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Practical Theory Part 3: Chords and Construction (Guitar Lesson)

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Orville Johnson

Practical Theory Part 3: Chords and Construction

Orville Johnson jumps into part 3 of his practical theory mini-series. This lesson is about chords and their construction.

Taught by Orville Johnson in Beginner Acoustic with Orville seriesLength: 21:08Difficulty: 2.0 of 5

Scene 1: Introduction

In this lesson Orville Johnson explains how to construct different chords with notes from the major scale.

If you want to learn to read music notation, Orville gives a quick demonstration on how to read the treble clef.

- There are five lines on a musical staff.

- Each line and each space represents a note.

- The bottom line is E.

- Every time you go up one line/space, the letter goes up by one.

- Lines (from bottom to top) are: E G B D F.

- Space are: F A C E.

- Extra short lines can be added above/below the staff called ledger lines.

A chord is made by taking the root note of a scale, and stacking other notes on top of it.

The most common type of chord is a triad, made by stacking three notes in intervals of three.

Major Chord

- Created with the root, followed by a major 3rd, followed by a minor 3rd.

- Relative to the major scale the intervals are: 1 3 5.

- For a C Major chord the notes are: C E G.

The major 3rd is what makes a chord major.

Lowering the 3rd a half step to make it a minor 3rd would make a minor chord.

Minor Chord
- Created with the root, followed by a minor 3rd, followed by a major 3rd.

- Relative to the major scale the intervals are: 1 b3 5.

- For a C minor chord the notes are: C Eb G.
Scene 2: Chords and Construction

By constructing a triad from each note of a major scale, you would have the following pattern of chords:

1 – Major (M)

2 – minor (m)

3 – minor

4 – Major

5 – Major

6 – minor

7 – Diminished (dim)

A chord can be referenced by the interval of its root note. For example, in C Major a 2 5 1 progression would be: Dm, GM, CM and a 1 4 5 progression would be: CM, FM, GM. This property makes it very easy to transpose any chord progression to a different key.

Video Subtitles / Captions


Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.

AmygirlAmygirl replied

Orville! Thank you! I never understood this before, and figured it was somehow beyond me. You brought it home, my friend, so simply, so elegantly. I am grateful.

GorthaurgGorthaurg replied


truscellojosephtruscellojoseph replied

Outstanding Period of instruction Mr. Johnson.

SteveABSteveAB replied

Best discussion that I've seen or heard on chords, triads, 3rds, 5ths, etc. Thanks!

davidbinksdavidbinks replied

These lessons are exactly what I need. I have spent too much time working on minor scales, doing blues but focusing on major scales brings it all together. Very enlightening.

systematicksystematick replied

This lesson cleared up a lot for me, thank you Orville!

kevinbullkevinbull replied

Sandie thanks for asking that Question ( 18 Nov 2010 ) I also have now got it. Thank you Orville great lesson

BuffyLOLBuffyLOL replied

Very helpful that was, thank you:-)

cutchincutchin replied

Orville, I really like your teaching style. Can we get a lesson from you on modes? I think you could do a good job of explaining it. That would be great.

pammiesuepammiesue replied

Orville, you are a great teacher!

frwyguyfrwyguy replied

Great lesson! I like harmonizing!

richsd1richsd1 replied

Since i have been learning, over the last year or so, i have picked up bits and pieces of theory. This 3 part series was incredible, pulling it all together and filling in some big gaps for me! It was like finally making the bits in the puzzle fit. Thanks.

OilsparkOilspark replied

This was incredibly helpful in understanding the logic behind chord progressions, thanks!

adriftadrift replied

Great series of lessons, explained simply. I no longer fear the staf,and I can make sense of all those notes stacked on each other. Thankyou

chrwollerchrwoller replied

Thank you Orville, your lessons help me to demystify music theory and understand what is going on on my fretboard :) It is fun, listening to your lessons.

ezravanezravan replied

Why didn't I get this earlier! Great Job. I finally after 20 years know what a 1-4-5 is. How embarrassing it has been always asking.. hu?

frankielyfrankiely replied

Orville, when I see a standard C Chord, it's played with fingers on the C (2nd and 5th strings) and a finger on the E note (4th string). Since the C chord is CEG, the G being an open string. Shouldn't the C chord only hold the E and the C on the 5th string? Shouldn't the C chord holding the C on both the 5th and the 2nd string be called something else? Like C15?

