A picture of a flying teapot, piloted by a Pothead Pixie

chord theory 6: would you like some tea?


What is the point of this knowledge, I’ve been playing over 25 years without it.  What is it going to do for me?

Nothing, unless I put some effort in to applying it.  

Here are some ideas.

improving my bass playing

Like most guitarists, I am not afraid of picking up a bass guitar.  First I thing I did when I started playing bass to accompany other guitarists was to watch for barre chords – when the guitarist plays a barre chord, I play the matching root note.  That’s easy enough, you just watch the index finger and match to the same string and the same fret.

Wait a minute, I just learned the notes that make a major chord, so instead of always playing the root and its octave for a little spice, I could play the third or the fifth note from the matching scale.  Once I can find the third and the fifth on the fretboard in relation to any root note, I am all set, even if I can’t remember the name of the note!

Here is an illustration of the A major chord, showing the root, third and fifth notes from the matching A major scale.

a picture of the A major notes on a bass fretboard

A major chord notes for the bass – A, C# and E

Can you see any repeating patterns of notes? The diagram is a bit busy, and if you are tired, maybe you won’t see them. If you were to draw this diagram, then draw a similar diagram for Bb, you would definitely see a pattern. Try it. Meanwhile, here is another diagram with some of the note patterns picked out for you. I have chosen patterns that should be achievable using the one finger per fret rule.  There is at least one pattern that I have not added.

Picture of the A major chord notes, with patterns illustrated

The A major chord notes, with patterns illustrated.

Look at the two middle strings. Lots of our target notes are very close together…instead of just playing the root note, try a three note run.

improving my guitar playing

Now I can start drawing all of the notes on the fretboard for any major chord, I can start to work out new fingerings.  Look at this diagram for C major again, and try to pick out three note fingerings in as many positions as you can, and practise them.  Bear in mind that any fretted shapes you favour can be slid up or down the neck to find other major chords.

A picture of the C major notes on a guitar fretboard

Pick out 3 note combinations for the C major chord – C, E and G

Remember that for any major chord, the root note is the lowest. Once you start using the third or the fifth note as the lowest, then are you in to chord inversion territory, and this is to be encouraged, and will be the subject of another article later in the series.  The learning so far is a great step in understanding chord inversions.

improving my teaching

You can’t teach this stuff if you don’t know it yourself.  Now you are armed with this knowledge, you could take three or more total beginners, pick a chord progression, and teach each student one note from each chord in the sequence.  By the end of the lesson, it is conceivable that you can have your students all contributing to a rudimentary song without learning any chords whatsoever.  To spell it out, one student plays the root note of 3 different chords, the second student plays the third note, and the last student plays the fifth.  I will try this technique with an impromptu diddly-bow orchestra – one string each, three notes each, should be achievable.

Helping with a band?  Try splitting major chord duty between bass and guitar players.  The guitar player frets just two notes, the bass player completes the chord by filling in the missing note.  This would be a great exercise for learning all three notes of the chord all over the fretboard.

further learning

Later articles in this series will use the same techniques over and over, but with less detail now they have been explained.  We can apply the analysis techniques we used earlier to derive minor, seventh and more exotic chords.  We can incorporate all this knowledge into exercises, such as those detailed above.  We can also move on to chord inversions. We can try to understand the different kinds of scales.  You can do all this for yourself, but I will publish here as I work through it all.  Keep stopping by, and please leave some feedback or any corrections you can advise on.

Article images produced by me, help yourself.  Feature image is from Gong’s Flying Teapot, shamelessly taken from an image search. This image from Hassners is great.  Stare at it long enough and let your eyes go out of focus, you may see a flying teapot.  Beautiful!

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