The Easiest Way to Master Open Chords

Guitar Chord

Guitar Chord

Students often wonder what the best way to learn open chords fast is. They may try many different methods, but often they miss the easiest and most enjoyable way. It is very easy and simple to do. If you apply this concept you will be learning and having fun at the same time. I will separate this into 5 categories to make it as simple as possible.

  • Pick a song you enjoy. Make sure the song is enjoyable, it can be any genre and any speed. It can be a new song or an old song. The more enjoyable the song is, the better you will learn.
  • Print off the chord chart. This is an important part of the process. Using electronics to read your music will make this more difficult. I encourage you to either use a music stand, or set it up in a way that is easy to read while holding your guitar.
  • Print off an open chord reference sheet. This will be important for many reasons including refreshing your memory, and learning new open chords when you do not know the correct fingering. Keep this near you when you practice in case you need to reference it.
  • Play it by yourself, and play it with a recording. Play it by yourself and enjoy it. You can sing the song, but you don’t have to. Just have fun and make some noise playing your favorite song. Playing by yourself is great, but also play it with the recording. Playing it with the recording will push your playing to the next level. It is also a lot of fun!
  • Memorize the song. You should eventually memorize the song you are learning to play. At first, it is fine to use music. You goal should be to know the song well enough to play without the reference. This will allow you to memorize the chords better, it will also allow you to play songs for your friends!

I want to give you one additional piece of advice that will give you a sense of improvement. It will also be a way to quickly reference the song in the future if you forget it.

  • Every song you finish memorizing, put it in a 3 ring binder with a sheet protector. This will protect the music for future reference. If you every have a chance to play in front of people it will be a quick and easy reference guide that you can use.

This is the easiest way to master open chords. You will see improvement quickly if you do this every day. You will have a lot of fun, and you will learn quickly. Isn’t that what music is all about?

Shell Chords the Power Chords for jazz guitar

Power chords are the simplest way to comp in a band setting, but regular power chords don’t work in jazz. There is a set of chord voicing’s known as shell chords that are used in jazz. Shell chords are the simplest type of chord used in jazz, and it is a foundation to be used to build your own guitar chords. In this lesson you will learn what makes a jazz power chord, how to finger them and how to use them to create your own new chord voicings.

Most jazz chords are built off of the shell chord. It is a 3 note chord that contains the root, third and seventh. This chord style originally came from a big band guitar player named Freddy Green. These shapes are typically played on lower strings with the root on the low E or A string. These chords are not extremely useful in non jazz music. So how to you play these?

Typically the lowest note is going to be the root note, and the 2 higher notes will switch depending on the chord shape. These are played with the index, middle and ring fingers. Most of the time shell chords have their root on the low E string or the A string. On rare occasions you will find a shell voicing on higher strings. This is just the typical. If you find that shell voicings in higher registers sound better to you then you should use them.

 

a Shell Chords shape for a major 7th chord.

A shell chord for the major 7th chord.

Shell chords shape for major 7th chord.

A shell chord for the major 7th chord.

Shell voicing shape for a dominant 7th chord.

Here is a shell chord for dominant 7th chords.

A shell chords voicing for dominant 7th chords.

A dominant 7 chord shell voicing

Shell voicing for minor 7 chords

A shell voicing for minor 7 chords.

Shell voicing for minor 7 chords

A jazz power chord for minor 7 chords.

These jazz power chords can be played by themselves, or you can use them to build more complex jazz chords. How do you build upon them? You can use your pinky or hold down one of your fingers to add-on notes. With this you can stretch with your pinky, or skip strings. To get the most benefit from these chords I suggest you memorize which notes are what scale degree. Here are some examples that use these chords and build upon them.

Extended shell voicings

An extended shell voicing.

Extended shell voicings

Another example of extended shell voicings

If you need to comp with a jazz band, or if you need to play a complicated jazz chord, shell chords are a great place to start. They consist of tones 1, 3 and 7. You can build upon these chords easily to make any chord you need. Memorize all the chord tones to get the most benefit from it. This will be a base for your jazz chords so you can rely on these whenever you need a new chord. Discuss this topic below.

Guitar exercise that will help your guitar stretching

Are you trying to play a chord that you just can’t quite reach? Does stretching up 5 frets while playing a scale feel awkward to you? There are exercises that can help you build up your flexibility on the guitar. There are many different exercises to help with flexibility, but in this lesson I am going to show you one that I like to use. With this exercise you will find those hard to play chords get easier.

