Chord symbols explained – a guest post by Kim Gentes

What do all the strange names and symbols mean in guitar chords?

First, understand that chord nomenclature is a colloquialism of modern music, and there are occasional variances on how people use the symbols. I used the common forms below, which are a mixture of common pop music (such as the half-diminished) and jazz influenced (such as minor major 7th) chord symbols.  You will doubtless find people using the + symbol occasionally to mean “add” a specific note to a chord form (rather than augmented which is the more common form), and various other such renderings. In fact, the + is also sometimes used as a way to “sharp” a note in some circles.  That said, I tend to revert to letters, instead of using symbols where possible, to avoid such confusion. Meaning, I would use C7aug rather than C7+ simply to avoid misunderstanding in some circles.  Then again, if everyone simply used my chart below, there would be not confusion at all :).  So there you go then- use this as gospel chord notation.

The use of “b” in this table symbolizes flat, and applies to the note that follows it in a chord form, or the chord name that proceeds it when contexted to the chord itself. The use of the “#” symbol indicates a sharp.

General chord theory has some “essentials” to remember:

  • A basic chord is normally thought of as a triad (meaning 3) of notes. This means each simple chord is a combination of 3 distinct notes played simultaneously.
  • Simple chords are named by the first note in their sequence. The first note in the chord sequence is also called the “root”.
  • The most basic form of a chord is a major chord.  A major chord is the sequence of notes, beginning with the root as 1, moving up 2 positions to get the next note, and moving up two more positions to get the last note. The major chord includes notes in positions 1, 3 and 5 relative to the root.
Form Symbol Alternate 2nd Alt Example Example 2 Notes
Major Δ M maj C Cmaj 1 3 5
Minor m min Cm C- 1 b3 5
Suspended sus sus4 Csus Csus4 1 4 5
2nd * sus2 sus9 2 Csus2 C2 1 2 5
7 ** 7 dom7 C7 Cdom7 1 3 5 b7
Minor 7 -7 m7 min7 Cm7 C-7 1 b3 5 b7
Major 7 Δ7 M7 maj7 CΔ7 Cmaj7 1 3 5 7
Diminished *** ° dim dim7 Cdim 1 b3 b5 bb7 or 1 b3 b5 6
Half Diminished ø m7-5 m7(b5) Cmin7(b5) 1 b3 b5 b7
Augmented + aug +5 C+ Caug 1 3 #5
Augmented 7 7+ aug7 C7+ 1 3 #5 b7
Sixth 6 C6 1 3 5 6
Ninth 9 C9 1 3 5 b7 9
Minor 9th m9 min9 Cm9 Cmin9 1 b3 5 b7 9
Major 9th M9 maj9 Cmaj9 CM9 1 3 5 7 9
Diminished 9th dim9 Cdim9 1 3 5 b7 b9
Added 9 add9 (9) Cadd9 C(9) 1 3 5 9
Fifth 5 (no 3rd) (no 3) C5 C(no 3) 1 5
Eleventh 11 C11 1 3 5 b7 9 11
Minor major 7th m M7 mΔ7 m maj7 CmM7 C-Δ7 1 b3 5 7


Alternate Bass Chords

Sometimes called “slash chords”, these are chords that follow all the same conventions as listed above, except that they add a single low note as the “bass” note in the chord.  This simply means that in a chord such as “X/Y”, that this is an “X chord with a Y in the bass”.  For example, you might see:


-This would simply be a C chord with an E note played in the bass. In this case you would play the regular C major chord and add the E note below the low C of your regular major C chord.

It does NOT give the option to play either C or E!

Figuring out chord names

Occasionally, you may find that you play a chord, but don’t know how to name it. If you play guitar, there is a nice applet installed on my website here that can help you figure out the name of that chord.

* also called suspended 2nd
** also called dominant 7th
*** also called diminished 7th


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(c)Copyright 2009 Kim Anthony Gentes