SMG Guitar Lesson #9: Why Chords Sound the Way They Do

We’re all familiar with the fact that major chords sound happy, cheery, and uplifting while minor chords sound dark, sadder and somewhat contemplative. In fact, major chords and minor chords are just the tip of the iceberg. There are dozens of types of chords, and they have all their own distinct sound! But what is it that makes them sound the way they do?

In order to understand why certain chords are classified as “major” or “minor” or otherwise, we must take into consideration how they are formed. Remember my lesson on the note wheel? (Hopefully by now, you’ve had a chance to make a “musical compass” of your own at home. If not, go HERE and print one up for yourself because you’re about to put it to good use! It’s important because this thing really comes in handy!)

 

Above is a simplified version of the note wheel. Only the notes within the C Major scale have been labelled. In between the notes of the scale, the gaps are dotted to illustrate the five un-used notes from the chromatic scale. These are kind of like invisible “black holes” within the scale that we weren’t taking account of when we were harmonizing our scale in the last lesson, but they have a great impact on why the chords in the key sound the way they do.

This is because chords also have gaps, or “intervals”, in between the notes that form them. You can think of the intervals that form a chord as giving it a distinct fingerprint that makes it sound the way it does. Let’s study a few examples…

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