Major chords

Major chords are the most common chords for the piano and other instruments. The major chord names are written in sole letters like C, D, E and so forth; otherwise, the abbreviation for major in chord names is maj. Besides the main chord category, there are also Major 7th chords (maj7), Major 9th chords (maj9) and Major 6th chords (6) among others.

See diagrams of Major chords:

C major D major E major F major G major A major B major

See also graphic overview of major chords in common keys ›

Theory

A major triad includes three notes and these can be referred to as the root, major third and perfect fifth. To explain it in plain English, this means that the notes in the chord are the first, the third and the fifth notes in the related scale.

We can compare the C Major Scale with the C Major chord:

C Major scale: C – D – E – F – G – A – B
C major scale

C Major chord: C – E – G
C major chord

Formula and steps

A good way to lessen the memorizing are to learn the formulas. The formula for a triad major chord is 1 - 3 - 5, which refers to the major scale degrees.

You could also learn by steps. From the 1st note go four half steps to the right to reach the 2nd note, and from the 2nd note go three steps to the right to reach the 3rd note.

Make use of

How and when to use major triads? Since these are the most common of all chords, they are used in various music genres and in all kinds of situations. Major chords can be used exclusively in shorter sequences, whereas longer sequences in general also include minor chords.

Chord sequences that shows how major chords can be utilized:

1. C F G
2. C Em F G
3. C F Am G

In Roman numerals*:

1. I IV V
2. I iii IV V
3. I IV vi V

* Roman numerals describe chord intervals that can be used the same way in all keys. See a table over major keys including Roman numerals.

Other major chords

Let us continue with major 7 chords that are built by adding the seventh note in the related scale.

Comparing the C Major Scale with the C Major 7 chord:

C Major scale: C – D – E – F – G – A – B
C Major 7 chord: C – E – G – B

There are also Major 6th chords with the sixth note in the scale added to a triad. These are, however, written without the abbreviation “maj” and sometimes this category is called added 6th. Relevant here is also the less common 6/9, or 6add9 (6th with an added major 9th).

Comparing the C Major Scale with C6 and C6/9:

C Major scale: C – D – E – F – G – A – B
C6 chord: C – E – G – A
C6/9 chord: C – E – G – A – D

Next type to know about is Major ninth (maj9). This chord is built by adding a major third to a major seventh chord. Maj9 must not be confused with the Dominant 9th.

Comparing the C Major Scale with Cmaj9:

C Major scale: C – D – E – F – G – A – B
C Major 9 chord: C – E – G – B – D

Rather unusual is the Major eleventh (maj11), which more correctly is written maj9(#11) since the eleventh normally is raised a semi-tone. This is because of the dissonance that otherwise occur between the major third and the eleventh.

Comparing the C Major Scale with Cmaj11, or Cmaj9(#11):

C Major scale: C – D – E – F – G – A – B
Cmaj11 (not so common in practice): C – E – G – B – D – F
Cmaj9#11: C – E – G – B – D – F#

Next is the Major thirteenth (maj13), which is built by adding a 13th. This chord includes seven notes, but to make it more practical, some notes (the least important for the chord color, which especially include the eleventh) are normally left out. Maj13 not to be confused with the dominant 13th.

Comparing the C Major Scale with Cmaj13:

C Major scale: C – D – E – F – G – A – B
C Major 13 chord: C – E – G – B – D – A
(the 11th, F in the case of Cmaj13, is normally excluded)

To mention is also maj13#11:
Cmaj13#11: C – E – G – B – D – F# – A

See links above or use the search box for diagrams (some of the less common categories are not presented).

Alternative chord symbols

Besides the major chord symbol that is presented on this site, you may find alternatives, including the following instead of C:

CMaj (relative common symbol there “Maj” is written out as the abbreviation for major)
C△ (the triangle is sometimes used in piano sheets as a symbol for major)
CM (here a capital letter is being used for “major”, which are not recommended due to the possible confusing with a “minor” symbol)
Cma (uncommon symbol there “ma” is written out as the abbreviation for major)

CM7 or C△7 are alternative chord names used instead for Cmaj7 (the triangle is sometimes also used in piano sheets as a single symbol for major seventh).

CM9 or C△9 are alternative chord names used instead for Cmaj9, CM11 or C△11 are alternative chord names used instead for Cmaj11 and CM13 or C△13 are alternative chord names used instead for Cmaj13.

CM6 is an alternative chord name sometimes used instead for C6.

Additionally, C13, which is an extended chord, could be written Cmaj9(add13).

Chord categories

Major chords Minor chords Seventh chords Extended chords Sus chords Dim chords Aug Chords Add Chords Altered Chords