Before we begin I want to warn you against pushing yourself too hard. You want to get a stretch, and when you are done with this your fingers may be a bit tired. What you do not want is pain. If you stretch too hard you should stop to prevent injury. Just like stretching any other part of your body, you should not push yourself too far. You may not be able to complete this exercise at first, but with some patience you will be able to. The First step is to put your fingers in the starting position.

guitar exercise position 1.

Guitar exercise shape 1 with the pinky on the D string.

 

guitar exercise position 2

Guitar exercise shape 2 with the pinky on the high E string.

There are 2 of these positions you can start in. The concept works the same way in both, and I suggest you practice both positions for the best results. In both positions the pinky will start on the 12th fret. In position 1 the pinky is on the D string, in position 2 the pinky is on the high E string. Now that you are in the starting position and ready to stretch let me explain how this works.

Hold all the notes down and strum them 1 by 1 to make sure they are not muffled. Move your first (index) finger down 1 fret and strum the strings again. If all the strings are played perfectly you can move your middle finger down 1 fret. The middle finger and index finger are now sitting next to each other. Make sure every note is played and not muffled. If all the strings in the shape are played you can now move your third finger down a fret. Repeat the strumming process. Finally you move your pinky down one fret and you will be in the exact same position that you started in.

How this works is that as you move down the fret board, the frets get wider. This will create more tension in your fingers which causes the stretching. By the time you get all the way down you will be struggling to make the stretch. It is even harder when you play it on a classical guitar which has even wider frets. So don’t worry, there is always a challenge. The hardest part of this stretch for most people is the stretching between the middle and ring fingers. Make sure you play these notes clearly, especially between these fingers.

This stretching exercise will make your fingers more flexible so that playing stretchy chords or scales that require a stretch you will be prepared and capable of executing them. This also makes a great guitar warm-up. Guitar stretching is important so your fingers are not limited in their abilities. I have attached a video below of me playing this exercise so you can see it being played. I apologize for the poor lighting.

 

 

What are power chords and how do you play them?

 

Such a simple chord, but it is extremely useful. The power chord is a chord that fits best in the rock or metal style of playing. They are useful for comping especially with a band. When you play with a band, there are other people there that you shouldn’t step on. If you play too many notes you will likely step on someone else. Power chords are created to avoid this.  How do you play a power chord?

A power chord is a 2 note chord. It is made of the root note and the fifth. Because of this, the chord has no tonality. It can be major or minor, but it cannot be diminished of augmented. Any time you see a minor chord or a major chord these power chords will fit perfectly over them.  Remember the third of the chord is what determines if it is a major or minor chord. Power chords omit the third so it can be easily played over both.

A power chord can be played on any 2 string set, low or high. Some work better for some styles than others, and some work better in a band situation than others. Learn power chords on all the strings, but what you decide to use comes down to personal style and experience. Remember, if you are playing with a band you will be playing with a bass. Power chords on low strings may clash with the bass player. Experiment and find what works with you and your style of playing.

Earlier we stated that power chords are made of tones 1 and 5. When you find voicing that you can use with the root and fifth note then experiment with voicing’s where the fifth is the lower note. This way you will be playing 5 and 1. They are the same notes, but this gives you more options to use when you are comping with a band. Also one other thing you can do with power chords is add the root on top on the power chord. This would be root, fifth, root. This will fill out your chord a little more.

Now you know what power chords are, and how they are used. They have no tonality, meaning they can be either major or minor chords. These chords are best used with a band, so use them and experiment to find your own style. Below are a couple of diagrams, but not all, of some power chords you can use. Find all of them and memorize them so that when the time comes you play with a band, you will be ready.

power chords shape 1

A power chord with the Root and fifth. The root is on the A string.

power chords

A power chord with the Root on the G string.

power chords adding the root on top

A typical power chord with the root on the D string, except we added the root again on the B string to fill out the chord a bit more.

power chords shape with the 5th on the bottom note

A power chord with the fifth as the lower note. The root is on the high E string.

Start learning triads on guitar part 2

We left off on the first triad lesson with learning triads on the 3 highest strings. Let’s move a string set lower and learn triads on these strings. Take your time to learn all these shapes. There is no need to rush through this material. All these shapes are useful as long as you know where the root in the chord is. So make sure you learn that while you learn the chord shapes. Let’s jump in and learn these shapes on new strings.

guitar triads

Your root of this guitar triad is on the D string. Place your ring finger D string, middle finger G string, first (index) finger B string.

guitar triads

The root of this guitar triad is on the B string. Place your ring finger on the D string, first (index) finger G string, Middle finger B string.

guitar triads

the root of this guitar triad is on the G string. Barre this chord with 1 finger.

