I came across chord tones few days ago. I knew and learned the basic shapes (i. e. Am) all over the fretboard. My question is do I have to learn for all A to G# major and minor triads like I done with A minor triads. I think this is inefficient. Guide me.

  • 1
    These patterns are all movable so once you learn them all you need to do is shift. It is the opposite of inefficient.
    – user50691
    Apr 9, 2020 at 11:53
  • The more you learn the more music you can play. What are you really asking? Apr 9, 2020 at 14:12
  • what do you really mean by learn the chord tones? Spelling the chords, like D#7 in G# major is D# Fx A# C# or Eb7 is Eb g Bb Db in Ab major, etc, etc? Apr 9, 2020 at 15:37
  • @Dom et al, how can you not understand this question. The OP spent x amount of time learning the patterns for one chord all over the fingerboard. The OP thinks that this effort has to be repeated 23 more times. Apr 10, 2020 at 18:25
  • @piiperiReinstateMonica this question came to me as having terminology issues along with focus issues because we're guessing what the OP is thinking. We should clean these up before people answer as you see several answers go in very different directions.
    – Dom
    Apr 10, 2020 at 18:35

4 Answers 4


You do need to learn all chord tones, but you do not necessarily need to memorize them all separately like some magical inexplicable litany of gibberish, because the fretboard is not random and chaotic, there is a clear logic to it. It is similar to basic math, you need to be able to calculate all numbers, 1+3=4, 77+3=80, and 12345+2=12347. But you don't need to memorize every combination separately, because there's a simple logic. You just learn the logic and basic rules and apply them over and over again.

Here is the logic of the guitar fretboard

guitar fretboard logic

  • When you move between strings, the distance i.e. interval is 5 semitones, except between G and B it is 4 semitones.
  • When you from fret to fret, the distance between each pair of consecutive frets is 1 semitone. Move down the neck, pitch goes down, move up the neck, pitch goes up. The distance between strings is 5 semitones, 5 frets. Except between G and B it is 4 frets.

The calculation logic of major triads is: 0 4 7

  • root note : 0 (origin, base point)
  • "third" : +4 semitones from root (unfortunately it's called the "third", nevermind that for now, it's just a name like Jeremiah or Patrick)
  • "fifth" : +3 semitones from the "third", or +7 semitones from the root

The calculation logic of minor triads is: 0 3 7

  • root note : 0 (origin, base point)
  • "third" : +3 semitones from root
  • "fifth" : +4 semitones from the "third", or +7 semitones from the root

They're almost the same, just the "third" is in a different place by one semitone.

Here is an A major triad chord's notes on the fretboard

A major triad on guitar fretboard

And here are notes for an A minor triad:

A minor triad on guitar fretboard

The notes are: A, C, E

Let's move the A minor triad UP by 1 semitone, i.e. one fret:

A# minor triad on guitar fretboard

It becomes A# (A sharp) minor, or Bb (B flat) minor, depending on how you look at it. If we call it Bbm, the notes are: the notes are Bb, Db, F. (If we call it A#, the notes are A#, C#, E# ... or F, nevermind the difference between E# and F)

Let's take another A# or Bb minor chord, this time in a different place on the fretboard:

another A# triad on guitar fretboard

This time the step between the root is on the G string and the third is on the B strings, and remember: the interval between G and B is 4 semitones, not not 5 like between all other neighboring strings. So, the minor triad's 3 semitone jump is one fret narrower than in the previous diagram. But the pitch jumps are the same. First the root, zero position, then jump 3 semitones up, and then jump another 4 semitones up from that. Minor triad.

So, there is logic! However, that said, it will greatly improve your ability as a guitarist, if you're able to familiarize yourself with the whole fretbowrd. If you instantly see and know the note name of each fret position, wherever you look on the fretboard, if will help you as a musician. BUT you don't have to learn that right away. It will come in time, when you keep practicing, and think about the note names all the time, not only the visual patterns.

  • I avoided having to use E# and such like - it's bound to confuse beginners and guitarists in particular! But a good visual aid. May have made more sense to someone who 'knows chord shapes' to use the top three strings instead for the first 3 pics - they pretty well portray a well-known shape. *this is not a criticism! +1.
    – Tim
    Apr 9, 2020 at 14:21

One of the biggest mistakes guitar players make, is they assume that a guitar player they want to emulate has memorized "everything". All the shapes, all the patterns, all the chord tones of a give chord, etc. etc. So, they figure if they want to be the same class of player, that's what you have to do.

