Chord Primer

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.

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“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.


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piano Cm 300x188

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.


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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.


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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).


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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).”


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