Major Chords on the Guitar: Diagrams, Charts and Theory

The Major chord is the most common and most important chord in all of music. It’s so common, in fact, that when we refer to a Major chord, we don’t even need to specify that it is a Major chord. Instead of saying ‘B Major’ (for example), we can simply say ‘B’. When we refer to the ‘D chord’, we are actually referring to the ‘D Major’ chord, and so on. It is the default chord, because it is the most important and common chord of them all.

In this lesson, we are going to look at what the Major chord actually is. We’re also going to look at moveable shapes and shapes in individual keys. If you’re just here for the basics, and some quick ways to play the Major chord in different keys, here it is:

12 Major Chords

Major Chords in Every Key

If you want to dive deeper into specific Major chords in different keys, using the following links.

Basic Information About the Major Chord

  • The Major chord contains the 1st (root), 3rd and 5th of the Major scale).
  • It is the most common and most important chord in all of music.
  • By using inversions, we can play three different voicings of the Major chord: root position (1, 3, 5), 1st inversion (3, 5, 1) and 2nd inversion (5, 1, 3).

Major Chord Shapes in all 12 Keys

The image at the top of this page demonstrates how to play the Major chord in every key. Each of these shapes represents the most common way of playing the chord for that given key. There are many other ways to play the same Major chords. We’re going to explore the theory of Major chords and different ways of playing them now.

How the Major Chord is Formed

To understand how the Major chord is formed, you need to understand Major scales. The Major scale is the master scale that all chords (and other scales) are based on.

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The Major scale contains seven notes. We can simply number them from one to seven (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7).

7 Numbers of the Major Scale

To produce the Major chord, we simply look at the Major scale in any given key, and take the 1st (which is the root), 3rd and 5th notes of the Major scale (1, 3, 5).

7 Numbers of Major Scale with Highlights

Here is an example in the key of C.

The C Major scale contains the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, B:

C Major Scale with Numbers

To produce the C Major chord, we take the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of that scale

C Major Scale with Highlights

This gives us the notes C, E and G.

C Major Chord Stacked Voicing

In the open position, we can play the C Major chord like this:

C Chord Open with Labels

Keep in mind that when we actually play chords on guitar, we can change the order of notes around and double up on notes, which is why in the above example of the open C chord, the order has changed and there are double ups (sometimes we may not wish to do this).

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Let’s do another example.

If we want to form the A Major chord, we need to use the A Major scale. The A Major scale contains the notes A, B, C#, D, E, F# and G#:

A Major Scale with Numbers

If we take the 1st, 3rd and 5th of the A Major scale, we get the notes A, C# and E:

A Major Scale with Highlights

We can play these notes in the open position to form the A Major chord (there are of course many other positions as well).

A Chord Open with Labels

That is how the Major chord is produced – by taking the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of the Major scale.

Open Major Chords

One of the first things that guitarists learn on the guitar is playing chords. The first chords that most guitarists learn are the open Major chords. They’re called ‘open chords’ because they contain at least one ‘open’ string (a string played without any fretted notes). Here is a chart with all of the Major chords that can be played as open chords. Keep in mind that not every Major chord can be played as an open chord. If a chord does not contain any notes that can be played on an open string, then that chord can not be played as an open chord (unless you’ve modified the tuning, of course).

5 Open Chords

Moveable Major Barre Chords

Most guitarists learn to play barre chords, by learning the Major barre chords. Barre chords are played by ‘barring’ a finger to cover all (or most) of the strings. Because this means that there are no open strings, the shapes become moveable. This means that when you learn one barre chord shape, you can simply move it around, in order to change keys.

There are two main barre chord shapes for the Major chord that you should learn. Here they are:

barre chords shapes

As you can see from the picture above, these shapes can be labeled as ‘root 6’ and ‘root 5’ barre chord shapes. This is simply a reference to where the root note is in each shape. Why is this important? Because if you know where the root note is, you can simply move the shape up and down the fretboard to play the Major chord for any desired key.

Let’s do a few examples at once. Let’s say we want to play F Major, B Major and D Major.

As the name suggests, the root note of the ‘root 6’ barre chord is located on the 6th string. It’s actually located on the 4th string and the 1st string as well (see below), but we tend to focus on the 6th string for the sake of navigating to different keys.

barre chords shapes roots highlighted

To play the F chord, B chord and D chord, using the root 6 barre chord shape, we need to know where the notes F, B and D are located on the 6th string:

  • F note on 6th string = 1st fret
  • B note on 6th string = 7th fret
  • D note on 6th string = 10th fret
entire fretboard b d f 6th string

As you’re probably aware, knowledge of the notes of the fretboard is very important for being able to play barre chords and know what you’re actually playing.

