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Sketching Chords (part 2)

You and I have been talking about chords for a bit, specifically about how to take a chord you’ve been told the name of and figure out how to play it on a guitar tuned in DADGAD.  Because my own approach is to play just enough notes to give an idea of what the chord sounds like, rather than making sure each and every note is present and accounted for, I think of it as ‘sketching out the chord’.  And by the time we’ve wandered through these thoughts you’ll have a pretty good idea of how I get there.

Just a reminder  of where we’re at.  We started by getting used to finding the root note of a chord (doh, the one the chord gets its name from), and adding the fifth above that (soh), I gave you a headsup about some of the more common 5ths to give you a model to work with, then we paused for a minute to admire the grooviness in the pattern called the ‘circle of fifths’ just because it is so groovy after all.  After that little side-trip I asked you to wrap your head around the pattern of tones and semi-tones that make up a major scale no matter what note you start on.  And we explored how we can figure out ‘mi’ for any given ‘doh’.  And, of course, a while back I dropped on you the concept that a major chord is made up of doh, mi and soh starting on the letter-name of the chord–in other words a G-major chord is made up of the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of a G-major scale.  So that’s where we’re at so far.  Any questions?  Yeah, me too, but let’s push on and see if we can get to where this all fits together.

The next idea I want you to get is actually quite simple.  You’ve probably seen the names of some chords that include a number.  For instance a C-chord which has a number 6 attached to it is called a C6-chord.  A G-chord with a number 9 attached to it is called a C9-chord.  Okay, here comes the simple bit;

  • make the letter name of the chord number 1, start counting up the scale and stop when you get to the number in the chord name.  That note is part of the chord.

So for a C6-chord, start with C as 1 (music always starts on 1, ain’t no zero), and count up to 6.

1 = C

2 = D

3 = E

4 = F

5 = G

6 = A

So you know that a C6-chord is going to involve an A-note.

And because you already know that a C-chord uses the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of the C-scale, and we’ve just counted them out, you also know that a C-chord uses a C-note, an E-note and a G-note.

So a C6-chord is a C-note on the bottom, an E-note above that (called ‘the 3rd’ of the chord), a G-note above that (called ‘the 5th’ of the chord), and finally the A-note just above that (yup, might well be called called the ’6th’).

Important to remember two things here;

  • It’s easy for a C-scale, because you remember that a C-scale is the only scale that has no sharps or flats–other scales are a bit trickier so you have to work out the major scale pattern of tones and semi-tones (that we talked about earlier) starting on the letter-name of the chord you’re trying to figure out.
  • If you haven’t got to your number before you arrive at the 8th note in the scale (hi ‘doh’, also called ‘an octave’), just keep going–hi ‘re’ is 9, hi ‘mi’ is 10, hi ‘fa’ is 11 and so on.

And so far we’re only talking about major chords, okay?  In other words, all this works only if the chord you’re trying to play is either clearly called a major chord (like say, a C-major 7 chord), or it has no special name attached to it (no extra words), as in a C-chord, E-flat chord, G-sharp chord (as oppposed to a chord which uses words like ‘minor’, ‘diminished’, ‘augmented’–you figure those out differently, we’ll get there).

So take a minute and work out the notes that might be involved in some examples–maybe a D6 chord, or a B11-chord, or maybe an E-flat13-chord.  Each one has doh, mi, soh, plus the number.  Use the major scale tones and semi-tones pattern and see what you come up with.

We’re almost there.