Chords From Scales: Comprehensive List Of Guitar Chords

Chords From Scales: Comprehensive List Of Guitar Chords

When I found out how to build chords from scales. I built every possible chord from the C major scale. There are about 44 chord types that come from the major scale.

You can build another 33 chords from an additional four scales: the harmonic minor, melodic minor, the whole tone scale, and the HW diminished scale.

I cover the intervals in the 77 chords and the scales they are built from. Finally, I have my list of the 13 most important chords that any guitar player should know.

 

How to build chords from scales

Before you can build chords from scales, you need to first understand how to build triads. Check out my article on Music Triads if you do not know anything about the 4 triads in music.

I’m using the C major scale as an example for all major scale chord types because it is the only scale without sharps and flats.

Let’s cover some facts and characteristics about chords and scales.

Scales defined:

  • Scales are specific notes from the chromatic scale that (usually) have a tonal center.
  • Any specific scale is defined by the intervals within the scale.
  • Most scales have anywhere from 5 to 8 notes in them.
  • Modes are scales that are a part of a parent scale. The major scale is a parent scale with the first scale degree known as the tonic. Every other note in the scale is a mode of the major scale.
  • Scales are what you use to build chords and to improvise over those same chords.

Check out my Music Intervals article if you do not have a strong grasp on ALL the intervals. Intervals are vital for transposing and building scales and chords.

Chords defined:

  • The first note in any chord is called the root note, as opposed to the 1st of scales known as the tonic.
  • Chords are built by adding notes above the root note in patterns of 3rds.
  • The four triads are the most basic chords with the intervals of a root note (1 or 1st), a third (3 or 3rd) and a fifth (5 or 5th).
  • Seventh chords are built when you add the note a 3rd away from the 5th, ninths add the note a third away from the 7th, etc. Did you notice the odd #s as the pattern to building chords?
  • All chords are built using the 7 letters (A thru G) as the possible chord tones, and each letter\note is expressed as the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th & 7th.
  • And the pattern continues with the 8th\octave, 9th (2nd +7), 10th (3rd +7), 11th (4th +7), 12th (5th + 7) and finally 13th (6th + 7). That is important to remember, especially for the 9th, 11th & 13th.
  • So all the possible chord tones are 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 11th & 13th. For C major that is C-E-G-B-D-F-A, but check it out for yourself in other scales and modes.

You should now understand what the numbers in chord names mean, like 6, sus4, add9, 13, 7#9, etc.

 

Chords are built from scales

 

Chords and scales are one and the same

Now let’s look at the similarities and connections between chords and scales:

  • Chords are groups of notes that sound good together. And scales are groups of notes that also sound good together.
  • Generally, scales are practiced and played one note at a time, where chords are notes played at the same time. The exception would be playing scales in intervals and playing chords as single notes known as arpeggios.
  • All the chords built from the same scale sound good together.
  • It’s common to use the scale a chord is built from to improvise over that chord.

When you first learn guitar, you learn chords so that you can play songs. Later on, you learn scales so that you can improvise over the chord changes in songs.

 

Types of chords

So I came up with 77 chord types, 2 of them are duplicates of other chords (versions minus the root AND 5th), and another 3 that are “questionable”. That leaves 72 chords types.

Of the 77 chord types, there are 44 “unique” chords and 37 chord names that have notes in them that equal at least one other chord name. Unique chords are chords where no other chord has the same notes. For example, C major is a unique chord, but C6 equals an Am7 chord.

I break up chords by their base quality: major, minor, suspended, diminished, augmented and 7♭5. Then I differentiate the chords by what I call adds (6, add9, 6/9, etc.), and 7ths + extensions (9ths, 11ths, and 13ths). And I further break up the chords by whether the 7ths are major 7’s or flat 7’s.

 

Types of scales

Most of the chords you will ever see are built from the notes in the various major scale keys. But the major scale can not build all the chord types.

For the fancy-schmancy chords, you need to use the harmonic minor, melodic minor or the symmetrical scales to build them. The symmetrical scales I used were the whole tone, augmented and diminished scales.

Scales are used to improvise over chords and chord progressions, which scale you use depends on the music genre and your personal choice.

The biggest commonality between scales and chords are that they are both built with specific intervals. Know and understand your intervals! The tables below show mode and chord intervals, NOT notes.

 

Chords built from the C major scale

This article covers 77 chord types and 44 of them can be built from the major scale. I am only showing those 44 types as they are built from the C major scale.

That does not mean that the other scales can not build some of the same chords. They can. I’m only giving examples of each chord type and I’m using the major scale because it is the oldest scale historically.

