Major Scale Chord Formula

31 January 2017 Print

Chords are stacks of notes based on a simple formula: 1 - 3 - 5.

The 1st note, the 3rd note and the 5th note from the scale.

Applying this to the Major Scale gives us a chord formula.

Use this formula to create a chord sequence or determine what key a song is in.

There are lesson files listed at the end to help out.

1 - 3 - 5

The C Major Scale is where I will start from.

  • C
    1st
  • D
    2nd
  • E
    3rd
  • F
    4th
  • G
    5th
  • A
    6th
  • B
    7th

Applying 1 - 3 - 5 to the 1st note in the scale makes a C chord:

  • C
    1st
  • D
    2nd
  • E
    3rd
  • F
    4th
  • G
    5th
  • A
    6th
  • B
    7th

Applying 1 - 3 - 5 to the 2nd note in the scale creates a D chord:

  • C
    1st
  • D
    2nd
  • E
    3rd
  • F
    4th
  • G
    5th
  • A
    6th
  • B
    7th

Build the remaining chords for the C Major Scale.

  • C
    E
    G
  • D
    F
    A
  • E
    G
    B
  • F
    A
    C
  • G
    B
    D
  • A
    C
    E
  • B
    D
    F

Chords Labelling

The 3rd note tells you if a chord is Major or minor.

The 5th note is a consistent distance except for on the last chord. This last chord demonstrates the formula for a diminished chord.

Fretboard Notes can help you measure the distances.

A Major 3rd (AKA M3) is 2 Tones i.e. C to E.

A minor 3rd (AKA b3) is 1 Tone and 1 semi-Tone i.e. D to F.

A perfect 5th (AKA P5 or just 5) is 3 Tone and 1 semi-Tone i.e. C to G.

A flat 5th (AKA b5) is 3 Tone i.e. B to F.

Major 3rd
1, 3, 5
minor Chord
1, b3, 5
Diminished Chord
1, b3, b5

M m m M M m Dim

So now the chords are:

  • Major
  • minor
  • minor
  • Major
  • Major
  • minor
  • diminished

Say it over and over:

  • Major
  • minor
  • minor
  • Major
  • Major
  • minor
  • diminished

The C Major Scale:

  • C Major
  • D minor
  • E minor
  • F Major
  • G Major
  • A minor
  • B diminished

The D Major Scale:

  • D Major
  • E minor
  • F# minor
  • G Major
  • A Major
  • B minor
  • C# diminished

The F Major Scale:

  • F Major
  • G minor
  • A minor
  • Bb Major
  • C Major
  • D minor
  • E diminished

Chord Extensions

The system just adds the next number in the formula 1 - 3 - 5 - 7.

Apply this formula to the scale to get its 7th chords, these are the labels:

1, 3, 5, 7
1, b3, 5, b7
1, 3, 5, b7
1, b3, b5, b7

Not found in the Major Scale, but found in scales like Harmonic minor are these 7th chords:

1, b3, b5, bb7
1, b3, 5, 7

The Major Scale chords with their 7ths:

  • Major 7
  • minor 7
  • minor 7
  • Major 7
  • Dominant 7
  • minor 7
  • half diminished

Extending further we add the 9th 1 - 3 - 5 - 7 - 9. From C this is D.

  • C
    1st
  • D
    2nd
  • E
    3rd
  • F
    4th
  • G
    5th
  • A
    6th
  • B
    7th
  • C
    8th
  • D
    9th

After a point you will have added all the notes available i.e 7 notes 1 - 3 - 5 - 7 - 9 - 11 - 13. There are 7 notes in the Major Scale.

From this point onwards the chord naming gets a bit messy so you just have to practise it, I could delve deeper but it would be a long read and you would fall asleep.

  • Major 9
  • minor 9
  • minor 7 b9
  • Major 9
  • Dominant 9
  • minor 9
  • minor 7 b5 b9
  • Major 11
  • minor 11
  • minor 11 b9
  • Major 9 #11
  • Dominant 11
  • minor 11
  • minor 11 b5 b9
  • Major 13
  • minor 13
  • minor 7 b9 b13
  • Major 13 #11
  • Dominant 13
  • minor 11 b13
  • minor 11 b5 b9 b13

Caution on language: some people say Natural 7 while others say Major 7. For me, Major 7, is more common but natural 7 is more appropriate. You have to learn to read between the lines sometimes of what is written.