Orville.JohnsonOrville.Johnson replied

That would get a little confusing I think. If you take into account all 6 strings of a C chord we're doubling the C and the E and if you fret the 6th string at 3, we're doubling the G as well. All the notes are from a C triad so it seems to me calling it a C chord is the clearest way to describe it. If I were calling it a C triad, then I'd expect to see only 3 notes. If I'm calling it a C chord, then I expect it to contain a C triad and possibly duplicate some of those notes to make a fuller sounding chord.

rudeboy1rudeboy1 replied

when you are discussing chord consstruction i dont understand what makes a third minor or major.. please help i was groovin along and im stuck

rudeboy1rudeboy1 replied

I read back and you answered this question already, got it. Very informative lesson

keithbarrkeithbarr replied

In the supplemental contents on the "Pattern of Whole and Half Steps", it seems you are showing three major scales. The bottom one, is B-flat I think. But why isn't the last note not shown with the flat symbol in front of it? Thanks for these theory lessons by the way, coupling these with Steve Eulbergs lessons and with a few books, I think I am finally grasping this stuff!

icergbicergb replied

I would like to thank you for putting the scales of the guitar into more perspective for me. Although with the numeric chord progressions you describe; Even though it should be logical to hit the required notes; There must be a practical list of chord progressions for each scale; Just because I know I should hit these notes isn't there a chart you can point me to that would tell me what they are so I am not guessing which fret of c (or g for example) I should be hitting to get that required chord progression for each major scale?

chuchoflotachuchoflota replied

Hello Orville, great lesson!!! What is the logic behind the pattern M m m M M m dim, that would be interesting to know.

frankzappafrankzappa replied

Hi Orville, I just wanted to say GREAT JOB!! You have managed to clearly describe intervals, scales, and chord structure in a succinct and easy to understand way. Bravo!! I look forward to any future lessons that you create.

sandiesandie replied

Orville, I am having trouble understanding why you called the third from E-G in the C scale, a minor third. I went back to review lesson5 where the concept of 'minor' was introduced, but I still fail to get it. I think I understand how a minor scale is related to a major scale, but I must be missing something along the way....

hogmanhogman replied

After 75 years,how dumb "every good boy and f a c e'" No matter how far you have traveled you may still find an unseen rose along ancient paths.

Orville.JohnsonOrville.Johnson replied

I'm talking about the distance between E and G. If you count the letters (E,F,G) you see that the distance is a third. If you count the steps (whole, half) remembering that there is no half step between E and F, you see that the distance is a half step plus a whole step or three half steps which constitutes a minor third. A major third is two whole steps, C to E for instance (whole step from C to D, whole step from D to E). hope that helps.

sandiesandie replied

Got it! Many thanks, Orville

didierluxdidierlux replied

Orville, is there an interesting logical follow up to this course somewhere on jamplay?

Orville.JohnsonOrville.Johnson replied

I'm not sure about all the offerings on Jamplay. New stuff goes up all the time. I know there are other lessons on music theory. This might be a question you post in the general forum where some of the moderators who are familiar with the whole site may see it and have a good answer for you.

didierluxdidierlux replied

This is an excellent tutorial! Orville, your tutorials are really really good! Thank you very much!!!

rarsenrarsen replied

How about minor chord progressions? If I was playing in Am , using 1,4 & 5 chord progressions, then is it minor/major/major/minor/minor/major/dim? I think you said all chords would follow the same pattern? Please clarify. Thanks

