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Sketching Chords

I know you’ve heard me talk about this before, but it’s worth thinking about for a bit.  You’ve probably noticed that when I’m playing guitar I often play only two or three notes, sketching out a chord rather than playing every inch of it.  In part that’s because I figure it leaves more room for other players to add in the notes they hear, and that makes the playing more inclusive.  I also tend to think it allows the listener to fill in the spaces with their own imagination.  And what I know for sure is that anything that helps the listener to be engaged in the music is a good thing.  I also think that’s the same mechanism that also makes a really good, original version of a well known song so captivating.  But that thought’s for another day.  For now let’s just stick with that sketched out chord.

So what does it take?  Well, there are a couple of things you probably already know.  Like if the chord has a letter attached to it that note is probably important, right?  So if you’re playing by yourself and the chord is a G-something, you need to play a G-note.  See, you knew that.  Yeah, alright, it means you’re going to have to figure out where the notes are on the guitar.  But trust me, you don’t need to know the location of each and every G-note on the guitar.  Figure out which G-note is on the bottom of your G-chord and that’ll get you where you need to go for now.  And that’s the other thing you probably already know–if you’re playing a fairly normal chord chances are the lowest-sounding note is ‘doh’, which is the letter-name of the chord.  So you already know where to find a bass A-note, a C-note, a B-note, a G-note, an F-note, a D-note–they’re all the lowest note of a basic chord in DADGAD.  If you want to figure out where other notes show up you can count them.  It’ll help things along if you can remember that there is no note between a B-note and a C-note, and there’s nothing between an E-note and an F-note (yeah, one of the few things you kinda need to flat-out memorize), but aside from that there’s a sharp or a flat between every note.  You tend to use sharps when you’re going up and flats when you’re going down.  Going up it’s C, C-sharp, then D and going down it’s D, D-flat, then C.  C-sharp and D-flat are two different names for the same note.

If it’s a straightforward chord the next most important note is 5-notes up from the bass note (the distance between those two notes is called a 5th, easy, eh?).  Remember when we’re counting in music there is no zero, so 5-notes up from our G-note is going to be a D-note (that’d be G, A, B, C, D).  So the two most important notes in a G-chord would be a G-note and a D-note (of course in doh-speak that’s ‘doh’ and ‘soh’, but you knew that).

So do me a favour.  Before we go ahead with the rest of this thought, spend a bit of time finding ‘doh’ and ‘soh’ for a bunch of the chords we’ve already gone over.

For a C-chord that’s a C-note and a G-note

For an F-chord that’s an F-note and a C-note

You can probably figure out the rest from there.  Oh, and one more thing to know–it doesn’t matter whether the chord is a major chord or a minor chord, ‘doh’ and ‘soh’ are still the two most important notes.  So in a B-minor-chord that would be a B-note and an F-sharp-note.  Anyway, spend a bit of time finding ‘doh’ (also called the ‘root’ of the chord) and ‘soh’ (called the fifth) in as many chords as you can figure.  Once you’ve got that down I’ll show the rest of what you need to sketch a chord.

Have fun.