It's self defeating. You would have to do nothing else all day every day, and even then you'd probably fail.

--NOTE: This is a way to get you started understanding how the relationships of things in music can be used as a way to understand anything you're looking at even if you've never seen it before. This is not intended to be a complete treatise on chord intervals, modes, etc. It's just a way I have used to clue players into why understanding the difference between a scale, and a pattern, is so important.--

Anyway, for me, the trick to looking like you know everything about everything (to the layman anyway), is to understand one foundation, and how everything else relates to it. That single foundation can change depending on who you talk to (e.g. Martino says "convert everything to minor"), but for my style of playing and the sonic qualities I strive for, that's the major scale.

When I say this, I often get the response, "but I know the major scale. It's easy. Here's the pattern."

Unfortunately, that means you know the pattern. It doesn't mean you know anything about the scale (and in fact if that's the answer a player gives me, I'm almost certain they don't understand scales).

A clearer version of that: PATTERNS ARE NOT SCALES. They are useful ways to remember playing scales. But simply knowing a pattern does not mean you know anything about scales, or how chords are built from a scale.

This is (in my experience) the biggest problem guitar players have. They learn patterns, shapes, positions. They never actually learn anything about scales or why a given scale establishes patterns. (I have another answer on modes that sites the same issue).

So, at its most basic, let's take C Major. C D E F G A B (C)

The foundation of a chord is built in thirds. If you run through C Major, you get seven chords. Note that the seventh (the last note of each chord) expresses the full chord, but depending on what you're doing, you leave it off and just use the "triad". What's that mean, keep reading.

So, let's go through it. What are the seven fundamental chords (or "harmonized" chords) of C Major?


You don't have to memorize these (though after a while you do by seeing them over and over). You just have to remember; start from any note, and take every second note from there until you have four notes. For instance, the one starting with G:

root-G (a) third-B (c) fifth-D (e) seventh-F

Anyway, you repeat this little bouncing-ball pattern for each note, and you get seven chords. Each has a root, third, fifth, and seventh (four notes). For example, the fifth of the chord starting with E is B, the third of the chord starting with A is C, and so on.

So ok, yeah yeah those are the notes. But what CHORDS are they?

In a given quality of scale, the "harmonized" quality of the seven chords, that being the chords built in thirds from each note in the scale, are always the same. Always.

What's "quality" mean? It means the "kind" of chord. For instance, D Major and F Major are both major chords. Same for D minor and F minor (both minor), etc.

If we add the chord qualities to the above C Major chart, here's the chords.

CEGB - Major 7 (the I, or Tonic, chord)
DFAC - Minor 7 (the II chord)
EGBD - Minor 7 (the III chord)
FACE - Major 7 (the IV chord)
GBDF - Dominant 7 (the V chord)
ACEG - Minor 7 (the VI chord)
BDFA - Minor 7 flat 5 (or, min7b5) (the VII chord)

It doesn't matter what major scale you go through this process for. The chords qualities are always the same. Do the same process for A Major (A B C# D E F# G# A), the fifth note is E, the chord built in thirds from E will be a Dom7 chord (EDom7, or typically just E7, E G# B D).

So if you're playing in D Major, you might hear somebody say, "play the V chord".

You already know the V chord is a dominant 7 chord, because it always is in any major scale. So you run through the notes of D Major (I'll assume you know the D Major scale pattern, scale formulas are another topic), you go D, E, F#, G, A...

And there you have it. They are telling you to play an A Dom7 chord, Which again, if you follow the formula of building in thirds (using D Major this time), you know will be A, C#, E, G (again, you start from the note in the scale you want, in this case D Major, which tells you what the chord quality will be, build the chord in thirds, and that's it).

If you understand this, you understand what you need to build ANY CHORD IN ANY SCALE. But, it requires that you stop thinking of scales as patterns, and learn what makes a scale a scale. (This is the whole "scale formulas" and "intervals" discussion, which is beyond the scope of this answer at this time).

