Guide to International Chord Notation for Musicians


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Rating of international agreements

Chord Notation: Learn to Read International Symbols

To start with a little music theory, chord notation in music is a set of at least three notes played at the same time and bearing a name. Have you ever had the opportunity to explore sheet music files for songs, the same ones that display names above the phrases?

In reality, these are the names of the chords. That you are singer, drummer, pianist, bass player, guitarist, or any other instrumentalist, understanding why these letters are used and what they correspond to in chord notation can be very helpful. This knowledge can allow you to easily play a song from a lyrics and chords file, without having to use sheet music. Plus, it can help you communicate more effectively with other musicians if you're playing in a group.

Chord symbols

Understanding the letters of chord symbols

The first thing to understand about chord symbols is the letters. Indeed, the capital letters that you will see in the chord symbols are C, D, E, F, G, A and B. To name them, we follow the alphabet: A, B, C, D, E, F , G. In the same order, we can recite “Do, Ré, Mi, Fa, Sol”…La (A), Si (B), Do (C), Ré (D), Mi (E), Fa ( F), Ground (G).

Letter accidentals in chord notation

Each of these letters can also be accompanied by a sharp (♯) or a flat (♭). These letters (with and without accidentals) represent all the notes in the staff. Additionally, the letters you see represent the root or tonic of the chord being constructed. If you see C♭, that means the tonic of that chord is a C♭. If you encounter a C/B♭, it means that a C chord sounds on a B♭ bass. Likewise, an F/G follows the same rule: an F chord on a G bass.

Chord quality in chord notation

In addition to the letters mentioned previously, you can see a small “m”. This indicates the quality of the agreements. For example, an Am chord means that A is the tonic of that chord. The quality of a chord can be major (M), minor (m), augmented (+) or diminished (ø). So, by knowing the letters, accidentals and qualities of a chord, you will be able to easily read a score or play a song using lyrics and chords.


Chord cipher theory: the quality of chords

If you want to understand how chords work in music, it's important to know the different types of chords and their quality. The quality of a chord is determined by the intervals that compose it. Major chords, for example, are represented by a capital letter with no other symbol. On the other hand, minor chords are represented by a lowercase letter followed by a lowercase “m”. If you see a capital “M” next to the letter, this indicates that it is a seventh chord. It is therefore important to understand these different notations in order to be able to play and compose music successfully.

Chord cipher theory: writing major chords

If you are a musician or learning to play music, it is important to understand tuning quality. This refers to the intervals that define it. Major and minor chords are the main types of chords. To recognize a major chord, simply look at the capital letter that represents it. For example, if you see “C” on a sheet music, it is a C major chord.

However, it is important not to confuse major chords with seventh chords. These are indicated by a capital “M” next to the agreement letter. For example, if you see “GM7” on a sheet music, that means it is a G major seventh chord.

Chord cipher theory: writing minor chords

If you want to play a song in a minor key, it's important to know how to spot minor chords on a sheet of music. Minor chords are most often written with lowercase letters accompanied by a lowercase “m”, such as “dm” or simply “d”. However, some musicians prefer to use an uppercase letter followed by a lowercase “m”, such as “Dm”.

It is important to note that lowercase letters can sometimes be confusing, especially with the letters c, a and f. This is why many musicians prefer to add the “m” to avoid confusion. In general, if you see a single lowercase letter on a sheet music, it's probably a minor chord.

It is also important not to confuse minor chords with seventh chords. If you see a lowercase “m” next to a “7,” that means it’s a minor seventh chord, like “Dm7.”