Diminished triad, minor 7th, half-diminished 5th
9Major triad, minor 7th plus 9th
/<bass note>Indicates (non-standard) bass note, for example C/D is a C chord with a D bass note
(<numeral>)Play as barre chord from specified fret, for example C(III) is played with an "A" fingering, barre third fret
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