Every major chord that does not have a #11 or ♭7 in it are shown as C chords. Any major chord with a #11 goes to F and major chords with a flat 7 got to G.

All diminished chords are built as B chords and all minor chords go to the note D.

That’s is 5 of the 7 notes of C major leaving E & A and all the suspended chords.

E only gets one chord, the 7sus ♭9 chord, since it is the only note that can build that chord.

The remainder of the suspended chords go to A & G, where G gets the sus4 chords that have the 6\13 in them, and A gets the rest.

For example, I show the sus add9 chord as Asus add9 with the intervals of 1-4-5-9 and that it equals an E7sus. The note A is not the only note that can build a sus add9 chord, so can D and G.

Likewise, the add9 chord is shown for C, but F and G also build add9 chords.

Here are the intervals by mode for the C major scale followed by every chord type that can be built from the scale. Be prepared for lots of tables. The columns Equal1, Equal2, and Equal3 Chords are the chords that equal the example chord.

 

C Major Scale Mode Intervals
Mode Note 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th
Ionian C 1 2/9 3 4/11 5 6/13 7
Dorian D 1 2/9 ♭3 4/11 5 6/13 ♭7
Phrygian E 1 ♭9 ♭3 4/11 5 ♭13 ♭7
Lydian F 1 2/9 3 #11 5 6/13 7
Mixolydian G 1 2/9 3 4/11 5 6 13 ♭7
Aeolian A 1 2/9 ♭3 4/11 5 ♭13 ♭7
Locrian B 1 ♭9 ♭3 4/11 ♭5 ♭13 ♭7

 

C Ionian (I) Chords From The C Major Scale
Chord Name 1st Note 2nd Note 3rd Note 4th Note 5th Note 6th Note Equal1 Chord Equal2 Chord Equal3 Chord
C maj 1 3 5
C6 1 3 5 6 Am7
C add9 1 3 5 9 G6 sus
C6 add9 1 3 5 6 9 D9 sus Am11 G6 sus add9
C add9/11 1 3 5 9 11 G13sus
C6 add9/11 1 3 5 6 9 11 Fmaj9/13
Cmaj7 1 3 5 7
Cmaj9 1 3 5 7 9
Cmaj13 1 3 5 7 13 Am9
Cmaj9/13 1 3 5 7 9 13 G6 add9/11

 

F Lydian (IV) Chords From The C Major Scale
Chord Name 1st Note 2nd Note 3rd Note 4th Note 5th Note 6th Note Equal1 Chord Equal2 Chord Equal3 Chord
F add#11 1 3 5 #11
F add9/#11 1 3 5 9 #11
 F6 add9/#11 1 3 5 6 9 #11 G9/11
Fmaj7b5 1 3 b5 7
Fmaj7#11 1 3 5 7 #11
Fmaj9#11 1 3 5 7 9 #11
Fmaj13#11 1 3 5 7 13 #11

 

G Mixolydian (V) Chords From The C Major Scale
Chord Name 1st Note 2nd Note 3rd Note 4th Note 5th Note 6th Note Equal1 Chord Equal2 Chord Equal3 Chord
G7 1 3 5 ♭7
G9 1 3 5 ♭7 9
G11 1 3 5 ♭7 11
G13 1 3 5 ♭7 13
G9/11 1 3 5 ♭7 9 11 F6 add9/#11
G9/13 1 3 5 ♭7 9 13
G11/13 1 3 5 ♭7 11 13

 

D Dorian (ii) Chords From The C Major Scale
Chord Name 1st Note 2nd Note 3rd Note 4th Note 5th Note 6th Note Equal1 Chord Equal2 Chord Equal3 Chord
Dm 1 ♭3 5
Dm6 1 ♭3 5 6 Bm7b5
Dm add9 1 ♭3 5 9
Dm6 add9 1 ♭3 5 6 9 E7sus ♭9 Bm11♭5
Dm7 1 ♭3 5 ♭7 F6
Dm9 1 ♭3 5 ♭7 9 Fmaj13
Dm11 1 ♭3 5 ♭7 11 F6 add9 C6 sus add9 G9 sus
Dmi13 1 ♭3 5 ♭7 13

 

