How Do You Know if a Chord is Major or minor?

How Do You Know if a Chord is Major or minor?

How Do You Know if a Chord is Major or Minor?

Maybe you have learned some open chords, and now you want to know why a Bm is minor or a G Major is a Major chord . You have come to the right place!

How do you know if a chord is Major or minor? The way to know if a chord is Major or minor is simple. Let’s start with the Major chord. It is made up of notes. They are the 1st, 3rd, and 5th steps in the Major Scale. The minor chord is made up of the 1st, b3, (flatted 3rd), and 5th steps in the Major scale. 

If this explanation is clear as mud, stick around to get the Pure facts on how to know if a chord is Major or minor.

What is the Major Scale?

In order to find the 1, 3, 5 or a flatted third in the Major scale we need to learn. What the Major scale is and how to use it. To find the notes in the various chords. Whether they are Major or minor. So lets start by finding out what the Major Scale is.

The Major scale can be defined as certain specific notes that are in an octave.


What is the Formula for a Major Scale?

Here is how the Major Scale is constructed: W W H WWW H

Which is Whole step, Whole step, Half step, Whole step, Whole step, Whole step, Half step.

In Music there are 7 notes called the musical alphabet. Similar to our alphabet as the letters are consecutive. The Musical Alphabet is from A to G.

On a Guitar to find a half step we use the frets. Which are the metal wire going down the length of the guitar fretboard. A half step is the distance from one fret to the next.

This makes a Whole step easy to figure out. 2 half steps equal a whole step. So the distance between two frets is a whole step.

There are some more things that we need to know before we dive right into this lesson.

First thing is a Sharp. Which is notated in music like this #. The sharp is when you raise the pitch by half a step. When we say pitch we are referring to the sound of the tone. In relation to the location of other tones on the guitar.

When we are talking about a flat. We are talking about lowering the pitch by half a step . The notation for a flat is this b.

All the notes in the musical alphabet have sharps except for B and E.

The Musical Alphabet

Here are all the notes in the musical Alphabet. A A# B C C# D D# E F F# G G# 

Now you know the Rules of Diatonic Harmony let’s construct a scale.

How to Construct a Scale

Scale steps are: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 (8 or 1) Distance between notes. W W H W W W H

Lets start with the C Major scale.

Since we are constructing a C Major scale. The first note is going to be the C. According to the rules we have learned. We are going to move a whole step from the C in the musical Alphabet above.

When you move a whole step you are at D. From the D we need to move a whole step. When you move up from D you are at E. Next according to the scale distance above we need to now move half a step. Looking at the musical alphabet a half step up from E is F.

Move up from F a whole step. Checking the musical Alphabet. A whole step from F is G. Another whole step from G is A. Then we need a to move a whole step up from A. The next note is B. Now we only need half a step from B to finish constructing the scale. Using the Musical Alphabet a Half step from B is C. Which is the 8th note or the 1.

Here are the notes that make up the C major Scale. C D E F G A B This C is the 1 of the scale or some call it the 8. The 1 is C, Which is the Tonic or Root.

TIP The Tonic is the 1st note in a Scale or key. The note that a key or scale is based. It is the Key note.

I think it would be beneficial to construct some more scales. How about the A Major scale?


How to Make a Major Scale in the Key of A 

Key of A Major Scale starts with the A. Remember the Musical Alphabet A A# B C C# D D# E F F# G G#. We want to start at the A the root note of the scale, and use the formula for the Major Scale. Which is WW H WWW H.

Starting with A a whole step up is B. From the B a Whole step is C#. Then we need the half step. A half step from C# is D. Next we need to have a whole step after the D. Looking at the Musical Alphabet the next note after D is E. The whole step after E is F#, and the whole step after F# is G#. Now we just need a half step to complete the A Major scale. The A is a half step up from G#.

The A Major scale consists of these notes: A B C# D E F# G# A

I hope this is becoming clear to you how the Major scale works. Just to be sure take a look at the Major scale in F#.

