8th January 2021

How To Read Chord Symbols

 

What happens when someone puts a chord chart in front of you?  Do you know what all the chords mean and what bass line you can play with the chord sequence?  Maybe you are comfortable with chord charts or you might only have a vague idea of what some of the chords symbols mean. 

In this article I am going to run through the main chord symbols that you are likely to see in pop or jazz chord charts.  We can out chords types into three main groups:

  • Major and Minor Triads
  • Augmented and Diminished Chords
  • 7th Chords

The first thing to know about chord symbols are the letters.  The uppercase letters tell you what chord it is and what the root note is.  Obviously the choices are going to be from C, D, E, F, G, A, and B and with possible sharps or flats after the letter. 

Major and Minor Triads

Three-note chords are called triads.

So we know that ‘A’ is simply an A major chord.  The best possible three notes to use in your bass line would be: 

A - root 

C# - major 3rd 

E - 5th

A major Chord Tones For Bass Guitar

 

 

When you see a small ‘m’ after the uppercase letter, you know the chord is a minor chord. 

So ‘Am’ is an A minor chord.  The notes you could choose from are now: 

A - root 

C - minor 3rd 

E - 5th

A mInor chord notes for bass guitar

When playing from a chord chart, the most important distinction to make is between a major and minor chord.  So ensure that you play the correct 3rd of the chord, which will be either a major or minor depending on the chord symbol. 

 

Augmented and Diminished Chords 

Occasionally you might see an augmented or diminished chord symbol.  For these chords, you have to remember to alter the 5th note of the chord as follows: 

Augmented  - major chord with a raised 5th 

Diminished - minor chord with a lowered 5th 

To raised or lower a note, you move up or down one fret. 

 

This chord ‘Caug’ or ‘C+’ is a C major augmented chord and consists of these notes: 

C - root 

E - major 3rd 

G# - raised 5th

C Augmented chord tones for bass guitar

 

 

This chord ‘Cdim’ is a C Minor diminished chord containing these notes: 

C - root 

Eb - minor 3rd 

Gb - lowered 5th

C Diminished chord tones for bass guitar