A & G Suspended and B Locrian Chords
Chord Name 1st Note 2nd Note 3rd Note 4th Note 5th Note 6th Note Equal1 Chord Equal2 Chord Equal3 Chord
Asus 1 4 5
Asus2 1 2 5 Esus
G6 sus 1 4 5 6 C add9
Asus add9 1 4 5 9 E7 sus
G6 sus add9 1 4 5 6 9 C6 add9 D9 sus Am11
A7 sus 1 4 5 ♭7 Dsus add9
A9 sus 1 4 5 ♭7 9 G6 add9 D6 sus add9 Em11
E7 sus ♭9 1 4 5 ♭7 ♭9 Dm6 add9 Bm11♭5
G13 sus 1 4 5 ♭7 B C add9/11
Bdim 1 ♭3 ♭5
Bm7♭5 1 ♭3 ♭5 ♭7 Dm6
Bm11♭5 1 ♭3 ♭5 ♭7 11 E7 sus ♭9 Dm6 add9

 

Notes on some of the chords built from the (C) major scale

F add#11 – Not common but has a great nasty sound to it. I’ve seen add#11 chords in songs by the Police, Coldplay, The Who, and Pink Floyd.

C6 add9 – Equals all the notes of the C major pentatonic. Hopefully, you understand why I gave all sus4 chords with a 6th to the note G.

Cmaj9/13 – Most people call this a Cmaj13, but I include the 9 in the chord name to differentiate it from a straight-up Cmaj13 chord.

G6 sus – I think I saw this chord in a Joni Mitchell song, but she mostly played in altered tunings. I don’t think this a generally accepted chord, but it is possible to see it.

G6sus add9 – Even though a 6sus add9 equals a m11, 9sus, and a 6 add9 chord, I would never think about using it. I did see it once in a CSN&Y song.

C6 add9/11 and F6 add9/#11 – These are known as polychords and tend to only be used by jazz guys. The C polychord is equal to a C and Dm chord, while the F poly is equal to an F and G major chord. I do have chord voicings for them, but you could also have 2 guitar players each play one of the chords.

G9/11, 9/13 and 11/13 are “phat” sounding chords. Similar to the maj9/13, the 9/13 is usually only written as 13 which I believe is the wrong name. The 9/13 chord gave me the idea to try 9/11 and 11/13 chords (they sound great).

I did not include suspended chords with a major 7th on C, the I chord, because they sound horrible (IMO). Don’t do it, but if you want to you can build a Cmaj7 sus, Cmaj9 sus (equals G11), and Cmaj13 sus.

Download my Chords in C major PDF to see every possible chord that can be built from the notes in C major. And that is every possible chord in my opinion. Or go to my Downloads page to download separate PDF files by scale degree for every open guitar chord in C major (445 total).

I highly recommend that you build every chord possible on every scale degree for the keys of F, C, G, D, A, and E major. Those are the best keys for open guitar chords.

Take a look at my article C Major Scale Chords for a list of every chord built from C major. I also link to every article that has guitar shapes for all those chords.

 

Chords built from the A harmonic minor scale

This is the next scale historically if I am correct, and therefore the first scale where augmented triads appear. Here are the mode intervals and 9 chords built from the A harmonic minor that can’t be built from the major scale.

Note that you CAN build some of the chords mentioned above for the major scale using the harmonic minor, but these chords can not be built from the major scale. For example, look at the E7♭9 chord – you can obviously build both an E major triad and E chord.

Mode Intervals For The A Harmonic Minor Scale
Mode Note 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th
Harmonic Minor A 1 2/9 ♭3 4/11 5 ♭13 7
Locrian M6 B 1 ♭9  ♭3 4/11 b5 6/13 ♭7
Ionian #5 C 1 9 3 4/11 #5 6/13 7
Dorian #11 D 1 2/9  ♭3 #11 5 6/13 ♭7
Phrygian Dominant E 1 ♭9 3 4/11 5 #5/b6 ♭7
Lydian #9 F 1 #9 3 #11 5 6/13 7
Ultra Locrian G# 1 ♭9  ♭3 d4 b5 ♭13 d7

 

9 Chords From The A Harmonic Minor Scale
Chord Name 1st Note 2nd Note 3rd Note 4th Note 5th Note 6th Note Equal1 Chord Equal2 Chord Equal3 Chord
Am-maj7 1 ♭3 5 7
Am9-maj7 1 ♭3 5 7 9
Bdim7 1 ♭3 ♭5 ♭♭7 Ddim7 Fdim7 G#dim7
C+ 1 3 #5 E+ G#+
CMaj7#5 1 3 #5 7
E7♭9 1 3 5 ♭7 ♭9
E7♭9♭13 1 3 5 ♭7 ♭9 ♭13
E11♭9 1 3 5 ♭7 11 ♭9
Fm-maj7♭5 1 ♭3 ♭5 7

 

I highly recommend that you build every chord possible on every scale degree for the harmonic minor keys of Dm, Am, Em, and Bm. Those are the best keys for open guitar chords. You can include G harmonic minor but the open E & B are avoid strings. This means you have to fret and/or mute the high E and B strings which greatly restricts the available chord voicings.

