Major Issues and Minor Problems

If you are a newbie to the world of guitar, you most likely look up chord shapes online. Easy solution, right? However, it often can be quite confusing. For example, according to, and an open G-major chord can be played as

while most sites like, and suggest an easier version of the same, viz.

Now, as a newbie, you most likely just choose the most popular one, and continue on your journey into music. And truth be told, that's just fine, 'cause both are correct. However, it is always healthy to know when exactly it is okay to remove a finger from the fret-board in a carefree manner. And trust me, after you know those details, you can even play the same chords on a keyboard instrument.

Let's start with identifying all the notes in a Gamut(Sargam). They are as follows:

On the natural scale C, the sharp notes (marked by '#') are the half-notes, and the rest, i.e the (whole) notes (C-D-E-F-G-A-B), correspond to the Indian notes (Sa-Re-Ga-Ma-Pa-Dha-Ni). The beauty of the natural scale is also in the fact that you can easily identify the (whole) notes on a keyboard instrument as the white keys, while the half-sized black ones are the half-notes.

Don't fret (pun totally intended) if your favourite song is not in the natural C-scale. The whole and half notes just shift accordingly, maintaining half-a-note distance between the third and fourth notes and a single-note distance between the rest, in such a scenario. Say, in the D-scale, the (whole) notes would be

while on the G-scale, the (whole) notes would be

If you consider the fact that the notes are cyclic, then you'll also notice that the first (root) note lies only half-a-note after the last note.

Now, a typical chord is made of three notes. One of them is definitely the root note, i.e. the note that names the chord. In case of major chords, the other two notes lie at a distance of two notes and three-and-a-half notes from the root note (remember, consecutive notes are only half-note away). For example, an F-major chord plays the highlighted notes while skipping over the ones faded out, as below

In case of a minor chord, however, the second and third notes to be played lie at a distance of one-and-half notes and three-and-a-half notes. Thus, an F-minor chord would play

Now, the confusion that we spoke of in the beginning can be addressed. Notice, that a G-major chord is supposed to play only G, B and D notes. And if you look closely, the only difference between the two chord-shapes was on the second string, which plays either the B-note or the D-note, depending on which shape you follow. Also, notice that either way, B and D notes are already being played on the fifth and fourth strings respectively. Hence, both the shapes are correct, as both play nothing more or less than exactly the three notes G, B and D.

In fact, you can make your own chord shapes, as long as you take care that you play no more or no less than exactly the notes to be played.

Now, before we conclude, one final promise to keep: playing the chords on a keyboard instrument. And of course, as you can already guess, you just need to play the keys of the three associated notes simultaneously to play a chord on a keyboard. If you paid attention, you already know that the white keys are C-D-E-F-G-A-B from left to right, and the cycle continues till the end. The sharp notes are played on the black ones.

Thus, an A-minor chord (played by A-C-E) would be played as one of the following:

For everyone who follows western notation, this should be just enough. However, if your choice of keyboard instrument is a Harmonium, chances are you follow Indian notations, in which case, the chords are a teensy bit tricky to follow.

The reason is, western notations don't change the names of sounds or keys that are played; rather, a change in scale changes the (whole) notes of the scale. That means, depending on the scale, the principle notes may comprise of a few sharp notes or not at all, but the black keys forever remain sharp notes.

In Indian notations, the (whole) notes of any scale are permanently called Sa-Re-Ga-Ma-Pa-Dha-Ni, and depending on the scale one sings in, the names of the sounds or the keys played change. And that is primarily because Indian instruments, especially Harmonium, are companion instruments for vocalists, rather than independent medium for music. Hence, depending on your scale, you might identify some of the black keys as few of the seven basic notes (Sa-Re-Ga-Ma-Pa-Dha-Ni), in which case we know for certain you do not play in the natural C-scale. However, the largely followed notations throughout India correspond to the western notations in one of the following manners:

But it's fine, 'cause the difference is only in the manner of expressing, very much like a difference of language.

And until, we learn the language of another, googling the chord shapes might just be the trick you need. After all, that is where we started, right?

Written by Aninda Kr. Nanda

Proof-reading and Suggestions:

Rituparna Ghosh and Shoumik Dutta

Diagrams and illustrations by Aninda Kr. Nanda

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