Music Home Page         < Practice Chords         Three Hymn Playing Techniques >

 

Chord Symbols

A chord is a group of notes that typically have a certain amount of harmony.  A chord symbol is a shorthand way of writing that group of notes.   Some chords have three notes, some four notes or five notes.  There are even chords that have seven notes.  I can only play four notes at a time with one hand.

 

Writing Chord Symbols in a Hymn

Hymn books never have chord symbols so you have to write them yourself.  We will use numbers rather than letters to name the keynote or root of the chord.  With numbers you can transpose the hymn to any key without changing the chord symbol.  Numbered chord symbols are tied to the scale or key the hymn is written or played in.  The chord symbol will work with any key (scale).  You do not need to change the chord symbol to change the key.

 

I have listed below for you the chords  (and the chord symbols) most commonly found in hymns.  Look at this list of Chord Names and Chord Symbols.  The chord symbol examples are all number 1.

 

Chord Name                        Chord Symbol                       Scale Numbers

Major Triad                                   1                                     1       3       5

 

Minor Triad                                  1m                                  1      b3      5

 

Dominant Seventh                      17                                  1       3       5      b7

 

Major Sixth                                  16                                   1       3      5      6

 

Diminished Triad                    1,  1dim                            1      b3      b5

 

Major Seventh                      1M7, 1maj.7                         1      3       5       7

 

Diminished Seventh              17, 1dim7                          1      b3    b5    bb7

 

Seventh Suspended Fourth    17sus4, 1sus7, 1sus       1      4      5      b7

 

Ninth Chord                                  19                                  1      3      5      b7    9

 

Augmented Triad                     1+, 1aug                            1      3      #5

 

Minor Seventh                            1m7                                  1      b3     5      b7

 

Minor Sixth                                 1m6                                   1      b3     5      6

 

Half-Diminished                       1m7-5, 1                           1      b3    b5     b7

 

Flat symbol is b.  Sharp is #.  Double flat is bb.

 

Let's look at how this works in detail.  Let's use the C scale for an example.  Below is the C scale with the scale numbers and then some Letter Chord Symbols compared to the Number Chord Symbol.

 

1        2       3       4       5       6       7       8

C       D       E      F       G      A       B       C

 

Letter                      Number

Chord                     Chord

Symbol                   Symbol

    C                              1

    D                              2

    E                              3

    F                              4

    C7                          17

    Dm                         2m

    EM7                       3M7

    Fm7                       4m7

    G6                          56

 

A C major triad chord is written as 1.   2 would be a D major triad chord.  3 would be an E major triad chord.  4 would be F and so on.   C7 chord is written as 17     The 1 refers to the first note on the C scale but the 7 refers to the type of chord, dominant seventh.   Notice the little dot between the numbers.  The dot shows that this is one chord symbol, it ties the two numbers together.  If you write a row of chord symbols close together, without the dot, you might think it was two chords, one a C and the other a B.  But with the dot, you know it is one chord, a C7 (17).   Continuing with the list a 2m chord would be D minor.  A 3M7 chord would be E Major 7.   A 4m7 chord would be F minor 7.  A 56 chord would be a G sixth and so on.

 

Let's do the whole thing over again with a D scale.

   1        2       3       4       5       6       7       8

   D       E      F#     G       A       B     C#    D

 

Letter                        Number

Chord                       Chord

Symbol                     Symbol

   D                                 1

    E                                 2

    F#                               3

    G                                 4

    D7                             17

    Em                             2m

   F#M7                         3M7

   Gm7                           4m7

   A6                              56

 

A  D major triad chord is written as 1.   2 would be an E major triad chord.  3 would be an F# chord.  We use F# as a chord name but not as a scale or key name.  As a key name, we would use Gb rather than F#.  4 would be G and so on.   D7 chord is written as 17     The 1 refers to the first note on the D scale but the 7 refers to the type of chord, dominant seventh.   Notice the little dot between the numbers.  The dot shows that this is one chord symbol, it ties the two numbers together.  If you write a row of chord symbols close together, without the dot, you might think it was two chords, one a D and the other a C#.  But with the dot, you know it is one chord, a D7 (17).   Continuing with the list a 2m chord would be E minor.  A 3M7 chord would be F# Major 7.   A 4m7 chord would be G minor 7.  A 56 chord would be a A sixth and so on.

 

Symbols for Chords that are Not Scale Notes

The first number of the chord symbol is the keynote of the chord based on the scale being used.  For a chord using a keynote not in the scale you simply put a flat or sharp symbol before the number. 

 

Here is the C scale and some examples of how to write the chord symbols for keynotes not in the scale.

1        2       3       4       5       6       7       8

C       D       E      F       G      A       B      C

 

Letter                      Number

Symbol                   Symbol

Eb                                b3

Gbm                            b5m

F#m                             b5m

Bb7                              b77

Eb6                              b36

 

Let us say you wanted to write a chord symbol for Eb in a hymn written in the key of C.   Eb is not in the C scale.   You would use E which is number 3 in the C scale and put a flat symbol before the 3.  Eb would be written as b3.   You could call it #2 but I prefer to always use a flat to name chords that are not scale notes.  These numbers work in any key when you transpose a hymn.  Once you write the chord symbols in a hymn, they do not need to be changed to play the hymn in a different key.  This is the advantage of using number chord symbols instead of letters.

 

Music Home Page            < Practice Chords         Three Hymn Playing Techniques >