And, you probably already know a variety of major and minor chord shapes, maybe even dominant (the "blues" chord). So if you're playing a chord shape you know is a G Minor, you can figure the chord tones this way (this assumes you know the natural minor scale pattern):

Scale of G Minor: G A Bb C D Eb F (G)
G Minor triad: G Bb D
G Minor 7: G Bb D F

Now, what if I was to get fancy; what are the chord tones of a Cmaj9 chord? You didn't cover that, you only covered chords with a first, third, fifth, and seventh!

Unless you are working in a very particular context, you almost never need to play more than four notes of a chord. Why do I say this...keep reading.

What you may not know, is that the 9th of a scale, is the same as the 2nd, the 4th of the scale is the same as the 11th, and the sixth of a scale is the same as the 13th. You just take the number (9, 11, 13) and subtract 7. Why do they do this? Because these are the "tensions" of the scale. They are not part of the root (or "tonic") chord. Don't worry if this isn't clear at this point, just go with the simple, "if I see 9, 11, 13, subtract 7, and that's the note they're talking about."

So, back to our CMaj9 chord. Clearly, the chord is from C Major.

C (d) E (f) G (a) B

So, we get our base chord, C Major7:


Now, we need the "ninth". Subtract 7, that's the 2nd note of the scale, which is D.


And there you have it. You have a CMaj9 chord.

Whoa...five notes. That may be tough to play. So, you can use this general rule, to abbreviate the chord but still get the sonic quality indicated by the notation CMaj9: "if there's too many notes to play, drop the root and/or the fifth."

There's a lot more to that rule than we'd want to discuss here, just take it for granted for now.

Anyway, that gives us either:

EGBD (no root) or CEBD (no fifth)

And again, there you have it. Not only do you know how to compute the full chord, you know two acceptable variations of it; listen to both, and choose the one that works best for your musical context.

It should also give you the idea that the third and seventh of a chord (and any "tension", if there is one) should NOT BE DROPPED, because they are much more important (in general) to the quality of a chord than the root and fifth. Again, there's a lot more to this. But for now, simply taken as a general rule, it's good to know.

This may help you see why you look at a chord in a book, it says it's something like an A min 11, but it has no A in it. In fact, the chord looks more like a C something. It's just because, in order to play the chord (and to make sure it doesn't sound too "thick"), you don't need to play all the notes...just the important ones.

So there you have it; understand the structure of the major scale, know how to build a chord, know what the 2(9) 4(11) and 6(13) mean, and know what notes to drop to make it playable...

...and you know everything you need to know to compute the chord tones for any chord in any scale (provided you actually know the scale, e.g. harmonic minor is a different scale than major, so the harmonized chords will be different, but the same exact pattern of building in thirds applies).

Once I internalized this little formulaic process, there was no longer any chord of any kind I could be given that I can't run through this process for to compute acceptable notes to create a playable version of the chord.

If I was to try and remember all those combos from every major scale, let alone melodic major, melodic minor, harmonic minor...no freakin' way. Impossible.

Hope that helps.

  • Gosh, a lot to read through - I hope OP has the tenacity! CEGD is not Cmaj9. It's Cadd9. Any chord with a number over 7 will have that 7 (maj or min) included. So 'Cmaj7(9)' isn't the normal way it gets written. CEGBD is Cmaj9. O.k, leave out G (the P5th) is a common thing to do. And whilst it's laudable to be able to work out any chord from its component notes, we all revert to patterns and shapes - it's what guitars are great for! It's rare to find an unusual (or unused) chord, and be able to come up with a shape for it on the fly, in the middle of a gig,even with all the above knowedge!
    – Tim
    Apr 10, 2020 at 8:14
  • Thank you for your positive input. However, I’ve seen books that say what you say, and books that say what I say. So I’ll have to suggest that no one person on this forum is the absolute authority on chord notation. I’d also recommend that if you’d like to suggest a useful edit, you use the edit feature. And for what it’s worth, I do not revert to patterns and shapes at the expense of knowing what I’m doing. I used to, before I knew better. I work out chord and unison shapes on the fly frequently, because with practice, the process of using you brain before your fingers becomes very natural. Apr 10, 2020 at 11:11
  • Can't find anything which states a 9th chord of any kind won't have a seventh of some sort, so maybe that needs attention - not really my place to edit!
    – Tim
    Apr 10, 2020 at 11:50

The question is a little confusing, but here goes.