How to Construct a Major Scale in F#

Using the notes in the musical alphabet. We can figure out all the scales. The notes of the F# are what? Lets use the formula of the Major scale, and the notes to figure it out.

The Musical Alphabet: A A# B C C# D D# E F F# G G#.

We know at least one of the notes. That is the F#. Starting at the F# we want to find a Whole step above the F#. This will determine the next note of the scale.

G# is the note, now go up a whole step from G#. A# is the note that is a whole step above the G#. Whats the next step? A half Step, which is B. Now we are looking for a whole step above the B note. Which is the C# note. Then we need another whole step above C#. This is the D#, and now a Whole step above D# is the F. Just a half step to go. The half step above the F is F#. Which brings you back to the 8 or 1 of the scale.

Now we have constructed the F# Major scale. The notes that are in this scale are: F# G# A# B C# D# F F#

How to Make a D Major Scale

Use Whole step Whole Step Half step, Whole step Whole step Whole step, Half step. Then count the steps of the musical alphabet to find the D Major scale. Remember the alphabet is A – G. See the explanation below.

  1. A Whole step from is E
  2. Whole step from E is F#
  3. Half step from F# is G
  4. A Whole step from G is A
  5. Whole step from A is B
  6. Another Whole step from B is C#
  7. Half a step from C# is D

Using the Formula of the Major Scale with the musical alphabet you can Build every scale. Next lets take a look at how this works on paper. How it works on your guitar.


Using the Major Scale on Your Guitar

On the Guitar each string has a note name. It is also the pitch that that particular string makes when plucked. When the guitar is in tune, and in standard tuning.

Every fret on the guitar has a pitch, and a name of that pitch. So there are lots of different notes across the fretboard. For example the 6th string from the open E to the 12th fret is. E F F# G G# A A# B C C# D D# E. The other strings have notes too. If you want to learn the notes. Click this link for 11 tips for learning the notes.

A chord is at least 3 notes. Like in the A Major chord. The notes that make up the A Major chord are the A E A C# E. Here is what that chord looks like on the guitar, in the open position.

How Do You Know if a Chord is Major or Minor?

To know what notes you are playing it would be helpful to learn the notes on the fretboard. Follow along using the above example. The 6 strings are E A D G B e. That’s from the thickest string up to the high e string.

When you play the A chord in the open position you do not play the 6th string. It is noted on the chord diagram with the X. Meaning do not play that string. Click the link if you need to learn how to read chord charts.

We start the A chord on the A string. Which is the 5th string. Then your fingers are positioned 1, 2, 3, on the second fret. Then you have an open e string. That is played also.

How to Find the Notes in a Chord

We already know the open strings names. So lets see what other notes are in the A chord. Your first finger is on the D string at the second fret. Remember the musical alphabet. A A# B C C# D D# E F F# G G#.

What comes after D? Here’s a clue: the note is the note on the first fret 4th string. According to the musical alphabet it is D#. Our finger is not on the D sharp. It is one fret up, at the second fret. From one fret to the next is half a step. The next note a fret or half a step from D# is E.

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Finger Placement to Play the Major Scale

Your second finger is on the 3rd string which is a G string. It is also the G note when the string is plucked open. Half a step up is G#. Which is the note on the 1st fret of the 3rd string. One fret up from that is the A note. Where your 2nd finger is on the 2nd fret.

Next string is the B string. The second string on the guitar. A half step up from B on the musical alphabet is C. This would be the note if you were playing at the 1st fret of the 2nd string. A half step up from C is the C#. Which on the guitar in this example is at the 2nd fret. Where your 3rd finger is positioned.

The notes that are in the A in this example are the A E A C# and E.


Finding the Major or minor Notes

If you were not sure what chord this is. Whether it is a Major or minor chord you can check the notes to see what the notes are.

We know that you need at least 3 notes to make a chord.

Here are two rules to follow:

  1. Major Chords consists of the 1st 3rd & 5th scale steps from the Major Scale. The Scale steps are notes.
  2. Minor Chords consist of 1st flatted 3rd & the 5th steps of the Major Scale. Which reads 1 b3 5.

