If you’re already signed up for our GuitarOS: Practical Theory course, you’ll be getting this chart at the end of Chord Building.
But I thought it might be fun, useful, and instructive for those of you approaching this on your own to have a look at how chords are related.
In classical French cooking, there are five “mother sauces”––sauces that are the head of their own little family of sauces. They can be used as they are, or they can be added to & altered to make other sauces––their “daughters.”
The five mother sauces––Bechamel, Veloute, Espagnole, Hollandaise, & Tomate––can be turned into a dizzying array of other sauces. For example:
- Bearnaise is hollandaise with tarragon & shallots.
- Demi-glace is a reduction of espagnole and brown stock.
- Mornay is bechamel with grated cheese.
- Bordelaise is espagnole with red wine, shallots, & beef marrow.
The list goes on and on (and on).
Thinking About Chords As Mother Sauces
The major chord is the reigning matriarch of music. In the Chord Building portion of GuitarOS, we introduced the twin rules of
Treat each chord as the center of its own universe
We use the major scale as our measuring stick.
This means that every single chord, from simple cowboy chords like G, to panic-inducing jazzy monstrosities like Ab#5b9/Gb, is thought of & talked about in terms of the basic major scale and major chord.
If we approach this from the other direction, we could say that
From the basic major triad, we can build all the chords.
Which Is Exactly What We’re Going To Do
This chart is a family tree of sorts.
It lets you see how chords are related, and how closely or distantly.
It also groups them according to some of their more obvious characteristics: chords with flat sevens, or chords with minor thirds.
You’ll Notice That There Are Some Holes In This Chart
This is because some chords, although theoretically correct and physically possible on guitar, are so rare it’s hardly worth your time to study them.
One of my many, many beefs with traditional instructional materials is their completely warped priorities.
Hmmm… provide exhaustive details about every possible technically correct edge case?
Or provide clear, actionable information for real, live, curious, self-motivated humans trying to make sense of music?
I’m trying to engineer epiphanies for you.
If leaving out some super rare things you’ll never see in the real world helps you understand the things you that you will see, then that’s what I’m going to do.
It also means that in a handful of instances, I’ve used a less-detailed explanation where the 100%-technically-correct-according-to-music-school-theory-books explanation is unwieldy and counterproductive*.
option-click (Mac) or right-click (PC) to download.
Or just click it to view in your browser.
Either way, get ready to zoom in and out a lot.