How many guitar chords are there in the known universe?
This is a difficult question to answer because there are multiple answers you could give, some of which depend on how you define a chord on the guitar.
First, we would have to decide if we're looking for the number of common or "playable" chords or if we're trying to determine every possible combination of notes on the fretboard.
We also have to decide whether we're including chords that are so extremely dissonant, as to never possibly be useful in any type of music. In most cases, chords like this that are impractical or impossible to play from a physical standpoint, would be omitted from our total.
Then, we need to define a chord, where the debate is generally over whether to start considering a chord at two notes or three.
Most music theorists of the 20th century have accepted that you must have at least three notes - a formal or informal triad - to be considered a chord.
For the sake of answering our question, we'll start there and break it down into categories.
How many guitar chords are there?
Total Common Use Chords (the simpler answer)
There are 12 root notes on any one guitar string before the series of notes repeats itself, so there are technically 12 versions of each basic chord form. For the first part of our answer, we'll limit ourselves to the more commonly used guitar chords, namely open chords and barred or power chords with roots on one of the three lower strings.
- 6th string root barre chords with three, four, five, or six notes (major, minor, and neutral versions): 144 (48 x 3)
- 5th string root barre chords with three, four, five, or six notes (major, minor, and neutral versions): 144 (48 x 3)
- 4th string root triads (major, minor, and neutral versions): 36 (12 x 3)
- Common Open Chords (major and minor versions): 14 (7 x 2)
Total: 338 commonly used guitar chords
However, this is a problematic answer because it does not include the wide range of chord variations, such as diminished chords, slash chords, and other more advanced forms.
All Guitar Chords (the technical answer)
So how many guitar chords are there if you include everything?
To get that number, we need to first establish the number of root notes, including sharps and flats. From A flat to G sharp, this gives us 17 total root notes or chord "keys". From there, we can determine the total number of chords from multiplying by chord variations and the typical five versions of each given variation.
For example, you have A♭ chords with 26 different variations, where each variation can be played five different ways.
This gives us the following number:
- 17 possible root notes
- 26 variations of chords for each key (A♭minor, A♭aug, etc.)
- 5 versions of each variation (different fretboard positions)
Total: 2210 total guitar chords (17 x 26 x 5)
Notes and Conclusion
Keep in mind we haven't included any dyads, which are chords made up of two notes.
We also haven't included every possible combination of notes on the fretboard, or anything with a root above the 24th fret. However, all of the guitar chords used in an academic and/or practical sense are accounted for, bringing our number of guitar chords to the 2210 total.
Questions and Comments
If you have questions about this or if you would count up the total number of guitar chords differently, feel free to leave us a note in the comments section below.