In the example of the A chord. Lets see what notes are in the scale. Using the Major scale formula. In the A Major Scale there is A B C# D E F G G# A. We need to take the 1 3 5 and see if that is what we are playing on the guitar. The 1 is the A note. Then the 3 is C# and the 5th is the E note.

The A is a Major chord because the chord is made up of the 1 3 5 of the scale. It does not have a flatted 3rd in it. Like you would find in a minor chord.

Take a look at the Am chord, and see what notes are in it. You already know that if you were strumming this chord. You would start start on the 5th string, the A string. Which is a root note or Tonic.

How Do You Know if a Chord is Major or Minor?

Your 2nd finger is on the 4th string. Third finger is on the 3rd string, and your 1st finger is on the 2nd string. See how the chord is almost the same fingering as the A Major chord. The notes are A E A C and E.

G Major Scale Pattern

How Do You Know if a Chord is Major or Minor?

If you follow this pattern, and move it up the fretboard. You will be able to play the Major scale in every key. The Key is to know the notes on the fretboard. Below is the pattern. The numbers are where you place your fingers on the guitar.

The numbers in the above Tab are where you place your fingers. The fret is the number. Start with your second finger on the 3rd fret. This is the Tonic the G.

Your third finger is playing the 5th fret. Which is the A note. We are on the 6th string. Then using your first finger you play the second fret. On the second string. This is the B. The 2nd finger is on the 3rd fret. When you play it, your playing the C. Next use your pinkie on the 5th fret, on the 5th string. Which is the D note.

Then using your first finger on the 4th string second fret. Play that note Which is the E. Using your 3rd finger play the 4th fret of the same string. This note is the F#. On the same string playing the 5th fret is G.

How to find a minor Scale

The minor chord is made up of 1st b3 and 5th steps of the Major Scale. If you look at the chord it is an A Major chord with a flatted 3rd. So we need to see what the third is in the A Major Scale.

How Do You Know if a Chord is Major or minor

This is the A Major Scale. A B C# D E F G G# A. The third step of the scale is C# if you flatten the note by half a step. You have a C note. The 1st 3rd & 5th steps of the A Major chord are, A C# E. The notes of the Am chord are A C E. Which is a 1 b3 5 of the Major Scale.

Look at the Am chord in the chord chart. The 3rd of the scale is C#. This is the note on the 2nd fret of the 2nd string. When your playing the A Major chord. When you flatten the third note it is moved down a half step. This would make the C# a C. Which is now played on the 1st fret of the 2nd string.

Let’s try one more example using the D Major chord and the D minor chord.

How to find a minor Scale in D

  • Step 1 find the D Major Scale. Use the Musical Alphabet, and the Major Scale Formula to find the D Major Scale.
  • Then use Major chord rule 1 3 5 to determine what notes make up the chord.
  • Take the minor chord rule & determine notes in the chord. 1 b3 5

The D Major Scale is, D E F# G A B C# D

The 1st 3rd and 5th steps of the scale are D F# A. The 1st flatted 3rd (b3) and 5th are, D F A. Take a look at the D and the Dm chord to see if you can find the notes. To figure out which is Major and Which is minor.

How Do You Know if a Chord is Major or Minor?

As you can see the two chords have a lot in common. The A on the 3rd string, and the D note on the 2nd string. On the D the 2nd fret of the first string is an F#. This is the 3rd of the chord. The flatted 3rd on the Dm is also the note on the 1st string it is the F note.

First find the notes in the scale, and then break down the chords. Find out what the notes are in the chord. See if they are a 1 3 5 or a 1 b3 5. This will determine whether you are playing a Major or Minor chord. Click to learn more first position chords.


Related Questions

How to construct a Major Scale

Use the Major Scale formula to create the Major scales. The formula is
Scale steps are: 1 2 2 4 5 6 7 (8 or 1) Distance between notes. W W H W W W H

The Distance between the steps is whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole Step, half step.