Now, to play the F, B and D chords, we can simply place the root 6 barre chord shape in each of those positions, so that the 6th string is playing the F note, B note and D note respectively. See the diagram below. In the diagram, all three chords are placed on the fretboard at once. Obviously you would play them one at a time.

entire fretboard b d f root 6 bars

We could also play these same chords using the root 5 shape:

root 5 barre chords shapes roots highlighted

Since the root note for this shape is on the 5th string, we need to use the notes on the 5th string. To play the same three chords as before (F, B and D), we therefore need to find the notes F B and D on the 5th string.

entire fretboard b d f 5th string

We can then play the root 5 versions of F, B and D.

entire fretboard b d f root 5 barre chords

Major Chord Inversions

Most of the time, when we play Major chords, we double up on notes and change the order around. We can do this because for the most part, it doesn’t matter. Our ears just kind of hear the overall chord, as long as the notes are there. The order of the notes and the double-ups don’t change the function of the chord itself, but give the chord a slightly different flavour. Think of it like a slightly different shade of a colour.

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However, sometimes we actually want to play the chord in a strict formation (no double-ups or changes of order), or if we do change the formation, we do this in a very specific way. This allows to explore these specific ‘flavours’, or ‘shades’ in a systematic way, that can provide us with unique and interesting ways of playing the chord all over the fretboard.

I’m talking about triads and triad inversions.

You could argue that any Major chord voicing is a triad, because it only contains three notes (1, 3, 5). But usually, when we talk about triads and inversions, we’re talking about ‘strict’ triads, that only include one occurrence of each chord note, played in order.

There are three ways to play the Major triad – root position (1, 3, 5), first inversion, (3, 5, 1)  and second inversion (5, 1, 3).

3 triads and inversions labels

As an example, the C Major chord in its root position and inverted triad formations looks like this.

3 triads and inversions C Major

We could play these voicings, using the first three strings, as follows:

3 triads and inversions C Major Shapes

One of the great things about triads and inversions is that it means that the chords are produced systematically. The voicings naturally move across the fretboard from one inversion to the other.

3 triads and inversions C Major Shapes Entire Fretboard

In the example above, we only used the first three strings to play the triads.

Of course, we could play these Major triads on other sets of three strings.

In the image below, you can see the triad shapes for the different string groupings (there are four possible groupings of three strings). To play them in a specific key, make sure that the root note in each voicing (the highlighted note) matches the key that you want to use (this requires a pretty good knowledge of the notes on the fretboard).

12 Major Triads and Inversions

If you would like to look up these triads in specific keys, use the links to the specific keys at the bottom of this page.

Other Useful Major Chord Shapes

Other than the popular Major shapes outlined above (open Majors, barre chords, triads etc.), there are a few popular and useful Major chord shapes that I want to include here.

3 Useful Major Chords

I IV and V (A Good Major Chord Progression)

When we analyse chords in keys, we find that there are three naturally occurring Major chords in any key. These are often referred to as the I, IV and V chords (1, 4 and 5). If you want to know about how this works, read the lesson about figuring out the seven chords in every key.

Knowing this allows you to quickly and easily compose and play chord progressions that work well and focus on Major chords.

These three chords also happen to be the strongest (or most prominent) chords in each key, so you can’t really go wrong with them.

Here is a chart of all 12 keys, with the I, IV and V listed.

I IV V Chords Lookup Table

For example, let’s say we pick the key of G. We can easily play a chord progression that uses the I (G), IV (C) and V (D) in the key of G:

G G C D Chord Progression

Try coming up with (and playing) some of your own I IV V chord progressions. Like I said, you can’t go wrong!

Another great chord progression to play, that uses the I IV and V chords is the 12 Bar Blues.

The 12 Bar Blues follows a set pattern of the I, IV and V chords (although there are many variations). Here is the pattern.

12 Bar Blues 1 IV V

For example, in the key of G, the 12 Bar Blues looks like this:

12 Bar Blues G

Major Chords (Notes) in all 12 Keys

The following is a chart with all 12 Major chords and the notes contained in each chord, as a reference. There are also links (below) to each individual Major chord, if you would like to explore each individual chord in more detail.

Major Chord Notes Lookup Table 1 3 5

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