Tech Tip:What is the difference between major and minor chords?

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Jimmy Henderson, East Rutherford, NJ


Q: I am learning my open chords right now and I am curious about what the difference is between major and minor chords. I hope I don’t sound stupid.


A: You don’t sound stupid at all; asking questions is how we learn. This is a very good question.


Besides the theory which I'll get to in a moment, the main difference between major and minor chords is their sound. Major chords have a bright, happy sound while minor chords have a sound that's sad and melancholy. Songwriters choose chords to evoke emotions in the listener. As you become a more experienced player, you will likely be able to tell exactly what chords are being played within a song.


The theoretical difference between these two species of chords is this: A major chord consists of a 1st, 3rd, and 5th degree of a major scale while a minor chord is made from the 1st, flatted 3rd, and 5th degrees of a major scale. So the only difference is the 3rd degree. You can see this clearly when you compare certain chords such as the open A Major to the open A Minor chord. The only difference is the note on the second string; changing that one note profoundly affects the sound.