 

Chords built from the A melodic minor scale

The altered scale and 7alt chords come from the melodic minor scale.

Here are the mode intervals and 11 chord types from the A melodic minor scale.

You should also build every chord possible on every scale degree for the melodic minor keys of Cm, Gm, Dm, Am, Em, and maybe Bm. Those are the best melodic minor keys for open guitar chords. You have to avoid both open E strings for C melodic minor and the open A & G strings for B melodic minor.

Also, I technically did not label the intervals correctly for the Altered scale. Instead, I labeled the notes as the common chord tones in a 7alt chord.

Mode Intervals For The A Melodic Minor Scale
Mode Note 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th
Jazz Minor A 1 2/9 ♭3 4/11 5 6/13 7
Dorian ♭2 B 1 b9 ♭3 4/11 5 6/13 ♭7
Lydian Augmented C 1 9 3 #11 #5 6/13 7
Lydian Dominant D 1 2/9 3 #11 5 6/13 ♭7
Mixolydian ♭6 E 1 2/9 3 4/11 5 ♭13 ♭7
Locrian M2 F# 1 9 b3 4/11 ♭5 ♭13 ♭7
Altered G# 1 ♭9 #9 3 ♭5 #5 ♭7

 

11 Chords From The A Melodic Minor Scale
Chord Name 1st Note 2nd Note 3rd Note 4th Note 5th Note 6th Note Equal1 Chord Equal2 Chord Equal3 Chord
B13sus ♭9 1 4 5 ♭7 13 b9
D7#11 1 3 5 ♭7 #11 G#7♭5♭9
D9#11 1 3 5 ♭7 9 #11
D13#11 1 3 5 ♭7 13 #11
F#m9♭5 1 ♭3 b5 ♭7 9 G#7#5♭9
G#7#5 1 3 #5 ♭7
G#7#5♭9 1 3 #5 ♭7 ♭9 F#m9♭5
G#7#5#9 1 3 #5 ♭7 #9
G#7♭5 1 3 ♭5 ♭7 D7♭5
G#7♭5♭9 1 3 ♭5 ♭7 ♭9 D7#11
G#7b5#9 1 3 ♭5 ♭7 #9 D13♭5

 

Notes on the G# chords:

The G# chords would most often be labeled as A♭ chords but I didn’t want to throw anyone off. A♭7alt chords are more common to see than G#, but I could be wrong.

 

Chords built from the whole tone and diminished scales

The remaining 13 chords can be built from the whole tone and diminished scales. Though there is one more chord, the 7#9♭13 chord (1-3-5-♭7-#9-♭13) that I will only mention here.

I think I made up the 7#9♭13 chord years ago when I noticed it as the only chord with altered notes not on my list. It can be built from the Major Bebop scale on the 3rd scale degree. but I’m sure “jazzers” would say just play a 7#5#9.

I also decided not to include the 7♭13 chord for the same reason as it is basically a 7#5 chord.

Here are the chords from both scales rooted on G making them altered 7th chords that take you to C major (and other keys). Note that NR stands for no root and N5 for no fifth.

The Diminished Scale

This symmetrical 8-note scale has the formula of alternating half steps and whole steps resulting in 1-♭9-#9-3-#11/♭5-5-6/13-♭7.

G Diminished Scale Chords
G7♭9#11:  1-3-5-♭7-♭9-#11
G13♭9 1-3-5-♭7-13-♭9
G13♭9 NR, N5 : 3-♭7-13-♭9  and the chord equals Fm-maj7♭5
G7#9: 1-3-5-♭7-#9
G7#9#11: 1-3-5-♭7-♭9-#11 and it equals a D♭13♭5♭9 chord.
G13#9: 1-3-5-♭7-13-#9
G13#9 NR, N5: 3-♭7-13-#9 and it equals a D♭13#9 NR, N5.
G13♭5: 1-3-♭5-♭7-13 and it equals a D♭7♭5#9.
G13♭5♭9: 1-3-♭5-♭7-13-♭9 and it equals D♭7#9#11.
G13♭5#9: 1-3-♭5-♭7-13-#9 and it equals D♭13♭5#9.

The Whole Tone Scale

This symmetrical scale formula is all whole steps resulting in 1-9-3-♭5-#5-♭7.

