Online Guitar Lessons

Home > Guitar Music Theory

Exploring Chords
Guest teacher series
Darrin Koltow

Free Download - 17 Essential Strum Patterns PDF

Exploring Chords
By Darrin Koltow

Without harmony, there is no music.

The more you understand harmony and chords, the better your playing will sound. Understanding chords makes learning tunes, melodies, improvising and licks much easier. How do we get this understanding? Exploring, playing and tinkering with chords. Just reading about chords won't do it. Plus, how much fun is reading compared to playing?

Here are some practical facts about chords. Search on, other web sites, in music instruction books -- not just those for guitar -- and your guitar teacher to learn more about each of these.

The V7-I progression

This is one of the strongest and most common chord progressions. Play G7 to C and you'll hear how musical it is. Learning just this one simple progression in several keys and with different patterns on the fretboard launches you toward a mastery of music.

The "sweet note"

The "sweet note" of a chord is its third. It makes a chord basically happy (major) or sad (minor). Changing just one chord's sweet note can affect the whole mood of a tune. Master your mood by studying all notes of the chord, especially the third. You can start by strumming your favorite tune, and singing the third of each chord, instead of the song's usual melody.

The forbidden interval

The tritone interval sounds so unstable, it was banned from being played in the Middle Ages. In the G7 chord, the tritone is formed by the notes B and F. Study this vital part of the music you enjoy and play.

Strongest interval

What do Amazing Grace and the beginning of the theme to Star Wars have in common? The interval of a fourth. The strongest chord progressions, including the V-I, also use it. When you understand and use it, your playing grows stronger. Examples: notes G to C, F to F and A to D. If you know the Cycle of Fourths, you know all movements by a perfect fourth.

Roman numerals

Roman numerals are used frequently in lessons on chords and harmony. Without understanding how they're used, you won't understand lessons that contain them. Here are the chords that Roman numerals represent in the key of C major:

Letter           C   Dm   Em   F   G7   Am   B half-dim
Roman numerals   I   ii   iii  IV  V7   vi   vii*

Key centers

Key centers are the "home base" for a section of music. Each key center is a central tone that other tones are drawn to. The ii-V-I progression (Dm-G7-C, for example) fully creates a new key center. Once you grasp this idea, you learn new songs fast, because they are no longer collections of isolated chords, but a flowing network of key centers.

Chords from thirds

Most chords are built from notes in a certain way -- in thirds, which give the chord a defined sound and clear feeling. By exploring this topic, your fingers will begin to automatically choose fewer wrong chords and more of the right ones.

Practicing in several keys

Practicing any lick, chord or other musical fragment in just one key enslaves your mind, fingers and ears to that key. Free yourself by practicing in other keys. On guitar, a good way to start this project is to learn the I-IV-V chords in the keys of C, F, G, A, E, and D.


Melodies would not exist without arpeggios, which are the notes in a chord. Studying arpeggios is an easy way to sound musical.


Sweet solos are often built heavily on chord tones. Improve your solos by studying chord tones.

Connect arpeggio and chord patterns

Learning the fretboard is much easier when you see connections among patterns for arpeggios and chords. One approach to seeing these connections is to study basic Chord Melody playing. This means you're playing the complete song, both chords and the melody.

Simplify chord names

Some chords look strange and difficult on paper. But learning a song from notation becomes easy when you realize that "C6/9" is really just a C major chord. Also, when you see a Cm9, Cm11 or Cm6, you can replace the chord with a plain Cm7 or Cm. Learn how to simplify other chord names.

Much success in your further exploration of guitar chords.

© 2005 Darrin Koltow, All rights reserved

Free Download - 17 Essential Strum Patterns PDF

Guitar Courses

Rhythm Guitar Mastery
How to strum guitar like a pro, master rhythms, and build your vocabulary of essential chords

17 Essential Strum Patterns
Learn 17 Strums, 8 Bonus Songs + Chord Book

60s Rock Strumming Songs
Learn how to play 18 classic 60s rock tunes

70s Rock Strumming Songs
Learn how to play 20 classic 70s rock tunes

80s Rock Strumming Songs
Learn how to play 20 classic 80s rock tunes

90s Rock Strumming Songs
Learn how to play 20 classic 90s rock tunes

Modern Country Strumming Songs
Learn how to play 16 modern country songs

Guitar Lick Factory
A system for creating rock & blues guitar licks