 

 

Something to note on for these triad chord shapes. Only play the notes given. Do not play any open strings. These are not open chords. Playing open strings will most likely result in a bad sounding chord.  Any time you see a red X on these diagrams for triads that means do not play those strings. Only the strings with circles above them should play played. Let’s take a look at the minor triads now

guitar triads

The root of this guitar triad is on D string. Place your ring finger on D string and hit both of the other notes with your first (index) finger.

guitar triads

The root of this guitar triad is on the B string. Place your middle finger on the D string, first(index) finger on the G string and ring finger on the B string.

 

guitar triads

The root of this guitar triad is on the G string. Place your middle finger on the D string, ring finger on the G string and first (index) finger on the B string.

 

For now these are the majority of guitar triad shapes that you will need to know.  There are many uses for triads, comping in a band is just one solution.  Using them in a chord melody is another. Whatever your goal on guitar may be, learning these chord shapes will assist you. They are good for all styles of music and all levels of players.

Once you are comfortable with the information given thus far, I would suggest you learn what each note is in relation to the chord. Which note is the 3rd in each of the chord shapes? What is the Root? Learning this will help you learn your instrument better and will provide a basis for building your own chords later on in your career. Only do these after you have learned all the shapes and know which is the root in the chord. Practice them playing them with your favorite song with a CD.  Here are the diagrams for the next set of strings. I am going to provide the major triads and you can just lower the 3rd one note to play the minor triad.

guitar triads

The root of this guitar triad is on the D string. Place your middle finger on the A string, Ring finger on the D string and first (index) finger on the G string.

guitar triads

The root of this guitar triad is on the A string. Place your pinky finger on the A string, ring finger D string and first (index) finger on the G string.

 

guitar triads

The root of this guitar triad is on the G string. Place your ring finger on the A string and hold both other notes with your first (index) finger.

 

To make these minor triads just lower the third one half step. This concludes all the common triads used. From here you can learn more advanced chords and keep adding on to your bucket of knowledge. Don’t forget these triad shapes. They are old friends and will always be there to help you. As simple as they are they have many uses.

Start learning triads on guitar part 1

Triads are the simplest form of a full chord. A full chord consist of tones 1, 3 and 5. Triads are 3 note chords that use these 3 tones. These are valuable for comping with a band, creating chord melodies or helping you see arpeggios. So this is something you should get under your fingers and be familiar with.  In this lesson I will teach you major and minor triads on the top 3 strings. Once you memorize and feel comfortable with triads on the 3 highest strings you can then go on to learn triads on different strings. Let’s explain the different between minor and major triads real quick then we will jump in and learn the shapes for these chords.

Triads are based off of the major scale. The major triad is made of tones 1, 3 and 5. This means that the root of the major scale, third note and fifth note of the major scale combined make up the major triad. When you lower the third 1 half step it becomes a minor third. A minor triad is made of 1, minor third and the fifth. So keep in mind that when you change from a minor triad to a major triad there is only 1 note different. The third note of the major scale is the only difference between minor and major. Let’s jump in and learn these triad shapes.

guitar triads

The root of this guitar triad is on the high E string. Place your middle finger on the G string and bar your first (index) finger across the 2 highest strings.

guitar triads

The root of this guitar triad is on the B string. Play this like your open D chord.

guitar triads

The root of this guitar triad is on the G string. place your middle finger on the G string, ring finger on the B string and first (index) finger on the E string.

When you memorize these scales, make sure you know which note is the root. If a chord symbol pops up, you need to know where to play these chords at. The root is located in the exact same spot on the minor triads as they are on the major triads. Compare how these look on diagram and on your fingers. You will see that minor and major triads are only 1 note different from each other. As mentioned earlier, the third is the determining factor for making it minor or major.

guitar triads

The root of this minor guitar triad is on the high E string. Lay your first (index) finger flat to barre them all.

guitar triads

The root of this minor guitar triad is on the B string. Place you middle finger on the G string. Place your ring finger on the B string and your first (index) finger on the high E string.

guitar triads

The root of this minor guitar triad is on the G string. Place your ring finger on the G string, middle finger on the B string and first (index) finger on the high E string.

Triads are valuable basic chords which only contain the tones 1, 3 and 5. They are very similar, besides 1 note changes from minor to major. Once you have these chord shapes memorized and you feel comfortable with them you can move on to the next lesson on triads. In the next lesson you will learn shapes on different strings and more about the triad. If you are ready for the next lesson please continue here.

Transitioning from different open chords more smoothly

Music is supposed to be smooth and it is supposed to flow like water. A lot of times when you play open chords on guitar they don’t always sound the smoothest, so how can we add that smoothness to our playing? The concept is rather simple; we eliminate the movement we do. Well how do we do that? Let me explain.

