How many guitar chords are there in a guitar?

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  May 29, 2021
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Do you want to learn to play more guitar chords to improve your skills? Ever wonder how many guitar chords there are?

How many guitar chords are there in a guitar?

At first glance, it seems there is an infinite number of guitar chords, but that’s inaccurate. Although the number of chords is finite, there is no exact answer. There are approximately 4083 guitar chords, but the exact number varies depending on the mathematical equation used to calculate it.

Practically, there are thousands of guitar chords because there are thousands of possible note combinations. The resulting number depends on the mathematical formula used to calculate the number of chords.

But beginners should learn at least 10 types of chords to be able to play most musical genres.

Each cord type has 12 different chords for the total number of different notes in music. As a result, there are thousands of chords and note combinations.

Most common guitar chords

The chords you’ll come across most often when playing music are:

I am mentioning the major chords because for the minors, you make minor adjustments. So, if you can play the majors, you can also learn the minors quickly.

There are four very important chords every guitarist must know before learning to play complex pieces.

  1. Major
  2. Minor
  3. Augmented
  4. Diminished

But first, what is a chord?

A chord is generally three or more unique notes that are sounded together.

When I use the word ‘unique,’ it means that the notes are not of the same pitch and even an octave of pitch that’s already part of the chord.

So, to simplify, a chord is a harmony of notes which are of different pitches.

Basically, think of a chord as a combination of 3 or more notes played together, and when you start learning guitar, you will begin by learning the most basic chords or combined notes.

The chromatic scale contains 12 notes. Since one chord is made of 3 or more notes, a chord can have between 3 to 12 notes.

The basic 3 note chords (triads) are the easiest to play, and the more notes, the harder the chords are to play.

You’re probably wondering how to learn chords?

There is no easy answer, but a quick way to learn guitar chords is through a diagram that shows you where to place your finger and where the notes are located on the fretboard.

The 7 guitar chords beginners should learn first

If you want to learn guitar, you should learn some of the basic chords first and then advance towards more complex ones.

Here are the ones you need to know:

On a 6-string guitar, you can only play 6 notes at one time and, as a result, only six tones at once. Of course, there are so many chords you have to learn, but I just listed the ones that players tend to learn in the beginning.

Also check out my review of the best guitars for beginners: discover 13 affordable electrics and acoustics

Mathematical formula: how to calculate how many chords you can play

There are many ways to calculate how many guitar chords there are. I am sharing two numbers that people know about.

First, some mathematicians have come up with the basic number of chords you can play and need: 2341.

Is this number really useful? No, but it just comes to show how many possibilities there are!

Then, according to the special chord calculation formula, you can play 4083 unique chords. This formula is not concerned with voicing; it calculates possible note combinations to create chords.

Here is the factorial formula:

How many guitar chords are there in a guitar?

n = the notes to choose from (there are 12)
k = the subset or number of notes in the chord
! = means this is a factorial formula

A factorial is when you have to multiply an integer by every whole number that is less than that integer.

It sounds complex, so if you’re not a math wizz, it’s best just to look up chord combinations you’re interested in.

The problem with such formulas is that they’re not very helpful. The reason is that these calculations disregard voicing and are limited to one octave.

Music has many octaves, and voicing is extremely important. However, it can be useful for those of you who are curious about how many chords there are.

The types of guitar chords

More important than the exact number of guitar chords is knowing the types of chords. Let me list some here:

Open vs. barre chords

This refers to two different ways of playing the same chord.

When you play an open chord, you have to have one string that’s played open.

On the other hand, barre chords are played by pressing all the strings of a fret with your index fingers.

Same type chords

This refers to different chords of the same type, like major or minor chords. A minor and E minor are not the same chord, but they are both minors.

Power chords

These refer to chords that are composed of dyads (two notes), so technically, they’re not three-note chords.

When playing, these power chords work just like other chords. So technicalities aside, power chords are included as a type of chord.

Equivalents

Like C6 and Amin7, some chords are actually made of the same notes; therefore, they seem like they are the same.

Although they can be used interchangeably, the chords have a different role in musical harmony.

Triads

These chords are made of three notes which are stacked in intervals of thirds.

The four main types of triads are major, minor, diminished, and augmented.

7th chords

To form a 7th chord, a 7th interval from the root is added to an existing triad.

The most common 7th chords are the following three: major 7th (Cmaj7), the minor 7th (Cmin7), and the dominant 7th (C7).

Basically, it is a triad with an added note that is a 7th higher than the triad’s root.

Extended chords

These cords are commonly used when playing jazz, so they’re also known as jazz chords.

To make an extended chord, more thirds are stacked above the seventh.

Suspended chords

This occurs when a second interval is stacked instead of a third. Therefore, the third is replaced by the second (sus2) or the fourth (sus4) of the scale.

Add chords

Compared to a suspended chord, an add chord means that a new note is added, and the third is not removed in this case.

Add 2 and add 9 are the most popular add chords.

Slash chords

A slash chord is also called a compound chord. It refers to a chord that has a slash symbol and the letter of the bass note, which is placed after the root note letter.

This symbolizes the bass note or inversion. The root note is the chord’s lowest played note.

Altered chords

These chords are mostly found in jazz music. They refer to 7th or extended chords that have either a raised or lowered 5th or 9th note. It can also be both.

The bottom line

Beginner guitar players feel overwhelmed to learn there are so many chords.

Sure, it can seem daunting to learn so many, but once you get the hang of playing, you’ll gain more confidence, and the harmonies will get better.

The key takeaway is that you should focus on the most popular chords and master them and worry less about the thousands of other chords.

Also read: 5 Tips You Need When Buying A Used Guitar

          Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of his passion, and together with his team, He's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.

Check me out on Youtube where I try out all of this gear:

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