Past

Putting It Together

You and I have been going over a few notions that come up when we’re playing around in F.  Maybe today’s a good day to start putting some of those thoughts together.

fretfRemember when we were first thinking about moving a song into a different range, higher or lower (what they call ‘transposing‘)?  Towards the end of that session I pointed out that you could already figure out the important chords in any key.  To do that you first make a scale starting on that note, then determine the 1st, 4th and 5th notes of that scale.  (If you’re trying to play in the key of G, for example, you’d start with the G-note.  Then the first five notes of that scale would be G, A, B, C and D.  The 1st note is a G, the 4th is C and the 5th note is D.  Easy, eh?)  And finally, you build a chord on each of those three notes.  (So in the key of G the most important chords will be a G-chord, a C-chord and a D-chord.)

So then I suggested you might want to spend a bit of time getting to know your way around the key of F.  We started with the F-chord, added the B-flat chord (building a chord on the 4th note of an F-scale), then we put the C-chord into the mix (that’d be the 5th).  Along the way I also asked you to get used to the idea of sometimes only playing three strings for these chords rather than all six strings.

fretg3Now here’s where it starts to get really cool.  Take that pattern you just played in F and move each one of those three chords up two frets closer to the soundhole of your guitar.  So your new first chord is now on the 5th fret.  The next chord is the same shape as the B-flat but now your index finger is on the 3rd fret instead of the 1st.  And the last chord is the same shape and two frets up from the previous chord, so your index finger is on the 5th fret.  Notice how it’s the all exactly same as in F except everything is two frets higher (making the three higher chords a G-chord, a C-chord and a D-chord).  Now try the same thing only start two more frets higher.  It still works, doesn’t it?  Okay, take a second to remind yourself how it goes when you start things on an F-chord.  Now instead of moving everything up and starting two frets higher try it with just one fret difference instead of two.  Still works.

What you’ve been doing, of course, is playing the three important chords (sometimes called the ‘first’, the ‘fourth’ and the ‘fifth’, you can figure out why) starting in a bunch of different places.  And as long as you only use the right three strings of the guitar and use exactly the same fingering pattern it will always work out.

fretcSo now you’ve got a couple of useful things going on.  Because you know that no matter where you start this chord pattern it will always work out (as long as it’s on these same three strings) you can make things higher or lower quite easily (say to accomodate someone’s voice, so the chords for the song don’t make things too high for their voice, or too low).  And you don’t particularly need to know what key it’s in to make it work, just follow the pattern.

And here’s another thing–the lowest-sounding note of each of these chords is the name of the chord.  So if you can begin to remember what the letter names are of the lowest-sounding string in each chord you’ll find that you are now able to play a whole bunch of chords on demand.  For instance, if you can remember that the 4th note on the bass string is an F-sharp, then when someone asks you to play an F-sharp chord (believe me, it happens), you just play that F-chord except on the 4th fret instead of the 3rd.  And out comes the requested chord.

fretd3And that will come in very handy.

So take a few minutes to think about all that.  Then maybe we’ll have a quick look at what some of those notes are.  Feel free to get ahead of me, of course.  The beautiful thing is that once you get it figured out you’ll be able to play any basic chord, without having to retune, reach for a capo, or apologize for the limitations of the tuning.  Opens up a lot of possibilities.

Have fun.