Chord Symbols

This table shows examples of common symbols used to label chords. They are like a shorthand version of the chord name.

Chord Type 7th 6th 9th Major 7th Augmented 5th 7th with Flat 5th Flat 9th Sustained 4th 11th 13th Diminished
Major C7 C6 C9 Cmaj, Cmaj7, Ctriangle Caug, C+ C7b5 C7b9 Csus, Csus4 C11 C13 Cdim, Co
Minor Cm7, C-7 Cm6, C-6 Cm9, C-9 - Cm+, C-+, C-aug Cm7b5, C-7b5 Cm7b9, C-7b9 - Cm11, C-11 Cm13, C-13 -

There are several main uses for a chord within a progression. The Root or Tonic is the starting point and ending point. The Dominant position leads directly to the root. In a simple progression, if C is the root, G7 would be the dominant. If you click on them, you can hear how the harmonies of the G7 create some tension just before resolving back to C.

The Subdominant position adds a little more interest to the previous two chords. Generally a progression moves from the root to the subdominant, back to the root, then to the dominant, and finally resolving back to the root. In our above example of C, the subdominant would be F.

Listen to a sample progression using C, F, and G7 (it's 8 bars long, it's C,F,C,C,G7,G7, and two bars of C).

Here is a table of the different subdominants and dominants for each root chord. In parentheses, note the Roman Numerals I, IV, and V. Sometimes songs are written with chords specified as position only, independent of key. Then you can select a key and figure out which chords to use by substituting a real chord for the Roman Numeral. If the I is C, the IV would be F, and the V would be G. If the I is E, the IV would be A and the V would be B, and so on.

Root (I) Subdominant (IV) Dominant (V)
C# F# G#
Eb Ab Bb
F Bb C
F# B C#
Ab Db Eb
Bb Eb F
B E F#

Ultimately we use the chords to create songs. A well-written chord progression provides structure, harmonizes with the melody, and reinforces the melody too. There are an infinite variety of substitutions for the basic chords.

One useful tool for writing chord progressions is to use the circle of fifths. The table below has chords arranged in order of the circle of fifths (although not in a circle, sorry!). To come up with a reasonably interesting chord progression in a hurry, do this:

C G D A E B F# C# Ab Eb Bb F
C# Ab Eb Bb F C G D A E B F#
D A E B F# C# Ab Eb Bb F C G
Eb Bb F C G D A E B F# C# Ab
E B F# C# Ab Eb Bb F C G D A
F C G D A E B F# C# Ab Eb Bb
F# C# Ab Eb Bb F C G D A E B
G D A E B F# C# Ab Eb Bb F C
Ab Eb Bb F C G D A E B F# C#
A E B F# C# Ab Eb Bb F C G D
Bb F C G D A E B F# C# Ab Eb
B F# C# Ab Eb Bb F C G D A E

So, using C as an example, start on C, jump right to B, then play E, A, D, G, and finally, C again.

You can also introduce modulations, which are basically key changes, by shifting to a different root and following the previous method.

Now let's move on to the next page, which is a table of all the chords in common use. There are many flavors of harmonies to choose from. Then we can talk briefly about chord substitutions and voicings, inversions, etc.
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