“No second chances in the land of a thousand dances, the valley of ten million insanities.”– Ry Cooder
“I believe every guitar player inherently has something unique about their playing. They just have to identify what makes them different and develop it.”– Jimmy Page
“BLAH, BLAH, BLAH..” – Alex Lifeson (Rock n Roll Hall of Fame speech)
Quick, without looking it up, play a C7(#9)
How did you do?
Try this one (seriously, try it without looking it up): C13
Ok, how about one more: C Maj9
How did you do?
Don’t “fret”, if you didn’t get any of them. There are a lot of musicians out there that can’t do it (until you look it up).
I can tell you from personal experience that I have been in situations where I had to come up with chords that I don’t normally play on the spot at a gig, rehearsal, or a tryout for something. It can be intimidating.
But there is good news, there are little tricks that I use to figure it out on the spot.
Over the next handful of weeks I’ll be inserting a trick or two in my tips.
This stuff is really good to know. It will really make you a better guitar player because knowledge is power.
The first trick that I will tell you about here is based on simply knowing a major scale. And I’m going to give you one that is easy to learn as the first major scale: C Major.
The C Major scale note order goes like this: C D E F G A B C
Yep 8 notes (the 8th one is the same as the 1st, it is an octave higher than the starting note)
The major and minor chords that most everyone plays in rock, pop, blues, country, etc. contain 3 notes in every chord. And, those major and minor chords use the 1st, 3rd, and 5th note in every major or minor scale.
I’m not going to go in heavy detail here (one could write a whole book on this stuff – and there are many out there). So let’s just look at major chords to give you an idea of what to do.
So, if I have a chord that is a “C Major something“, I’m gonna look at the C Major scale and figure it out.
Wanna play a C Major chord? Well, I’m going to start by making a chord pattern from the C Major scale that has the following notes: C(1st), E(3rd), G(5th). That makes a major chord (remember, we are using the C Major scale in this example. If I had a C Minor scale it would be slightly different notes and would make a C Minor chord – that’s a lesson for another day…).
Many of you probably know this chord form and have played it. But now you know how it is made:
Now, I want to play a C Major 7 chord. A major 7 chord is a major chord with a ‘7’ added to it. What is this ‘7’? It is the 7th note in the scale. In this case it’s a B. So the notes in the chord look like this: C(1st), E(3rd), G(5th), AND B(7th).
Look at that chord diagram. What you need to do is find a way to add a B note to it. This can become sort of like detective work.
In this case it is pretty easy (to be honest, it isn’t easy all the time). I’m going to just lift up my ‘1’(pointer) finger and add that B string so that the chord looks like this:
Want to play a C Maj9? Here is where you have to know a little more about how a chord is made. All Major 9’s are Major 7’s that have one extra note added to it. In this case it is the 9th note in the scale. The 9th? Yeah, we simply keep going in the scale to find it:
C D E F G A B C D
Go back to the original diagram for C Major and let’s think it through: how can I add both the B and the D?
One way to do it is to move our fingers around a bit (yeah, many times you will have to do this):
See how this works? If you don’t know your scales, you are going to have to learn and/or brush up on them. Start with the C Major scale. Get this link here: C Major Scale
There is so much more to all of this, I’ll save it for a later tip. (don’t worry, I’ll get to the C7#9 (known as the Hendrix chord) and C13. Stay tuned…).
This should be good for a start to help you become a better player and know how the chords are made!