Guitar 101: Guitar Chord Names Explained

If you’ve ever picked up a guitar, you may have come across various chord names like C major, G minor, or D7. These chord names can be puzzling for beginners, but fear not! In this article, we will delve into the world of guitar chord names and demystify their meanings. By the end, you’ll have a solid understanding of how these names are constructed and be well on your way to mastering the guitar.

Learning guitar chord names is an essential step in becoming a proficient guitarist. These names represent specific combinations of notes played together to create harmony. By understanding chord names, you’ll be able to read chord charts, communicate with other musicians, and expand your musical vocabulary.

Understanding Basic Chord Names

Chord names are derived from the notes that make up the chord. The most common chords are built using the notes from the major (and minor) scale, which consists of seven different notes (each). Each note in the scale is assigned a letter from A to G. To form a basic chord, we take the first, third, and fifth notes of the major scale. For example, in the key of C major, the notes are C, D, E, F, G, A, and B. By selecting the first (C), third (E), and fifth (G) notes, we create the C major chord.

Major Chords and Their Notation

Major chords are often denoted by uppercase letters. For instance, the C major chord is written as simply “C.” Other examples include A, D, and G major. Remember that major chords have a happy and bright sound, making them fundamental in many popular songs.

Minor Chords and Their Notation

Minor chords, on the other hand, have a more somber and melancholic feel. They are denoted by lowercase letters, such as C minor (Cm), A minor (Am), and E minor (Em). To construct a minor chord, we lower the third note of the major scale by a half step. For example, in the key of C major, the third note is E. By lowering it to E♭, we get the C minor chord.

Dominant Chords and Their Notation

Dominant chords have a bluesy and tense quality to them. They are commonly used in blues, rock, and jazz music. Dominant chords are indicated by uppercase letters followed by the number 7, such as G7, A7, or E7. These chords are created by adding the seventh note of the major scale to the major chord. In the key of C major, the seventh note is B. Thus, adding B to the C major chord results in C7.

Extended Chords and Their Notation

Extended chords go beyond the basic triads (chords with three notes) and include additional notes. Common examples include Cmaj7 (C major 7), Dm7 (D minor 7), and G9 (G dominant 9). These chords have a richer and more complex sound, adding depth to your playing.

Altered Chords and Their Notation

Altered chords introduce modifications to the basic major or minor chords. They have unique and distinctive sounds that can add tension or color to your music. Notation for altered chords can vary, but commonly used symbols include “+” (augmented), “-” (diminished), and “sus” (suspended). Examples of altered chords include Cm7b5 (C minor 7 flat 5), D7#9 (D dominant 7 sharp 9), and Gsus4 (G suspended 4).

Inversions and Slash Chords

Inversions occur when we change the order of the notes in a chord. This creates a different voicing while still preserving the chord’s identity. Slash chords, also known as compound chords, indicate that a different note serves as the bass note. For instance, C/E denotes a C chord with an E in the bass. Inversions and slash chords provide versatility and add interesting flavors to your chord progressions.

Common Guitar Chord Patterns

Learning common chord patterns is immensely beneficial for guitarists. These patterns help you memorize and transition between chords effortlessly. Some popular patterns include the CAGED system, barre chords, and open chords. Practice these patterns regularly to enhance your chord vocabulary.

Practical Tips for Learning Chord Names
  1. Memorize the major scale and its corresponding notes.
  2. Start with basic major and minor chords and gradually progress to more complex ones.
  3. Use mnemonic devices or visual aids to remember chord names.
  4. Practice chord progressions in songs to reinforce your knowledge.
  5. Explore online resources and chord reference books for additional guidance.

Understanding guitar chord names is a crucial step towards becoming a skilled guitarist. By comprehending the principles behind chord construction and notation, you’ll be able to decipher chord charts, communicate effectively with other musicians, and expand your musical horizons. With consistent practice and dedication, you’ll soon find yourself strumming your favorite songs with confidence and flair.


Q: How long does it take to learn guitar chord names?

A: The time required to learn guitar chord names varies from person to person. With regular practice and dedication, you can become proficient within a few months.

Q: Are chord names the same for all instruments? 

A: No, chord names can differ across instruments. However, the basic principles of chord construction remain the same.

Q: Can I play songs without knowing chord names? 

A: While it’s possible to play songs without knowing the chord names, understanding them will greatly enhance your ability to learn and communicate with other musicians.

Q: Are there shortcuts to remember complex chord names? 

A: Yes, mnemonic devices, visual aids, and consistent practice can help you remember complex chord names more easily.

Q: Where can I find resources to learn guitar chord names? 

A: There are various online platforms, tutorial videos, and chord reference books available that can assist you in learning guitar chord names.