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All About Chords,
Be sure and check
out all of the lessons in the "All About Chords" series.
1 - how harmony and chords work
2 - the ii-V-I chord progression.
Part 3 - Arpeggios
Part 4 - The Blues Injection
5 - CAGED - Form E
6 - CAGED 2 - Form A
Part 7 - CAGED 2 - Form A - Arpeggios
Part 8 - CAGED 2 - Form A - Chord Melody
Part 9 - CAGED 2 - Blues Chord Melody
How does this sound: instead of sitting down with a bunch of
boring theory textbooks, you can use *music* to understand how
harmony and chords work on the guitar. Does that sound like a
cool way to learn about guitar harmony?
If you think so, then that's how we'll start our exploration
of chords: with a tune. Actually, a chunk from a tune. Let's check
Strum each of these chords twice, anywhere on the fretboard.
C, Am, F, G7, C
Now, let's work backwards to understand just how this musical
phrase *works*, in terms of the chords that we find in it.
G7 to C
Look at the last chord change: G7 to C. Why do we play this?
Why not play an Eb7b9 or an F#13b5? Or even something simple like
an F major? What's so great about a G7? Well, play those other
chords with C, and listen to what your ear says about each. That
will give you the best answer.
The most satisfying chord to play before the C is the G7. What
the heck does that mean: "satisfying?" It partially means what
we *expect* to hear, what we are accustomed to hearing, and what
we've heard in a billion other phrases and tunes.
So, what is it about the G7 that makes playing it before C so
satisfying? A few things. Let's talk about 'em:
- The sweet note of the G7: B
- The no-no interval, or tritone
- The movement of a perfect 4th up from G to C
Let's look at each of these under our musical magnifying glass.
The sweet note
The sweet note of a chord is its third: In G7, that's a B. Play
a G7 without a B and you'll see why B is sweet.
The G7 sounds pretty drab without that B, doesn't it? It's like
putting up a Christmas tree but not decorating it. Let's put that
B back in before things get out of hand.
The B is what gives the G7 its peppy, optimistic sound. And there's
another reason why B is important in helping G7 to C sound satisfying.
B is just a wee little bitty bit shy, one half-step shy to be
exact, from C. This closeness of B to C causes tension. It's like
that box of chocolate Pop Tarts way up on the top shelf that the
little kid can almost but not quite reach. We like to have this
tension and resolution combo, and the B helps provide it.
Understanding the role the sweet note plays can improve your
entire sound. Learn more about the third and the other ingredients
that go into chords by reading Guitar Chords. Check it out here:
The no-no interval, or tritone
There's another reason why the G7 moves so satisfyingly to the
C. It's called the tritone interval. This interval will make your
straight hair curly, your milk go sour, and will propel the G7
smack into the C with cataclysmic force. (That last sentence sounds
great if you pretend you're Charlton Heston.)
The tritone is an *interval*, which means it's two notes: B and
F. Play a B and an F, listening to how unusual they sound together
and how much tension they produce. In fact, play this tab:
Tritone to minor 6th
This movement of the unstable tritone to the stable minor 6th
(the C and E notes) is another reason why G7 to C sounds good.
By the way, there's an interesting newsgroup message that relates
some of the beliefs that Ancient Greeks and others had about the
tritone. To read this message, surf to this subdomain: groups.google.com.
When you're there, click Advanced Groups Search. Then, enter this
text in the box that reads "Message ID": cornell.791886334@michigan
Up a fourth
What's the last reason why G7 to C will put a smile in your step
and a twang in your Tang? What's the root of the G7? The G. What's
the root of the C chord? The C. What's the interval between these
two roots, G and C? A perfect fourth. *Chord movement by an ascending
perfect fourth generally sounds good.*
We can even take that a bit further by saying that a huge number
of chord movements in most types of songs use ascending perfect
fourths (or a descending perfect 5th).
Listen to some examples of this interval: play a D note followed
by a G note. Just play notes now, not chords. Then, play a G followed
by a C note, and an A followed by a D. Now, let's flesh this idea
out by playing a chord progression that moves only in fourths.
C, F, B dim, Em, Am, Dm, G7, C
Notice I said "fourths" and not perfect fourths. Almost all of
the movements here are ascending perfect fourths. One movement,
from F to B, is not a perfect fourth, but our furry friend the
How does this progression in all fourths sound to you? Personally,
I think it's pretty cool. Ya got tension from the B dim and G7,
ya got a mix of all the chord types in the major scale: minor,
diminished, major, and you're moving by one of your ear's favorite
intervals: the ascending perfect fourth. All is well with the
universe. Go in peace.
What can you do with it?
What can we use this all fourths progression for? For one thing,
use it to write tunes. Let's say you've come up with a melody
and you don't know what chords to put to it. No problem. Assuming
the melody is in C major, sing the melody while strumming the
all fourths progression given a little while ago. Play it slowly;
listen carefully; feel the Force...whoa, sorry. Wrong movie.
Chances are, your melody will sound pretty good over those chords
for at least some of the notes. Wherever it doesn't sound so good,
either change the melody, or swap out the chord.
How to practice
The V7-I progression is pretty important, so you want to practice
it in as many keys as you can manage. The progression we did in
this section is in C. Let's transpose the progression to other
Keep in mind that you can play the following chords anywhere
on the fretboard — at least at first. Don't worry about playing
a particular voicing, playing all over the neck, or playing on
just a certain string or strings. Just play the form of the chord
you feel most comfy with.
Let's do V7-I in these keys: F, G, A, E, D and for extra credit,
Here are the chords:
Key F: C7, F
Key G: D7, G
Key A: E7, A
Key E: B7, E
Key D: A7, D
Key Gb: Db7, Gb
Now, that shows *what* to practice. But, *how* do you practice
'em? That breaks down into where to practice 'em, then how often,
and other questions.
First, as said a short while ago, play the above progressions
in each key wherever you feel most comfortable playing them. This
would likely mean open position chords if you're a beginner.
Practice the V7-I progressions until you can play them in time
with a metronome. Start with 90 BPM, and play a phrase like this:
| V7 V7 | I I | V7 V7 | I I |
In other words, strum the V7 twice, then the one twice, and repeat
that sequence. Then, go on to the next key. This might be more
fun if you had a playalong partner to do it with. So, here's a
Powertab file you can use for that:
This file has all the V7-I progressions in the list above. Load
them into Powertab and play along with them. If the tempo is too
fast, change the tempo marker, which you can do under the Music
If you haven't downloaded the super cool and free Powertab yet,
here's where to get it:
Once you get good at playing these progressions, you'll want
to keep playing *while you switch keys*. In other words, if you're
strumming along to G7 and C, you'd want to have a buddy or a computer
program call out the next key at random. "Key A!" "Key E!" and
so on. It's your job and your joy to play through without missing
In the next installment of All About Chords, we'll look at why
chords are built in thirds, the progression every guitarist must
know, how to practice it, and the many uses of regurgitated cat
2002 Darrin Koltow, All rights reserved
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