Chords & Progressions, Music Theory

The Guitar Chords Of C Major (Simply Explained)

Written By :Andrew Siemon

In my view, the key of C major is integral to music and serves as a foundation for much of Western harmony.

Generally speaking, the key of C major includes the chords C major, D minor, E minor, F major, G major, A minor, and B diminished. It would definitely serve you to learn these chords, each scale degree, including the triads as well.

The 7 Notes of C Major

The first thing you need to know are the notes of C Major.

Notes of C Major
The notes of C Major are C, D, E, F, G, A, and B.

The Scale Degrees of C Major

What makes a chord? You need a root, third, and a fifth to make a standard chord in Western harmony.

A major chord, such as C major, consists of a root (C), a major third (C to E), and a perfect fifth (C to G).

A Major 3rd Interval is a distance of 4 semi-tones (or 4 frets).

A Minor Chord, such as D Minor, consists of a root (D), a Minor 3rd (D to F), and a Perfect 5th (D to A).

A Minor 3rd Interval is a distance of 3 semi-tones.

A Diminished Chord, such as B Diminished, consists of a Root (B), a Minor 3rd (B to D) and a Diminished 5th (B to F).

A Diminished 3rd interval is a distance of 2 semi-tones.

We’ll reference this information throughout the rest of the article.

All 7 Chords of C Major 

C Major Chords for Traveling Guitarist
From left to right: C Major, D Minor, E Minor, G Major (G7), A Minor, B Diminished or Bm7b5, and then C Major again.

Below, we’ll dissect each chord in terms of its triad (three-note) and extended (four-note) variations. Keep in mind that all chord voicings will apply to a six-string guitar tuned to E standard.

1) C Major (Cmaj7)

C Major Triads + 6 Voicings - Chords of C Major .jpg
These are root, 1st, and 2nd inversion triads on the first 3 strings, in addition to 6 voicings of the C Major chord.

We can turn this into a C Major 7th chord if we add the seventh degree of C: B natural.

2) D Minor (Dm7)

D Minor Triads
These are the D Minor Triads in root, 1st, and 2nd inversion on the 1st 3 strings of the guitar.
E Minor Triads .jpg
These are some of the most common voicings of the D Minor chord.

By adding a C natural note to the chord, we achieve a Dm7.

3) E Minor (Em7)

E Minor triads.
These are the E Minor triads in root, 1st, and 2nd inversion, but on the first 3 strings of the guitar.
E Minor Chords
Here are some of the most common voicings of the E Minor chord.

By adding a D natural note to the chord, we get Em7.

4) F Major (Fmaj7)

F Major Triads
Here are the triads of F Major in root, 1st, and 2nd inversion on the first 3 strings of the guitar.
Most common voicings of the F Major Chord
These are the most common voicings of the F Major chord.

Our basic F major triad extends to become a Fmaj7 chord by adding the note E natural.

5) G Major (G7)

G Major Triads .jpg
These are the G Major triads in root position, 1st, and 2nd inversion.
G Major Voicings .jpg
These are 6 of the most common voicings of the G Major chord.

When we add the note F natural to our chord, it becomes a G dominant seven or G7. This means it’s a major chord with a minor seventh and has a dominant function within the key.

G7 Chord Voicings .jpg
These are the 6 most common voicings of the G7 chord.

We’ll largely use a G7 to harken back to the tonic chord, C major.

6) A Minor (Am7)

A Minor Triads
These are A Minor triads in root position, 1st and 2nd inversion.

Add a G note to make it an A minor 7 chord.

A Minor Voicings
These are the 6 most common voicings of the A Minor chord.

7) B Diminished (Bm7b5)

B Diminished Triads
These are the B Diminished triads in root position and 1st and 2nd inversions.
B Diminished Voicings
These are 6 voicings of the B Diminished chord. I wouldn’t say these are particularly common, except the 1st.

If you add the A on top, a minor 7th from the B, it makes it a Bm7b5.

What Are The Primary & Secondary Chords of C Major? 

Every key has three primary chords and four secondary chords.

The way you use and blend primary and secondary chords adds personality and emotional tone to your musical work.

It’s also true that you could paint your auditory canvas with nothing but secondary chords to give a new take on a simple-sounding key like C major.


In C major, our primary chords are C major, F major, and G major. Whichever chord you want to think of as red, yellow, or blue is up to you.

Theoretically, our tonic, C major, wants to progress to the sub-dominant, F major, which then wants to climax at the dominant chord, G major, before resolving back to the tonic.

These are the “lines” of our musical colouring book. Lines that we do not have to stay inside of.


In full, our secondary chords are D minor, E minor, A minor, and B diminished.

To paint a fuller picture, we can use secondary chords to add a bit more personalization to the work.

Let’s say that we find ourselves starting out with primary chords, moving from C major to F major. We could easily move on to a G7, but what else could we choose?

G7 has the notes G, B, D, and F. The last three notes of G7 make up the entire B diminished triad. Instead of transitioning to Bdim, however, we could use the extended Bm7(b5).

Learning to see chords for their similarities instead of their differences is the key to using primary and secondary chords effectively.

The 3 Major Modes of C Major

As we’ve seen, the C major scale climbs through seven notes before repeating again. However, we could begin the scale at any one of those degrees to explore a mode of the C major scale.

Similar to primary chords, C major has three major modes: Ionian, Lydian, and Mixolydian.

1) C Ionian

We start at C and work our way up or down to the next octave of C.

You can use standard chord progressions in the Ionian mode because we want it to be clear that our root is C major.

2) F Lydian

However, to make our chord progression sound distinct from the Ionian mode, we want to focus on its special qualities.

Naturally, we’ll want to use chords that share overlap with our F major triad without using a chord that leads the ear back to C major.

Additionally, the Lydian scale is distinctive due to its inclusion of a sharp fourth degree. While we don’t actually raise a note, it is relatively sharp compared to the F major scale.

3) G Mixolydian

To play convincingly in G Mixolydian, we’ll follow the same basic principles discussed for F Lydian. However, Mixolydian’s defining tone is its flat seventh degree.

Be sure not to utilize any chord that features a tritone, such as G7 or B diminished. These chords are telling of the “true” key and lead the ear back to C major.

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Andrew Siemon is the principal creator for, a website entirely devoted to all things guitar. From repairs, music theory, chords, and improvisation, to recording at home. I've been doing this for 20 years and I've got another 50 in me.

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