What are Augmented Chords on Guitar – EXPLAINED

Published Categorized as Chords, Theory
Augmented chords on guitar

A couple of weeks back I did a post on diminished chords, this week I’ll take a look at Augmented chords on guitar.

First let’s take a look at chord structure and then we’ll get into the nitty gritty of the Augmented chord.

Table of Contents

This post assumes you have some knowledge of the musical alphabet. If you’re not sure or want a refresher, check out: The Basics of the Musical Alphabet.

Chord Structure

So, typically a chord on guitar is something that has 3 or more different notes played at the same time, either strummed or plucked.

The chord structure typically uses:

  1. A root note (1st note)
  2. The Third from that root note
  3. The Fifth from that root note

So, for example, in the key of C Major, the C chord uses the notes:

  • C
  • E
  • G

When we look at the Key of C we can see that the E is the third note from the C and the G is the fifth note from the C, counting the C as 1.

C, D, E, F, G, A, B

So which notes are used for a chord, depends on the scale that you’re in and the note that you start on (the root note). In the case of the key of C, the C chord is a major chord.

(More on Major Scales)

Major Chord

Before we get into what an augmented chord is, it’s useful to first see the structure of major and minor chords.

The C major chord is major because it has a major third and a perfect fifth. Or you could say that, the 2nd note of the chord is a major third from the root and the 3rd note of the chord is a minor third from the 2nd note.

O.k. let’s explain this.

  • Major third: A major third is 4 semi-tones away from the root note. So in the case of C major we go C, C#, D, D#, E – the E is 4 semi-tones up from the C.
  • Minor third: A minor third is 3 semi-tones away from the root note. So the minor third after C would be D# (which isn’t in the key of C, hence the C chord is a major chord in the key of C). If we go 3 semi-tones from E, then we get to G (E, F, F#, G). So in the key of C, the E chord will be a minor chord (more on minor chords below).
  • Perfect Fifth: A perfect fifth is 7 semi-tones from the root note. The perfect fifth is used for both major and minor chords.

Starting from a Different Part of the Scale

O.k. now let’s look at a chord, still in the key of C, but using a different note in the scale as the root note. So, let’s look at what chord would be formed if we start from A.

O.k. so starting from A, let’s go up to the third note from it, and the fifth note from it. We get C as the third and E as the Fifth.

In this case the C is a minor third above the A and the E is a perfect fifth.

The C is 3 semi-tones up from the A (A, A#, B, C).

The E is 7 semitones from the A (perfect fifth) or 4 semi-tones (aka a major third) from the C.

This is called a minor chord.

Minor Chord

The minor chord is made up of:

  1. The root note
  2. A minor third
  3. A fifth

Or you could say, a minor third then a major third. The Fifth is still 7 semitones from the root, but the third is only 3 semitones, where it would be 4 semitones in a major chord. Comparing major and minor using semi-tones and counting the root note as “0”, we have:

  • Major (0,4,7)
  • Minor (0,3,7)

O.k. so now we have the major chord and minor chord structure. let’s quickly take a look at a diminished chord before looking at the augmented chord.

What Are Augmented Chords On Guitar

Diminished Chord

A diminished chord still uses a third and a fifth, but in the case of the diminished chord it has:

  1. A root note
  2. A minor third
  3. A “flat” fifth

The minor third is 3 semi-tones from the root and the fifth in this case is 6 semi-tones from the root – rather than the 7 semitones that it is in both major and minor chords.

Said another way:

  • The 2nd note is a minor third from the root and the 3rd note is a minor third from the 2nd note.

So, it goes root note, minor third (3 semi-tones) then minor third again (3 semi-tones).

So, looking at the 3 chord types we’ve looked at so far in a table.

 1ST NOTETHIRDFIFTH
Major ChordRootMajor Third (4 semi-tones)Minor Third (3 semi tones) from the THIRD
Minor ChordRootMinor Third (3 semi-tones)Major Third (4 semi tones) from the THIRD
Diminished ChordRootMinor Third (3 semi-tones)Minor Third (3 semi-tones) from the THIRD

In the C major scale the B is a diminished chord. As it is made up of B (root note), D (third), and F (fifth). D is 3 semitones from B (B, C, C#, D) and the F is 3 semitones from D (D, D#, E, F).

In semi-tone notation we now have 3 chords.

  • Major (0,4,7)
  • Minor (0,3,7)
  • Diminished (0,3,6)

O.K. so now let’s take a look at the augmented chord.

The Augmented Chord

If you’ve followed everything so far, then understanding an augmented chord should be straightforward.

An augmented chord has:

  1. A root note
  2. A major third
  3. An augmented fifth

O.k. but What’s an augmented fifth?

Well, you know how the diminished chord’s 5th was 6 semitones from the root and the fifth for the major and minor chords is 7 semi-tones from the root. Well, the fifth for an augmented chord is 8 semi-tones from the root.

Said another way, the third is a major third from the root (4 semi-tones) and the 3rd note is a major third (4 semi-tones) from the 2nd note. Looking at our table, but now including the augmented chord:

 

1ST NOTE

THIRDFIFTH
Major Chord

Root

Major Third (4 semi-tones)

Minor Third (3 semi tones) from the THIRD

Minor Chord

Root

Minor Third (3 semi-tones)

Major Third (4 semi tones) from the THIRD

Diminished Chord

Root

Minor Third (3 semi-tones)

Minor Third (3 semi-tones) from the THIRD

Augmented Chord

RootMajor Third (4 semi-tones)

Major Third (4 semi tones) from the THIRD

So, in simple semi-tone notation (notating the root as a “0”), you could say:

  • Major (0,4,7)
  • Minor (0,3,7)
  • Diminished (0,3,6)
  • Augmented (0,4,8)

The name comes from the fact that the 5th is augmented – or the 5th of a major chord is raised (aka augmented).

The augmented chord doesn’t fit as neatly into a major or minor scale as the Major, Minor and diminished chords. So, to be used it is usually the case that a note from outside the notes of the scale is used.

In the case of our C major scale let’s take a look at what an Augmented C chord would look like. It would contain the notes:

C, E, G#

So going from the C to E is a major third, just as we had for the C major chord and going from the E to G# is another major third – E, F, F#, G, G#. So the fifth, which in the case of the C chord in the key of C is a G, is augmented (aka raised) to a G#.

Thanks for Reading

I hope this has helped with your understanding of augmented chords.

FAQs

What are augmented chords on guitar?

An augmented chord is another type of triad chord, just like major and minor chords, that adds a unique tonal flavor to your guitar playing. It’s characterized by its specific interval structure and sound. An augmented chord is created by stacking two major thirds on top of each other. In terms of notes, it consists of a root note, a major third above the root, and another major third above that note.

What is the rule for augmented chords?

The rule for building an augmented chord involves a specific interval structure. An augmented chord is formed by stacking two major thirds on top of each other.

By Nate Pallesen

Nate is just your average (above average) guitar player. He's no Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page - wait this site is about acoustic guitars (sorry) He's no Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, or Michael Hedges, wait? who!? He's no Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton or Ben Harper - more familiar? Anyway you get the point :-)

1 comment

  1. This is a very good lesion. One other way I have looked at it is : Using intervals describing the chord structure.

    Major-4-3 4 between the 1 and 3, and 3 between the 3 and 5
    Minor-3-4 3 between the 1 and 3, and 4 between the 3 and 5
    Diminis-3-3 3 between the 1 and 3, and 3 between the 3 and 5
    Augmented- 4-4 4 between the 1 and 3 and 4 between the 3 and 5

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