Chord Names: Explained Simply

I’m no expert on music theory, but here’s what I’ve learned by just messing around with the chords and by following the Hookpad interface. Primarily for the noobs.

[u][b]Keys[/b][/u] W=Whole step, H=Half step
  • Major: W-W-H-W-W-W-H
  • Minor: W-H-W-W-H-W-W (Starts on the 6th of Major) (major with 3rd, 6th and 7th lowered) *
  • Dorian: W-H-W-W-W-H-W (Starts on the 2nd of Major) (minor with 6th raised)
  • Phrygian: H-W-W-W-W-H-W-W (Starts on the 3rd of Major) (minor with 2nd lowered)
  • Lydian: W-W-W-H-W-W-H (Starts on 4th) (major with 4th raised)
  • Mixolydian: W-W-H-W-W-H-W (Starts on 5th) (major with 7th lowered)
  • Locrian: H-W-W-H-W-W-W-W (Starts on 7th) (minor with 2nd and 5th lowered)

*Hookpad minor is natural minor. Harmonic minor would have the 7th be not lowered.

Types of Chords

  • Capital Letter/M: Major chord. (Intervals between notes: III-iii [Major third, then minor third])
  • Lowercase/m: Minor. Lowered 3rd. (iii-III)
  • aug/+: Augmented. Raised 5th. (III-III) Does not exist in Hookpad.
  • dim/o: Diminished. Lowered 3rd and 5th. (iii-iii). The o can be written with (without spaces): < sup >text< /sup >

Inversions have the same notes, but different order.

  • 6/6: 3rd is the root (bottom note). Written as [Chord name]/[New root]. (With 7: 6-5/65)
  • 6-4/64: 5th is the root. (With 7: 4-3/43)
  • 4-2/42: Only occurs with 7. 7th is the root.

These are symbols that change the chord’s notes, but keep the same low-to-high order.

  • 7/7: The 7th scale degree is tacked on top of the chord. Can be applied to anything except sus42 and (add9).
  • (add9)/(add9): The 2nd scale degree is added in between the 1st and the 3rd.
  • sus4/sus4: The 3rd in the chord is changed to the 4th.
  • sus2/sus2: The 3rd is changed to the 2nd.
  • sus42/sus42: The 3rd is changed to both the 2nd and the 4th.

Non-Diatonic Chords
These are either X of … or borrowed chords.

  • V of: written as V/X. Creates whatever chord that would correspond to V if the song were in the key of X. Sounds like the V chord in a key. (Ex: V in C sounds like V/I.)
  • IV of: written as IV/X. Creates whatever chord that would correspond to IV if the song were in the key of X. Sounds identical to the IV chord in a scale.
  • vii of: written as vii/X. Creates whatever chord that would correspond to vii if the song were in the key of X. Sounds identical to the vii0 chord in a key.
  • Borrowed: A chord that is taken from a different key (i.e. In major, borrowed from minor, etc.).

I hope all of this was helpful. If someone could come in and fact-check this for me, post any mistakes I've made.
  • Changed the descriptions for the "X of" chords.
  • 7 forms of the inversions
  • Better key descriptions
  • …Any comments? Is it wrong? At all?

    Looks really useful. Thanks for doing this! Looks mostly right to me.

    Can you clarify what you mean by raising the chord the scales 5th in the non diatonic section though?

    Maybe something like this is more clear?:

    V of: written as V/X. Creates whatever chord that would correspond to V if the song were instead in the key of X

    All right. I’ll change it to that. Fells much clearer, your version.

    Thank you for this! I just recently began studying chords using the Hookpad software, and I appreciate the handy reference. This will definitely help me to consolidate my grasp of the subject.

    Looks good to me. Only thing I might add is that with a 7th chord, first and second inversion (6 and 6-4) are written as 6-5 and 4-3, respectively.

    Also, here’s a more intuitive description of each mode, based on how it differs from major/minor scales:

    Dorian: minor with 6th raised
    Phrygian: minor with 2nd lowered
    Lydian: major with 4th raised
    Mixolydian: major with 7th lowered
    Locrian: minor with 2nd and 5th lowered

    Minor: major with 3rd, 6th and 7th lowered (in natural minor, which is what Hookpad uses for “minor”. In harmonic minor, the 7th isn’t lowered, creating a major V chord instead of minor v)

    1 Like

    All right, thanks for the feedback! I’ll add these in.