Chord tones are the notes that go together to make chords. Like A C E make Am, G B D F♯ make Gmaj7, B D F A make Bm7♭5.

Knowing the names of the notes that make up chords, and knowing where they live on the fretboard, are a great help. With that knowledge, you can come up with other shapes for your chords, which can be useful with voicings.

The way a guitar works is partially using shapes, which are transferrable up and down the neck to produce the same kind of chords, but in different keys. You've already become aware of that: play an A chord at fret 5 , move everything up two frets, and it's a B chord.

Learning every note? Not necessary. Knowing some notes? Good idea. Knowing that, for example F A C makes an F chord, move everything up one fret, it all gets sharpened, so F♯ ♯ C♯ makes an F♯ chord. Hardly any need to 'know' where they are, if you already know where F A C are.

So, yes, learn the 'key' notes, and the ones in between should become apparent. Key notes here mean the white keys on piano - the 7, leaving out the sharps and/or flats. You can fill those names in with reference to the known ones. There, that's almost halved the 'inefficiency'!


Do I have to learn all chords tones?

Yes, if you want to be able to speak about chords.

...do I have to learn for all A to G# major and minor triads like I done with A minor triads. I think this is inefficient.

Right, that is inefficient.

You don't need to learn chord tones (I assume you mean how to spell chords like Ab7 is Ab C Eb Gb relative to each key. Ab7 will be spelled the same way regardless if you are in Db major, Db minor, Ab major, or any other key. Learning chords by key will definitely result in many duplicates so don't do it that way.

You need to learn the correct spelling of intervals and the intervals used in various chord types.

Think of chord roots - there are basically 7 naturals ABCDEFG and then 5 flat and 5 sharp roots C#/Db, D#/Eb, F#/Gb, G#/Ab, A#/Bb for a total of 17 roots. (If you haven't learned the ascending - using sharps - and descending - using flats - chromatic scales which will cover all these roots, learn that.)

Multiply 17 by the chord types. ...there are a lot of chord types when you include even just the diatonic seventh chords. Don't overwhelm yourself with too many all at once.

Start with just 17 major and 17 minor triads.

After that do 17 dominant seventh chords.

After that do the other seventh chords.

Etc, etc. a gradual sequence like that.

If you think systematically about chord spellings, you will realize you are dealing with two main things:

  • Understanding the intervals between chord tones. Ex. a major chord is a major third and perfect fifth above the root.

  • How to spell intervals correct, and the sort of asymmetry of the gamut ABCDEFG with half steps at B-C and E-F necessitating the use of sharps and flats to get the intervals right. Ex. no sharps/flats used for C-E a major third, but no sharps/flats used for B-D is a minor third. (Notice that B-D enters into the half-step range of B-C but C-E does not.) To change the quality of either you need to use sharps and flats correctly: C-Eb is a minor third and B-D# is a major third.

A good exercise to learn the intervals and sharps/flats could be something like play up and down the chromatic scale in broken minor third, then major thirds, then perfect fifths ...and say the correct spelling for them. That's just three chromatic scale patterns to practice in addition to the chords. It might even be a good idea to spend some time doing this before working on the chords.

So, 3 chromatic scale patterns, 17 major and 17 minor triads. It will seem a lot at first. Give yourself time, a few months perhaps, it depends on how much daily attention you can devote to it. When you are comfortable with that initial set of scales and chords the rest will come much faster.

Do you really need to learn all the chords? That's a bit of a philosophical question. What do you count as a chord? Any group of tones played simultaneously is a chord. Most chord drills/charts put some limit on what gets included. Ex. diatonic seventh chords is a limited set of seventh chords. For practical purposes you can limit which chord types to include, especially depending on style. You don't necessarily need to learn altered dominants if you don't play jazz, or augmented sixth chords if you don't play classical, etc.

The thing you should not limit is learning the correct spelling of intervals! The practical list is: P1, m2, M2, m3, M3, P4, A4, d5, P5, m6, M6, m7, M7, P8, A2, A6. You won't be able to make sense of chord spellings without knowing your intervals.

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