Major and minor chords are the basic chords in music harmony on which other chords are built upon. Chords are one of the most important aspects to note when it comes to learning music theory, a chord is a combination of three or more notes played together in harmony. One of the most common answers to the difference between major and minor chords are that major chords are the “happy” chords that sound bright and sharp and come with a feeling of elation, vibrance and cheer while minor chords are the “sad” or “moody” chords that sound dark and dull and brings the feeling of sadness, gloominess or depression of some sort. This is kinda true, but not in its entirety; it is only true in the emotional sense of it. The difference between major and minor chords go beyond just how they make you feel. There are other differences between them, let’s explore:
Understanding the terms:
A major chord is a chord that comprises of three notes of a major scale: a root note, a major third and a perfect fifth. These three notes are called a triad. A major chord is the basic chord every beginner would likely learn first because they mostly make up the core of a numerous amount of songs we have today, and it is best understood first because it forms the ground on which the minor chord is built upon. The example below is a C major scale
C D E F G A B C
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
According to what we have defined above, the notes of a C major chord would be C (the root note), E (the major third) and G (the perfect fifth).
A minor chord is a chord that also comprises of three notes of a minor scale: a root note, a minor third and a major fifth. See what happened there? Yes, you got it right! When constructing a minor scale, the note you should concentrate on or consider most is the third note, there is usually a slight change; it is moved by a half fret down the fretboard, other notes basically remain the same. Let us still use the C major scale as an example and make a C minor chord out of it
C D E F G A B C
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Now, we know that the C major chord is C, E, G. To make a C minor chord, simply move the 3rd note (E) by half a step below the fretboard which gives you what is known as a flat or lowered and is represented by “♭”. We now have:
C Major C Minor
C E G C E♭ G
1 3 5 1 ♭3 5
Another way to tell if a chord is major or minor when it is written down in a sheet of music is the indication of a lower case ‘m’ to tell you that the note is minor. An A major chord for instance, is often written as ‘Amaj’ while an A minor chord is always written as ‘Am’. In most cases where you have ‘A’ without anything before or after it, note that it is an A major chord, a major chord may or may not have anything else written close to it, but a minor chord would ALWAYS be differentiated by a ‘m’.
Now that we have a grip of what the major and minor chords look like, we can say that the basic summary is that what basically determines whether a chord is major or minor is the third interval of the note and how it appears when written down in a music sheet.