G Whole Tone Scale Chords
G9#5: 1-3-#5-♭7-9 and it equals F9♭5
G9♭5: 1-3-♭5-♭7-9 and it equals A9#5
G9♭5♭13 1-3-♭5-♭7-9-♭13 and it equals the same chord on each chord tone. It actually is every note of the G whole tone scale.

You should also build every chord possible in both the whole tone and diminished scales. There are only 2 keys for each scale: C and D♭.

Also, try building chords in other scales like the blues scale or bebop scales and see what kind of chords you get. It’s a good exercise. Take a look at my Augmented Scale article to see the chords from that scale.

The Bebop scales:

I’m briefly covering the bebop scales because I find them interesting.

  1. The Major Bebop is the major scale with the augmented 5th added, e.g. C major scale + G#.
  2. The Dorian Blues scale is the Dorian mode with the ♭5 added and it equals the notes of the Major Bebop scale starting on the 2nd degree, e.g. D Dorian Blues = C Major Bebop.
  3. The Minor Bebop and Dominant Bebop scales are modes of each other. The minor bebop is the Dorian mode with the major 3rd added, while the dominant bebop is the Mixolydian mode with the major 7th added. D minor bebop and G dominant bebop have the same notes.

* Consider combining the Dorian Blues scale and the Minor Bebop for a 9-note scale: 1-9-#9-3-4-♭5-5-13-♭7. It has every chromatic note except the ♭9, #5 and M7!

 

 

Recap of my chords and scales for guitar

The scales I use the most are:

  1. The major & minor pentatonic
  2. The blues scale
  3. The major scale and the Dorian, Mixolydian and Aeolian \ natural minor modes.

That’s about it for me but I do see value in learning licks from the melodic and harmonic minors, as well as the whole tone and diminished scales.

Here is an ordered list of every guitar chord type that I listed above and which I have open and closed chord shapes. I’m ordering them with my preferred order (major, min, sus, dim, aug, 7♭5) and then add notes in ascending order.

Major + adds: major triad, 6, add9, add#11, 6 add9, add9/11, add9/#11, 6 add9/11, 6 add9/#11
7ths: 7, 9, 11, 13, 9/11, 9/13, 11/13
7ths with ♭’s and #’s: 7♭9, 7♭9#11, 7♭9♭13, 11♭9, 13♭9, 7#9, 7#9#11, 7#9♭13, 13#9, 7#11, 9#11, 13#11
Major 7ths: maj7, maj9, maj13, maj9/13, maj7#11, maj9#11, maj13#11
Minors: minor triad, m6, m add9, m6 add9, m7, m9, m11, m13, m-maj7, m9-maj7
Suspended: sus4, sus2, 6 sus, sus add9, 6sus add9, 7sus, 7sus ♭9, 9sus, 13sus, 13sus ♭9
Diminished: dim triad, dim7, m7♭5, m9♭5, m11♭5, m-maj7♭5
Augmented: aug triad, 7#5, 7#5♭9, 9#5, 7#5#9, maj7#5
Flat 5’s: 7♭5, 7♭5♭9, 9♭5, 7♭5#9, 9♭5♭13, 13♭5, 13♭5♭9, 13♭5#9, maj7♭5

I will add pdf files for download, as I make them, of every closed guitar chord and every open chord from the key of C major, as well as the CAGED positions for all the scales I mention in this article.

 

The most common chords in popular music (my top 13 guitar chords)

Here is my list of the most common and basic chords that every guitar player should know:

Major: major triad, add9, 6, 7, 9, 7#9, maj7, maj9
Minor: min triad, m add9, m7
Suspended: sus4, 7sus

13 other noteworthy chords: 6 add9, 13, maj13, m6, m9, m-maj7, sus2, 9sus, dim, dim7, m7♭5, +, 7#5

You can get in a lot of playing with those 13 to 26 chords.

 

Final Thoughts

I know what you’re thinking – that’s too many chords. Maybe. It really depends on your preferred genre of music, whether you write originals or only play covers, and truly understand how to use all the chords.

When you learn how to build chords from scales, so much fundamental music theory will start to make sense. Just do it when you have a little bit of downtime.

Some future articles will be on Chord Tendency, Chord Substitutions, every chord with the B-F tritone, and advanced Slash chords. Those articles will help you understand how and when to use some of the complex chords in this article.

If you really love scales, check out the crazy long list of scales on Wikipedia.

 

“Use your mind when you are practicing guitar, but use your heart and emotions while playing and writing music.”

 

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