I have been playing guitar for years now and I thought I -at least- knew music theory basics... I was told a long time ago that chords were built upon scales notes

yet I stumbled upon this question that states chords are build but upon intervals

Is it correct to say that all common chords are built using the major scales?

then :

  • how are scales (and solos) related to the chords of a song ?

  • is it that the only way to play melodies accordingly is to relate on chords notes ?

thanks in advance for the time you'll spend on this question

  • 1
    Please define what you mean by "building a chord". In what situation do you build a chord, for what purpose, what do you take as input when starting to build a chord, and what is the output of the chord building. Do you mean, getting a chord symbol like "E7" and figuring out which notes you should play? Or do you mean, "I think I need a chord here but I don't know what notes I would want to put in it and therefore of course I have no idea what the chord symbol for it would be until after I've selected the notes..." and then you start building the chord i.e. selecting notes for it? Nov 3, 2019 at 10:32
  • one example : edmprod.com/different-chord-types so I am tempted to think that ALL chords are based on the major scale, then I wonder, why not the other scales, mino, penta, orientals lidian, myxolidian and stuff..I try to figure the link here..Also I try to understand why all chords are not based on the major scale (from the other SE question)
    – Phil
    Nov 3, 2019 at 12:14
  • Do you mean that for any chord i.e. combination of three or more notes, there should exist a major scale that contains those notes? That obviously cannot be true. Take the dim7 chord as a counter-example en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diminished_seventh_chord Or do you mean, "which scale does a chord imply?" Nov 3, 2019 at 12:29
  • 2
    First words from the top answer there: "good question, but your assertion is entirely incorrect". So, why do you give it so much credence? Nov 3, 2019 at 18:33
  • I'd really like to know what the confusion is about here. StackExchange is not doing its job very well if it adds confusion. The linked question feels messy as well and somehow I get the impression that the OP and the answerers did not really understand each other. What does it mean that a chord is "built upon" or "drawn from" something? Nov 3, 2019 at 19:08

2 Answers 2


That original question was based on erroneous assumptions. Most of the answers refer to it being questionable.

For starters, there are many, many different scales, the well-loved major being only one. Scales are our way to label notes - to pigeon-hole them. It's what humans do, and like to do! It could be argued that chords can be made from notes of any scale - they actually are. Especially the chromatic scale, which happens to contain all the notes western music uses (except those bent by guitarists!).

It just happens that with chords, the notes involved can be seen as having intervals between them, so it's one way to establish how certain chords are spelled. As in Dm has a m3 and P5, or Cm7 has m3, P5 and m7 (all calculated from the root).

From what you've stated, we can't get a Cm chord from the C major scale notes - we can from the C minor scale notes, though.

Not all chords can in fact be made up from diatonic notes. C diminished 7 only has one note from C major. It also can't be made from the Cm scale.

On to your question. A piece in, say, key C major will have most of its chords made up from the diatonic C notes. There will be times, though, when other notes need to be used, and that will probably mean using other chords. If there's an A♭ note in the melody, an Fm chord will fit. If it's a G♯, then it could be that C+ is leading to an F chord, so Caug. will fit.

However, with less complex tunes, the diatonic notes will fit the diatonic chords, and vice versa. When I have to solo in B♭, my first thoughts are based in the B♭ major scale notes. If it was a B♭ Blues, I'd be thinking in terms of the two B♭ blues scale notes.

Appertaining to your last question, have a look at many songs. Notice that any bar with a particular chord being played in it will most likely have at least a couple of those same notes in the melody. It's pretty straightforward - the chords fit the melody line, and the melody line fits the chords. That happens most of the time - if it didn't something would sound wrong! I'm not saying that in a bar of C the only notes that will fit will be C E and G, but generally speaking, at least one of those notes will be in the bar - often in a prominent place - 1st or 3rd beats, for instance.

  • ok, that brings some light to my poor brain, the issue here is that I try to apply rigid major scale chord building patterns (I ii iii IV V vi vii°) on top of my 20 years experience in intuitive solo playing ... trying to bridge everything together
    – Phil
    Nov 3, 2019 at 12:02

A lot of musicians - particularly ones who deal in the sort of music which can usefully have chord symbols (C, Dm, E7, Bm7♭5, E♭maj7♯11 etc.) written above it - base their 'theory' on chord=scale equivalence. See a C major chord, play notes fron the scale of C major. See a C minor chord, play the C minor scale. See E♭maj7♯11 - heck, play E♭ pentatonic, that fits ANYTHING :-) (Though you might like to investigate E♭ Lydian too.)

No, it isn't all based on the major scale. Maybe, early in your learning, you were shown the chords that ARE built from the major scale. There are other ones too!

I could go on. But don't just look at the question you quoted:

Is it correct to say that all common chords are built using the major scales?

look at the answers too.


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