Chords and Harmony: The Building Blocks of Music


Chords and harmony are fundamental elements of music that add depth and richness to compositions. Understanding these concepts is essential for musicians who want to create, interpret, and appreciate music at a deeper level. In this blog post, we’ll explore what chords and harmony are, different types of chords, common chord progressions, and their roles in music.

What are Chords?

A chord is a group of notes played simultaneously, creating a harmonic sound. Chords form the foundation of harmony, supporting the melody and adding texture to music. They are built from scales and are named based on the root note and the intervals between the notes.

Basic Triads

The most basic chords are triads, which consist of three notes: the root, the third, and the fifth.

  1. Major Triad: Root, major third, perfect fifth. It sounds happy and bright.
    • Example (C Major): C-E-G.
  2. Minor Triad: Root, minor third, perfect fifth. It sounds sad and darker.
    • Example (C Minor): C-Eb-G.
  3. Diminished Triad: Root, minor third, diminished fifth. It has a tense and unstable sound.
    • Example (C Diminished): C-Eb-Gb.
  4. Augmented Triad: Root, major third, augmented fifth. It has a mysterious and dissonant sound.
    • Example (C Augmented): C-E-G#.

Extended Chords

Extended chords include additional notes beyond the basic triad, adding complexity and richness to the harmony.

Seventh Chords

Seventh chords are formed by adding the seventh note to a triad. There are several types of seventh chords:

  1. Major Seventh (Maj7): Root, major third, perfect fifth, major seventh.
    • Example (C Maj7): C-E-G-B.
  2. Minor Seventh (m7): Root, minor third, perfect fifth, minor seventh.
    • Example (C Minor 7): C-Eb-G-Bb.
  3. Dominant Seventh (7): Root, major third, perfect fifth, minor seventh.
    • Example (C7): C-E-G-Bb.
  4. Half-Diminished Seventh (m7b5): Root, minor third, diminished fifth, minor seventh.
    • Example (C Half-Diminished 7): C-Eb-Gb-Bb.
  5. Diminished Seventh (dim7): Root, minor third, diminished fifth, diminished seventh.
    • Example (C Diminished 7): C-Eb-Gb-A.

Ninth, Eleventh, and Thirteenth Chords

These chords add even more notes, creating lush, complex harmonies:

  1. Ninth Chord (9): Adds the ninth note to a seventh chord.
    • Example (C9): C-E-G-Bb-D.
  2. Eleventh Chord (11): Adds the eleventh note to a ninth chord.
    • Example (C11): C-E-G-Bb-D-F.
  3. Thirteenth Chord (13): Adds the thirteenth note to an eleventh chord.
    • Example (C13): C-E-G-Bb-D-F-A.

Inversions and Voicings


Inversions of chords occur when the notes of the chord are rearranged so that a note other than the root is the lowest note. This creates different harmonic textures and smoother transitions between chords.

  1. Root Position: The root is the lowest note.
    • Example (C Major Root Position): C-E-G.
  2. First Inversion: The third is the lowest note.
    • Example (C Major First Inversion): E-G-C.
  3. Second Inversion: The fifth is the lowest note.
    • Example (C Major Second Inversion): G-C-E.


Voicings refer to the arrangement of the notes in a chord. Different voicings can create distinct sounds and textures.

  1. Closed Voicing: All notes are as close together as possible.
    • Example (C Major Closed Voicing): C-E-G.
  2. Open Voicing: Notes are spread out, with larger intervals between them.
    • Example (C Major Open Voicing): C-G-E.

Understanding Harmony

Harmony is the combination of different musical notes played or sung simultaneously. It adds depth and richness to music, supporting the melody and enhancing the overall sound.

Types of Harmony

  1. Parallel Harmony: All parts move in the same direction, maintaining the same interval.
    • Example: Parallel thirds.
  2. Contrary Harmony: Parts move in opposite directions.
    • Example: One part moves up while the other moves down.
  3. Oblique Harmony: One part stays the same while the other moves.
    • Example: One note holds while another changes.

Harmonic Function

Chords have specific functions within a key, creating a sense of movement and resolution. The three main harmonic functions are:

  1. Tonic (I): The home chord, providing a sense of stability.
    • Example (C Major in C Major Key): C-E-G.
  2. Dominant (V): Creates tension that resolves to the tonic.
    • Example (G Major in C Major Key): G-B-D.
  3. Subdominant (IV): Prepares for the dominant, adding movement.
    • Example (F Major in C Major Key): F-A-C.

Common Chord Progressions

Chord progressions are sequences of chords that create musical phrases and structure.

  1. I-IV-V-I: A classic progression found in many genres.
    • Example (C Major): C-F-G-C.
  2. ii-V-I: Common in jazz music.
    • Example (C Major): Dm-G-C.
  3. I-vi-IV-V: Known as the “50s progression.”
    • Example (C Major): C-Am-F-G.
  4. I-V-vi-IV: Popular in modern pop music.
    • Example (C Major): C-G-Am-F.

Practicing Chords and Harmony

  1. Learn Basic Chord Shapes: Start with major and minor triads, then move to seventh chords and extended chords.
  2. Practice Inversions: Play chords in different inversions to understand their sound and function.
  3. Explore Different Voicings: Experiment with closed and open voicings to add variety to your playing.
  4. Study Chord Progressions: Practice common progressions in various keys to improve your harmonic understanding.
  5. Analyze Songs: Listen to your favorite songs and identify the chords and progressions used.


Chords and harmony are essential components of music that bring depth and emotion to compositions. By understanding the different types of chords, their functions, and how they work together in progressions, musicians can enhance their playing, improvisation, and composition skills. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced musician, mastering chords and harmony will open up new possibilities in your musical journey.