A Major Scale

  • A Whole step from A is B
  • Whole step from B is C#
  • Half step from C# is D
  • A Whole step from D is E
  • Whole step from E is F#
  • Another Whole step from F# is G# 
  • Half a step from G# is A

Bb Major Scale

  • A Whole step from Bb is C
  • Whole step from C is D
  • Half step from D is Eb
  • A Whole step from Eb is F
  • Whole step from F is G
  • Another Whole step from G is A
  • Half a step from A is Bb

B Major Scale

  • A Whole step from B is C#
  • Whole step from C# is D#
  • Half step from D# is E
  • A Whole step from E is F#
  • Whole step from F# is G#
  • Another Whole step from G# is A# 
  • Half a step from A# is B

C Major Scale

  • A Whole step from is D
  • Whole step from D is E
  • Half step from E is F
  • A Whole step from F is G
  • Whole step from G is A
  • Another Whole step from A is
  • Half a step from B is C

C# Major Scale

  • A Whole step from C# is D#
  • Whole step from D# is E#
  • Half step from F# is
  • A Whole step from F# is G#
  • Whole step from G# is A#
  • Another Whole step from A# is B#
  • Half a step from B# is C#

Db Major Scale

  • A Whole step from Dbis Eb
  • Whole step from Eb is F
  • Half step from F is Gb
  • A Whole step from Gb is Ab
  • Whole step from Ab is Bb
  • Another Whole step from Bb is C
  • Half a step from C is Db

This might be a lot to get all at once. I made a free Cheat sheet for you. To help you learn the keys. To Get a Cheat Sheet of the Major Scale in every Key Click Here!

D Major Scale

  • A Whole step from is E
  • Whole step from E is F#
  • Half step from F# is G
  • A Whole step from G is A
  • Whole step from A is B
  • Another Whole step from B is C#
  • Half a step from C# is D

Eb Major Scale

  • A Whole step from Ebis F
  • Whole step from F is G
  • Half step from G is Ab
  • A Whole step from Ab is Bb
  • Whole step from Bb is C
  • Another Whole step from C is D
  • Half a step from D is Eb

E Major Scale

  • A Whole step from E is F#
  • Whole step from F# is G#
  • Half step from G# is A
  • A Whole step from A is B
  • Whole step from B is C#
  • Another Whole step from C# is D# 
  • Half a step from D# is E

F Major Scale

  • A Whole step from F is G
  • Whole step from G is A
  • Half step from A is Bb
  • A Whole step from Bb is C
  • Whole step from C is D
  • Another Whole step from D is
  • Half a step from E is F

F# Major Scale

  • A Whole step from F# is G#
  • Whole step from G# is A#
  • Half step from A# is B
  • A Whole step from B is C#
  • Whole step from C# is D#
  • Another Whole step from D# is E# 
  • Half a step from E# is F#

Gb Major Scale

  • A Whole step from Gb is Ab
  • Whole step from Ab is Bb
  • Half step from Bb is Cb
  • A Whole step from Cb is Db
  • Whole step from Db is Eb
  • Another Whole step from Eb is F
  • Half a step from F is Gb

G Major Scale

  • A Whole step from G is A
  • Whole step from A is B
  • Half step from B is C
  • A Whole step from C is D
  • Whole step from D is E
  • Another Whole step from E is F#
  • Half a step from F# is G

Ab Major Scale

  • A Whole step from Ab is Bb
  • Whole step from Bb is C
  • Half step from C is Db
  • A Whole step from Db is Eb
  • Whole step from Eb is F
  • Another Whole step from F is G
  • Half a step from G is Ab

This is a chart of the Major scale as it pertains to practicing on your guitar. The pattern always is the same. You move your fingers up or down the fretboard to the key you want to play in.


Writing the Major Scale Worksheet Beginner Guitar

Here is a free practice Sheet to learn the scales. When your practicing writing it down. If you get to the 8th position or 1, and your not in the same key. You have done something wrong. Stop and go to the beginning to you find out what the problem is. Doing these scale is a real eyeopener and will advance your knowledge. Which will advance your playing.

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