Part 2: Two- and three-note chords

Chord Primer


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Part 2: Two- and three-note chords


Let’s return to C. Here some examples of the most common C chords: the chord name, an explanation of how it’s built, and an example of the chord on the staff.



“C major”: 1-3-5. When a chord is shown only as a root and no suffix, it’s a major chord. The suffix is implied.

cmaj               piano C


“C minor”: 1-b3-5. A minor chord is just like a major chord, except that the 3 (or the third) is lowered by a half-step.

Cm               piano Cm

Csus or Csus4

“C sus 4” or “C suspended”: 1-4-5. The Csus uses the 4 instead of the 3. It has an unresolved feeling, and is usually followed by the C or Cm.

Csus               piano Csus


1-5. The C5 is like C major, but without the 3. Because it has few notes, it can be used in place of nearly any C chord. It might sound less satisfying, but it won’t clash with any other C chords.

C5             piano C5

C2 or Csus2

1-2-5. The C2 uses a 2 instead of a 3. Like the C5, it also works in place of nearly every kind of C chord. 2 chords are very common in contemporary worship music, and are often easier to play than major or minor chords on the guitar (because the guitar is tuned in 4ths).

C2               piano C2

Cdim, C°, or Cm(b5)

“C diminished”: 1-b3-b5. Diminished chords are a little less common in church music, but they’re a staple in jazz. All the chords to this point have had the 1-5 interval (called a perfect fifth), which provides a certain feeling of stability; but diminished chords don’t have this interval. As a result, they sound unresolved, and they’re usually found in the middle of one chord progressing to another.

Diminished chords are like minor chords, except that the 5 is lowered. So you’ll sometimes see them written as “m(b5).”

Cdim               piano Cdim

Next: Chords with more than three notes


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