Orville.JohnsonOrville.Johnson replied

The pattern I'm talking about applies to a major scale. If your key is Am, then you need to build a series of chords using the A minor scale notes for your roots. Stack notes above each scale tone in thirds as we did for the major scale and you'll discover a different pattern of chords for the minor scale. That pattern will then apply to all minor scales.

patsendpatsend replied

Excellent, Orville the whole in one lesson, so clearly

barryrbarryr replied

well, this is the first of this lesson series that I found the explanation a bit confusing. Orville needs to better explain the stacking by 1/3s, for example

Orville.JohnsonOrville.Johnson replied

To create chords from a scale we stack notes a third apart above a root note. For instance, a C scale-CDEFGABC. The C is our root. count up 3 notes. we then have CE. Count up 3 notes from E. Now we have CEG. That's a C major triad. to keep extending the chord cout up 3 notes from G. That gives us CEGB. That's a C major 7th chord. you can keep extending the chord in this manner to get C9, C11, and C13 by expanding your scale to two octaves and continuing to stack thirds. Is that helpful?

alamosgalalamosgal replied

Well I finally understand why the ii, iii, and vi degrees of the major scale are minor chords. Thank you for encouraging us to think about your presentation. Listening to you and then really reflecting on the lesson helped me finally (after two years of guitar instruction and playing) figure out this part of the music theory. Aha!

Beginner Acoustic with Orville

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

Discover the essentials with Orville Johnson by learning some of the most popular topics and techniques in beginner guitar.

Overcoming Beginner ChallengesLesson 1

Overcoming Beginner Challenges

Orville talks about some challenges you will likely face as a beginner and offers some advice that will help you overcome them.

Length: 13:05 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Flatpick and StrummingLesson 2

Flatpick and Strumming

Orville talks about flatpicks, how to hold them, and how to strum with them.

Length: 13:29 Difficulty: 1.0 FREE
Fingerpicking and PatternsLesson 3

Fingerpicking and Patterns

Orville Johnson introduces some basic fingerpicking patterns.

Length: 6:58 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Metronome and PracticingLesson 4

Metronome and Practicing

Orville Johnson explains why it is important to practice with a metronome. He also covers some practice strategies that will help minimize your frustration.

Length: 21:35 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Practical Theory Part 1: IntervalsLesson 5

Practical Theory Part 1: Intervals

Orville dives into part 1 of his beginners' guide to practical theory. In this lesson, you will learn the basics of intervals.

Length: 17:30 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Practical Theory Part 2: ScalesLesson 6

Practical Theory Part 2: Scales

Orville Johnson takes a look at scales in part 2 of his practical theory mini-series.

Length: 18:40 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Practical Theory Part 3: Chords and ConstructionLesson 7

Practical Theory Part 3: Chords and Construction

Orville Johnson jumps into part 3 of his practical theory mini-series. This lesson is about chords and their construction.

Length: 21:08 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Practical Theory Pt. 4: ModesLesson 8

Practical Theory Pt. 4: Modes

It's now time to tap back into the practical music theory portion of this series. Continuing on with part 4, Orville now discusses what modes are and how they are really just scales with Greek names.

Length: 19:50 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Basic Blues ShuffleLesson 9

Basic Blues Shuffle

Orville Johnson demonstrates a basic blues shuffle. This incredibly easy rhythm piece will have you sounding like a blues great in no time!

Length: 12:38 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Connecting Chords with Bass RunsLesson 10

Connecting Chords with Bass Runs

Orville Johnson demonstrates how simple chord progressions can be spruced up with bass runs. The classic song "Oh! Susanna" is used as an example.

Length: 12:04 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Voice LeadingLesson 11

Voice Leading

Orville Johnson talks about the concept of voice leading. This concept will help you play chord progressions that flow better and sound more harmonious.

Length: 10:20 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Major ChordsLesson 12

Major Chords

Orville Johnson teaches the basic major chords in this lesson. He also explains the best way to change from chord to chord, a challenge for many beginners.

