Have you ever come across a chord with a plus sign (+) next to it but weren’t sure what this meant? These are known as augmented chords which have a raised 5th chord tone. These chords are often used in jazz to create interesting tension in chord progressions.
This post covers the theory on augmented chords, chord shapes, and practical musical examples to help you apply them on guitar. Grab your guitar and let’s get started!
What are augmented chords?
You may see these chords written in different ways such as using a plus sign (+), “aug” or #5. For example:
- C +
- C augmented or C aug
- C #5
See the formula for Augmented chords in whole and half steps below.
Now, let’s start learning the augmented chord shapes on guitar.
Augmented chord shapes
How to read the chord charts
For the charts below:
- The top horizontal line of the chord chart represents the high E string and the bottom horizontal line represents the low E string.
- The vertical lines separate each fret.
- The numbers in the blue dots tell you which fingers to use on the fretting hand.
- The letters on the right of the charts tell you what chord tones you are playing on each string.
- Circles on the left represent open strings.
- Red X means to avoid that string.
You can check this link for more on how to read guitar notation symbols.
Augmented chord shapes on the 6th string
Note that these chords may sound strange on their own, but you will see how they stand out within the context of a chord progression in the examples at the end.
Augmented chord shapes on the 5th string
Augmented chord examples
In this section, we’ll apply the shapes we just learned to play augmented chords starting on different root notes.
C augmented chord
D augmented chord
E augmented chord
F augmented chord
G augmented chord
A augmented chord
B augmented chord
Augmented Major 7 chords
We can also add the 7th degree to the augmented triad to create augmented Major 7 chords. The chord tones for augmented Major 7 chords are 1, 3, #5, and 7. See the formula for these chords in whole and half steps below.
Now, let’s look at some of the shapes you can use starting on different strings.
Augmented Major 7 chord shapes on the 6th string
Augmented Major 7 chord shapes on the 5th string
Chord progressions using augmented chords
To put it all together, this section gives you practical musical examples to apply the chord shapes we just covered. Augmented chords are commonly used as passing chords before Major 6 chords, which you will see in the examples below.
For this example, we’re using the augmented chord over the 5 chord (E aug) in the key of A Major. The chords are B minor 7(11), E augmented, A Major 7, A Major 7 #5.
Bonus: Related augmented chords
Did you know that any augmented chord shares the same notes as two other chords?
For example, C, E, and Ab augmented all contain the same notes. Whatever root note you start with, the remaining notes are all the same. This is what each chord looks like spelled out:
- C augmented : C, E, Ab
- E augmented : E, G# or Ab, C
- Ab augmented : Ab, C, E
If you notice, each of the notes in the triad are a Major third interval apart or 2 whole steps apart.
This also applies to the following set of chords:
- Db, F, and A augmented
- D, Gb, and Bb augmented
- Eb, G, and B augmented
That means you can technically derive all 12 augmented chords with only four chords: C, Db, D, and E augmented.
Augmented chords are an interesting tool you can use to create tension in your chord progressions. Experiment by taking the Major or Major 7 chords you know and try raising the 5th degree. This will help you to explore a new sound if you haven’t already tried this before.
If you enjoyed these unique chords, you may also want to learn how to play diminished chords.
All the best,
JG Music Lessons