Imagine in a perfect world that we could play all of the chords of a song without moving our fingers. Wouldn’t that be a very smooth song? The reality is that we cannot do that, but we can move as few of fingers as possible. Most chords have a common note of 2 in them. If we hold that common note down while we switch chords our music will flow much easier. So how do we do this?

Lets take the chord progression G | E min | C | D. If we hold down the notes D and G on our open chords the whole time we barely have to move our fingers at all to play these chords. It will sound wonderfully smooth. When we do this the chord it-self will change a bit, it will no longer be a D chord, but it will now be a D sus. Be aware of this, but don’t worry about it too much, because the D sus will still fit over a D chord.                 Here are the diagrams of the chords.

open chords G You will play this like the open G chord in the other blog post, but this time you will add the ring finger to the third fret B string.

open chords E minorYou will hold the 2 highest strings down while you change to the E minor. These notes will be held down the hold time.

open chords CThe C chord is just like the G chord, except on different strings. This is useful especially when switching from G to C. You can’t get much smoother than that.

open chords D

Practice switching between these open chord shapes slowly. You will see you quickly get comfortable with these and they will sound smooth and feel easy to play. You can apply this concept in many areas. The less you move the easier it is to play. Always be on the lookout for ways you can simplify what you are doing. If you can play something with les movement then you just saved yourself some trouble.

Take these chords and apply them to your music. There are many songs that can be played with these open chords. Have fun making music you enjoy. After all, that’s what music is all about. Strum and sing to your heart’s desire. Have fun!

An introduction to guitar chords – open chords

Back when I was in music theory one in college I was asked what a chord was, while they were being serious I replied with a sarcastic explanation “A group of notes that go boom”. However this is a great explanation of what a chord is. A chord is a group of specific notes that are played simultaneously. On the guitar there are many different ways to play guitar chords, but the simplest and typically the first that people learn are open chords.

Open chords on guitar are chords that are low on the guitar neck, typically 3rd fret and below. Open chords also contain open strings. If they do not contain open strings then they are not considered open chords. If you have played guitar before you probably have played an open chord already, because these are very common guitar chords.

In this lesson I am going to show you the most common open chords. Practice these slowly. Spend the time you need to learn them well. This is your basis for much more knowledge in the future. The good news is that if you work on these chords you will learn them relatively fast. Let’s dive into it, shall we?

open chords GThis is the Open G Chord. On the Low E string play the G note with your middle finger. On the A string play the B note with your first (index) finger. On the high E string play the G note with your ring finger. Strum all the strings.

open chords CThis is the Open C Chord. Do not strum the low E string. Place your ring finger on the third fret of the A string. Put your middle finger on the second fret on the D string. And your first (index) finger on the first fret B string.

open chords DThis is the open D chord. Do not strum the low E string and the A string. Place your first (index) finger on the second fret G string, ring finger third fret B string and middle finger second fret high E string.

open chords E This is the open E chord. There are 2 ways to play this and you should become comfortable with both. The first way to finger this is to place your middle finger second fret on the A string, ring finger second fret D string, and first (index) finger first fret G string. This is good to use in open position.  The second way to finger this chord is to place your ring finger second fret A string, pinky second fret D string and middle finger first fret G-string. Getting comfortable with this fingering will make barre chords easier. You can strum all the strings.

open chords E minorThis is the open E minor chord. finger this chord the same way as the E above except leave off the first fret on the G string.

open chords AThis is the open A chord. Just like the E chord there are 3 ways to finger this. The first approach which I never use, but a lot of books suggest is the classical approach. You place first (index) finger second fret D string, middle finger second fret G string and ring finger second fret B string. I find the second and third approach easier and they are both similar. You can barre your first (index) finger or ring finger across all 3 strings. the ring finger is best for barre chords in the future.

Experiment with the different fingerings for the different shapes. I suggest you become familiar with as many different options as possible. It pays off to be flexible on guitar. With these chords you can play millions of songs. A lot of acoustic guitar players rely on these chords primarily because of the open sound they have is full. If the songs are in a different key then they put on a capo. Find some of your favorite songs and start learning them and playing them with these chords to help you get them under your fingers. These chords are a foundation to a whole world of knowledge.

Open chords are a valuable thing to know. They are just a group of notes played simultaneously with open strings that are typically played low on the fret board. Spend the time to learn these shapes and learn to strum some of your favorite songs with these shapes. In the end you will be glad you did. All guitar players that are past the beginning stages of playing know these chords, they are so vital that it would be almost impossible to progress without knowing them.