Length: 19:23 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Note ValuesLesson 13

Note Values

Orville Johnson jumps into some light theory with a lesson on note values.

Length: 7:51 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
The CAGED SystemLesson 14

The CAGED System

Orville Johnson takes a beginner's look at the CAGED system.

Length: 8:14 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Open D TuningLesson 15

Open D Tuning

Orville Johnson introduces open D tuning and encourages exploration of its possibilities. This tuning is great for a broad range of playing styles.

Length: 24:04 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Open G TuningLesson 16

Open G Tuning

This time, Orville Johnson introduces open G tuning. This tuning is great for a broad range of playing styles and sounds pretty without even fingering a chord.

Length: 21:28 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Beginner Fingerstyle TechniquesLesson 17

Beginner Fingerstyle Techniques

This lesson is perfect for the beginner looking to develop dexterity and independence in the right hand fingers. Orville guides you step by step through basic rhythm concepts and fingerstyle exercises.

Length: 26:00 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
How Does a Capo Work?Lesson 18

How Does a Capo Work?

This lesson presents any beginner with the information needed to understand how a capo works. This tool enables you to change the key of a song without learning any new chord voicings.

Length: 22:07 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Beginner Lead TechniquesLesson 19

Beginner Lead Techniques

Orville introduces basic techniques that can be used to play lead guitar. This lesson includes a primer on hammer-ons, pull-offs, bends and harmonics.

Length: 22:14 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Orville's Guide to PracticingLesson 20

Orville's Guide to Practicing

Orville dispenses a lifetime of accrued wisdom on the subject of practicing and learning. This lesson is only 16 minutes long, and it will not only change how you learn the guitar, but can also be applied...

Length: 16:38 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Creating New ChordsLesson 21

Creating New Chords

This lesson is all about creating different types of chords. This does steer the lesson towards music theory, but the information is invaluable and infinitely applicable.

Length: 23:05 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Orville Johnson

About Orville Johnson View Full Biography Orville Johnson was born in 1953 in Edwardsville, Illinois and came up on the St. Louis, Missouri music scene, where he was exposed to and participated in a variety of blues, bluegrass and American roots music. He began singing in his Pentecostal church as a young boy, in rock bands in middle school, then took up the guitar at 17,with early influences from Doc Watson, Rev. Gary Davis, Mississippi John Hurt, and Chuck Berry. In the early 1970's, Orville spent several seasons playing bluegrass on the SS Julia Belle Swain, a period-piece Mississippi river steamboat plying the inland waterways, with his group the Steamboat Ramblers.

Orville moved to Seattle, Washington in 1978, where he was a founding member of the much-loved and well-remembered folk/rock group, the Dynamic Logs. Other musical associates include Laura Love, Ranch Romance, File' Gumbo Zydeco Band, Scott Law, and the Twirling Mickeys. Johnson, known for his dobro and slide guitar stylings and vocal acrobatics, has played on over 100 albums. He has appeared on Garrison Keilor's Prairie Home Companion, Jay Leno's Tonight Show and was featured in the 1997 film Georgia with Mare Winningham. His musical expertise can also be heard on the Microsoft CD-ROMs, Musical Instruments of the World and the Complete Encyclopedia of Baseball. He teaches as well at the International Guitar Seminar, Pt. Townsend Country Blues Week and Puget Sound Guitar Workshop.

Orville released 4 recordings in the 1990's: The World According to Orville (1990) Blueprint for the Blues (1998) Slide & Joy (1999) an all-instrumental dobro tour de force and Kings of Mongrel Folk (1997) with Mark Graham. He also appeared on 4 discs with the File' Gumbo Zydeco Band and produced Whose World Is This (1997) for Jim Page and Inner Life (1999) for Mark Graham. In the 21st century, he has released Freehand, a new Kings of Mongrel Folk disc, Still Goin' Strong, and been featured in the soundtracks of PBS' Frontier House and the Peter Fonda flick The Wooly Boys as well as the compilation cd Legends of the Incredible Lap Steel Guitar.

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