Identifying Major and Minor Chords

Lisa Witt  /  Chord Theory  /  UPDATED Jan 10, 2023

Have you ever had difficulty identifying the difference between a major and minor chord? Or maybe you know the difference between the two in terms of sound, but not so much how they are put together! I know I can remember a time when I really struggled to know the difference between a major and minor chord. It would end up being a bit of a guessing note until my ear would tell me if I was right or wrong.

Well guess no more! I have some tricks for you!

First of all. What is the difference between a major and minor chord?

A major chord sounds happy.

A minor chord sounds sad.

The reason for this has everything to do with the 3rd. The 3rd is the determining note. Our 1 and 5 notes act as the shell, and the 3rd determines major or minor!

The first interval (3rd) in a major chord has TWO full steps. In the key of C this means we play C then E. The top half of the chord is built up of one and a half steps. So in the key of C, we’ve got a C, E and a G to top it off. This gives us a major chord. We can use this formula to create a major chord beginning on any key on the entire keyboard!

C Major Chord

Image result for c major chord piano

To create a MINOR chord. We simply lower the 3rd note by a half step. The formula essentially inverts! Now, the bottom third is one and a half steps which would be C- Eb and the top third has two full steps!

C Minor Chord

Image result for c minor chord piano


That’s it!

Now you can go have fun creating major and minor chords anywhere on the keyboard! Try playing the major and minor version of each chord and notice the difference in both how the chord sounds and feels under your hand. This will help you to become a major/minor chord master.

Have fun!


Lisa Witt has been teaching piano for more than 20 years and in that time has helped hundreds of students learn to play the songs they love. Lisa received classical piano training through the Royal Conservatory of Music, but she has since embraced popular music and playing by ear in order to accompany herself and others. Learn more about Lisa.

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