Major Chords III - Modern

Getting those modern, open sounding pop/rock/folk chords

If we want to play a simple song based on just major chords, we can modify the chords in certain ways to create that special open sound we know from many modern pop, rock or folk songs. In most cases these modified chords are even easier to play than barre chords or even the standard major chords!

It mainly depends on two things, which variant of a chord we'll prefer:

  • Harmonical context: what chords are played before and after the chord we are looking at? What's the key of the song (or section)?
  • Fingering: which variant benefits a more effortless chord change?

Extended or modified chords have more or less cryptic chord names like e.g. Gadd9 or Gsus2. But when we modify or extend chords while playing, we actually don't need to worry about chord symbols. Just play around with some possibilities and you'll soon know from experience what sounds best in a certain context.

So there is no need to immediately memorize all the theory of this lection. But it will make it easier for further lections, if you have already heard about the meaning of "sus2" or "add9". You will stumble across these chord types many times later on.

Most common chord variants

For demonstration I'll take the three major chords G, C and D that you'll find on the Ist, IVth and Vth scale degree of the G major scale. There are many famous songs, that just (or mainly) consist of these three chords.

no 3 - omitting the 3rd

It's virtually always possibly to abandon a note. In this case we omit the major third and end up with a G chord consisting of only roots and 5ths.

Dampening the A string is also great to get a clearer, differentitated sound.

Switch between note names, intervals and fingering with the ⓘ button.

sus2 - replacing the third by a major 2nd

It's nearly always possible to add a major 2nd above the root (or better above an octave of the root) to the chord. For a C major chord this means you can add the tone D. Like in the chord before the 3rd E has been abandoned here.

So you can say the 2nd D is replacig the 3rd E. This modification of a C major chord is called a Csus2 chord. Sus means the 3rd has been replaced.

Again a clearer sound is created by dampening the string above the bass string.

Switching between G(no3) and Csus2 is fairly simple. Actually it's just the 2nd finger that moves from E-string to A-string. Only string dampening might be a little challenging.

Here another great sounding and easy to play variation of the C major chord:

add9 - an additional major 2nd

Unlike the C chord before the 3rd is still included in this variant.

Therefore the major 2nd D ist not a replacement for the 2rd, it's an extension of the chord. In consequence it must be notated as 9th in the chord symbol rather than as a 2nd! That does NOT mean that the tone has to be played an octave higher. No, it is just defined in the naming convention to write extensions an octave (+7 steps) higher than chord modifications and a 2nd + 7 steps is a 9th.

Now what difference does "add" make in the chord name?

The shortcut add says that the chord does NOT include a 7th.

  • Cadd9 = C major chord + 9 (D) => tones C E G D
  • C9 = C7(9) chord = C7 chord + 9 (D) => tones C E G Bb D

sus4 - replacing the 3rd with a 4th (use just temporarily!)

In a sus4 chord the major 3rd of the major chord has been replaced ba a perfect 4th. You can switch the chord diagram between a D major chord and its variants Dsus4 and Dsus2.

While the previous chord variants were capable of entirely replacing a plain major chord without having to think about tonal conflicts, sus4 chords have a strong tendency to resolve back to major and the 4th and 3rd together may cause a strong dissonance when one player plays major while another one uses sus4. Therefore whith a major chord being written on the lead sheet you just should temporarily play sus4.

You can also flip back and forth between sus4 major and sus2 and by that way create an additional melody consisting of 4th, 3rd and 2nd of the chord.

Melody instead of chord extension/modifikation

We don't have to worry that much as long as we

  • just change the chord for a short amount of time
  • and the notes we use are part of the actual key/scale.

We already know that we are in the key of G major when we combine the chords G, C and D. So we can change notes of the chord freely to other notes from the G major scale, creating a second voice melody this way.

If you play around with the tones on G string (G, A and B), you will probably skip the high E string. Doing so you can use your 4th finger and put more emphasis on your little G string melody .