Chord Primer


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Part 1: Chord roots


Not all chords are created equal. That is to say, C and Cm don’t sound good together. So it’s important to know all the parts of chord name and what they mean. This chord primer is intended to give you an overview of what chord names mean, as well as an understanding of how they function together.

A chord always has two parts… and sometimes as many as four: the root, the suffix (sometimes visible, sometimes implied), the alteration (sometimes), and the inversion (sometimes).

sample chord name

The root indicates where the foundation of the chord is. Is it a C chord? A G chord? A B-flat chord?

The suffix will indicate what kind of a chord it is. To understand chords, you need to know how to identify pitches by scale (note: this isn’t based on the key of the song, but on the root of the chord). For example, here’s a C and the pitch numbers on a C scale:

C scale

Here’s a D and the pitch numbers on a D scale. You can see that, unlike C, the D scale includes some sharps:

D scale

And here’s an F and the pitch numbers on an F scale. F includes one flat on the fourth note:

F scale

Next: Two- and three-note chords


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