There are lots of types, or categories, of chords. You don't need to learn all of them, but by learning different types of chords your guitar playing will expand.
The types of chords covered:
Minor chords (Cm)
5th chords (a.k.a. power chords) (C5)
7th chords (C7)
Major 7th chords (Cmaj7)
Minor 7th chords (Cm7)
Sus chords (Csus)
7 sus chords (C7sus)
9 sus chords (C9sus)
Inverted chords (C/E)
Slash chords (C/B)
Add2 chords (Cadd2)
Add9 chords (Cadd9)
Minor Add chords (Cmadd2 & Cmadd9)
6th chords (C6)
Minor 6th chords (Cm6)
9th chords (C9)
Minor 9th chords (Cm9)
Major 9th chords (Cmaj9)
11th chords (C11)
Minor 11th chords (Cm11)
13th chords (C13)
Minor 13th chords (Cm13)
Major 13th chords (Cmaj13)
Dim chords (Cdim or Cº)
Dim7 chords (Cdim7 or Cº7)
Aug chords (Caug or C+)
Minor 7th flat 5th chords (Cm7b5 or Cm7-5)
Minor 7th sharp 5th chords (Cm7#5 or Cm7+5)
7th sharp 5th chords (C7#5 or C7+5)
7th sharp 9th (C7#9)
7th flat 9th (C7b9)
This group include chords with a raised or lowered note, typically the fifth or the seventh:
7#5, 7b5, 7b9, 7#9, 7#11, 9#11, 13#11, 13b9, 13#9, 7#5#9, 7#5b9, 7b5#9, 7b5b9
Read more about altered chords and see diagrams.
Numeric figures in chord names
As you may notice, there are lots of numbers involved. In general, these numbers refer to the interval between the root note and the last note in the chord. For example, C7 has the root note C and also E, G and finally B flat seven scale steps above the root. The B flat note is what separates the C7 chord from a regular C chord.
- When this number is written out it refers to an add2 or a sus2 chord. In these cases the numbers doesn't refer to the last note in the chord, instead to a note that is replacing another or an added note. Chords containing only two notes are sometimes referred to as dyads.
- This number doesn't occur in chord names, but the third as a musical interval is often part of chords as the second note. An exception is the no3 or omit3 abbreviation, which refers to a chord with an omitted third interval.
- This number is primarily mentioned in case of sus4 chords. Less common is add4 chords.
- This number is mentioned concerning power chords. A fifth as a musical interval is often the last note in triad, but is written out in power chords to indicate that the third is missing and the chord only consists of the root and a fifth.
- This number indicates that a musical interval in the form of a sixth interval is the last note of the chord.
- A common number in chords and involves major, minor and dominant seventh chords. These are triads including a seventh, which is the note seven scale steps away from the root.
- An eight would refer to a chord with a note one octave up, but since it would be a duplicated note doesn't this number occur in chord names. It would be very weird to call a chord something as C8 or Cadd8.
- Referring to that the chord has been extended with the tone nine steps from the root or an added ninth.
- This number doesn't occur since it would mean a duplicated third an octave higher. However, as a rare alternative name for 7#9, 7b10 is sometimes used.
- Refers to an extended chord with an eleventh note added to a seventh or a ninth chord.
- A twelfth would refer to the fifth one octave up and therefore a duplicated note. This is the reason that this number doesn't occur in chord names. Hypothetically, you could call a chord something as C12 or Cadd12, which would imply the notes C, E, G with the G on the next octave.
- Refers to an extended chord with a thirteenth note added to a seventh or an eleventh chord.
- No chords are using numbers higher than thirteen.
When chord names are written out on sheets, the numbers are often in superscript text, as the following examples show:
C7, D9, G11, A6, B13.
Symbols in chord names
Symbols are sometimes used together with or instead of abbreviations.
- This is a sharp symbol, meaning that the note is raised one semi-step. For example Em7#5 includes a raised fifth (E, G, C, D).
- This is a flat symbol, meaning that the note is lowered one semi-step. For example Em7b5 includes a lowered fifth (E, G, Bb, D).
- A plus sign can stand for augmented or indicate that a note is raised. For example C+ stands for Caug, and Em7+5 stands for Em7 with a raised fifth. The plus sign has the same meaning as the # (sharp) symbol, in the second case.
- A minus sign indicates that a note is lowered. For example Em7-5 includes a lowered fifth. The minus sign has the same meaning as the b (flat) symbol.
- Major, or major seventh, (a delta symbol).
- Diminished (a degree symbol, not a zero).
- Half-diminished (letter o with a stroke trough).
When chord names are written out on sheets, the symbols are often in superscript text, as the following examples show:
C#, Db, F△7, G°, Aø.
Abbreviations in chord names
The abbreviations often used in chord names are explained below:
- Minor (less common than "m")
- Major (less common than "maj")
- Dominant (not a very common abbreviation)
- No third (means that this tone is omitted), can also be written as OMIT3
- No fifth (means that this tone is omitted), can also be written as OMIT5
2-note chords, 3-note chords, 4-note chords and others
Chords can consist of two notes (which is unusual and mainly the case when power chords are involved) and more all the way up to seven. The three-note chords (also called triads) are the most common and includes primarily major and minor chords. The major 7th and minor 7th are examples of four-note chords. Extended chords, such as 9th, 11th and 13th, have even more notes in them.
So how to play a seventh-note chord on a six-string instrument? One or more tones are left out, which can be done without the sound or color of the chord is lost.
Chord types and music styles relationship
Certain chord groups can be overrepresented in certain styles, but it's far from a rule. But if are you interested to learn a specific style, the information below could be seen as a generalization.
Blues: dominant sevenths (7th chords)
Jazz: many different types including major and minor 7th, 11th and 13th chords.
Funk: ninth chords (9th chord)
Punk: power chords (5th chords)
Bossa nova: 6/9 chords
Besides, for rock guitar playing, one thing to look into is barre chords and in the singer-songwriter area open chords are fundamental (in both these cases, it's rather concepts or techniques and not groups of chords that characterize the music).
List of chord categories
Here is a list with all sorts of chord categories.
Includes the 7th scale degree.
Chords that are extended with a 4th, 5th, 6th or/and a 7th note.
Other major chords
Major 2 (same as add2)
Major 11 (maj9#11)
Added chords are normally written out with "add" and a number, for example add9 or add2, which are the most common variants. When the typical add numbers doesn't "cover" the case, there could also be letters involved, for example F#5addG describing an F#5 chord with an added G note. Observe that if the G note were the bass note, the chord would instead be called F#5/G.
Major (no3) / (OMIT3)
Major (no5) / (OMIT5)
Chords in which the 3rd or 5th scale degree is missing. Cmaj7(no3), for example, is a Cmaj7 without an E note. Sometimes written as Cmaj7(OMIT3) instead.
Italian sixth (augmented sixth with three notes: b6 - 1 - #4)
German sixth (augmented sixth with four notes: b6 - 1 - 2 - #4)
French sixth (augmented sixth with four notes: b6 - 1 - 3b - #4)
For chords written in tabs, see Chords in notation.
Roman numerals and chord names
Roman numerals are used to refer to chords based on scale steps instaed for specific chords.
The I chord
The II chord
The III chord
The IV chord
The V chord
The VI chord
The VII chord
Notice that small characters also are used for indicating minor.