Have you ever seen those guitar chord dictionaries at guitar center? You know, the ones titled something like “3,001 Guitar Chords.” I always cringe when I see these because there’s such a more valuable way of learning about chords and harmony on guitar.
When I got my first guitar at 10 years old, I would sit in my room and literally guess at what frets to press on and see what kind of sounds I could make. Most were bad at first, but I starting learning about the different combinations of sounds and how they worked together. I really believe it was that early tinkering that set me on a great learning path in music. It was like a fun puzzle to figure out.
That playful attitude is still what I strive for today. Chord dictionaries, to me, don’t really encourage this. It’s like trying to have a conversation in a new language by relying on a dictionary. It’s much more effective to learn the most common words, a little grammar, and then just start speaking. You’ll discover quickly what doesn’t work, what does, and most importantly – why.
Creating your own chord book has 5 major benefits.
- If you’re a beginner, it’s a great way to start exploring the fretboard and make connections between what chords look like and sound like.
- At the intermediate level, it allows you to start connecting related chords and seeing why certain chords work well together.
- Provides strong foundation for improvisation – understanding visually how chords and scales are related and why certain notes “work” over certain chords.
- Even at the advanced level, there are great opportunities to be more sophisticated with the chords you know. You’ll learn to do more with less, recycling the same chord shapes for use in many different situations.
If you’re a beginner, chord dictionaries contain way too much information, and if you’re an intermediate/advanced player, you have enough music knowledge to not need them in the first place. The more effective method of learning chords on guitar is to make your own chord book. With just a few concepts, a couple diagrams, and some tinkering, you can learn as much as you want without a huge book.
[Side note: The following assumes you have some basic knowledge about intervals and how chords are formed. Go here if you need a refresher. If you’re a complete beginner, don’t even worry about this stuff yet. Go check out Tim Ferriss’ blog post on learning guitar. It’s the best free primer I’ve seen on getting started and making some great music quickly]
How to create your own chord book + Free Ebook.
Step 1. Seeing intervals. Become familiar with how intervals look on the neck. These 3 grids show how the neighboring strings relate to a given root on guitar. They represent the intervals of a major scale. By viewing your fretboard in this way (and knowing the basics of how chords are built) you can start building your own chord voicings from scratch. R = the root of the chord, 3 = the major 3rd, 4 = perfect 4th, etc.
Step 2. Examine. Get acquainted with the grids. Pick a chord you already know and see how it fits into one of the grids.. For example you can see how this C major chords fits with diagram #2.
Step 3. Experiment. Without writing anything yet, start changing things. For example, change C major to C minor by changing the 3 to a b3. Take note of the similarities and differences of the shapes. Notice it’s it’s only one note different. Or, try raising the 5th to play C+. Or add the 7th. Experiment and see what other kinds of sounds you can arrive at by changing 1 or 2 notes from one starting point.
Step 4. How many can you find? Start writing them down. See how many shapes you can find for each kind of chord in each diagram. Write them down using blank guitar grids (free download below). For example, here are some C chords derived from grid 2. Do the same for the following chord types:
C Maj – 1 3 5
C min – 1 b3 5
C (sus4) – 1 4 5
C (sus2) – 1 2 5
[changing the 3rd of the chord]
Cmaj7 – 1 3 5 7
C7 – 1 3 5 b7
C6 – 1 3 5 6
C min (maj7) – 1 b3 5 7
C min7 – 1 b3 5 b7
[adding different kinds of 7ths to major and min chords]
There are of course many, many more. But the above list is a great will give you 80% of what you need. If you want a more complete list of chord types to explore check out go here.
Step 5. Edit your list. Go through all the chords you found and circle the ones you like and start using them. Ignore the hard ones or the ones that don’t sound as good. You can always come back to them when you need more or as you improve.
Step 6. Go play some music! That’s it! You now have you’re own chord reference book to refer to. But chances are you won’t have to because you created it! Start seeking out music that is important to you and applying the chords that you’ve written down. If you come across a type of chord you’re not familiar with, research it, learn how it’s built, and then use the grids to discover a few different ways of playing it.
Click below to download the free Ebook with blank diagrams and guitar grids to start making your own chord book.
[button href=”http://garyleemusic.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Create-Your-Own-Chord-Book-Ebook.pdf” primary=”true” centered=”true” newwindow=”true”]Create Your Own Chord Book – Ebook[/button]
Approaching chords on guitar in this way is definitely more work up front. But if you’re serious about being fluent on the instrument, it’s definitely the way to go. You’ll start to internalize where the intervals are located on fretboard, and chord shapes will become more than just shapes. You’ll understand the “why” behind them and know how to manipulate them. I’ll leave you with a few tips when trying this.
- Have fun with it! Treat is like a game or a puzzle.
- After you’ve gone through the process once, try going through the chords in common guitar keys diatonically. Those are the most common in popular music.
- Remember, all the chord shapes you discover are moveable to any root.
- Write the fret number next to the guitar grids.
- Remember, 2 and 9 are interchangeable intervals. Same with 6 and 13, #5 and b13, b5 and #11, #9 and b3.
- Feel free to omit the 5th. Especially in 7th and 9th chords.
- If you’re more advanced, start exploring grids using inversions and rootless chords.
What do you think of this concept? Have an questions? Let me know in the comments below. Also, if you got any value from this post whatsoever, I’d be grateful if shared this post with a friend using the links below.
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