Chord Template 1: Strings 3/4/5

Chord template for strings 3, 4, and 5 in C Major

I’ve spent a lot of time working on chords and harmony lately, and I’ve concluded that I really need a good roadmap to move up and down or across the neck to speed the up the composition process. The most obvious place to start that wasn’t the 6th-string bar chords we all know was the 5th-string-root shape that seems to come up first for dominant 7th chords or the Hendrix chord. There are a few fantastic voicings in here.

The m9’s of the second and sixth degree are a chord I’ve highlighted before, and the m7 of the seventh was frankly a surprise. It never occurred to me to drop the flattened 5th to create a less tense seventh chord of the major scale, but it seems more useful than just avoiding the seven altogether. I also really like the maj7(add9) and maj7(add13) you get in the root and fourth positions. There’s a load of color on tap in this template. I’m looking forward to connecting seamlessly it across strings and to a larger set of voicings.

All Triads 3 – Strings 2/3/4

I didn’t realize just how useful learning all of these triad positions would be until they started clicking, particularly up and down between the three core shapes in a given key (root on string 2, 3, or 4). Beginning with the shape below as the I chord gives you a ton of options nearby. The ii, IV, and vi have multiple options that are easy to grab or switch between.

With a bassline or second harmony covering the low end, you can easily cycle through the upper extensions of the underlying chord (upper structure triads once you’re beyond R,3,5 if I recall correctly). Throw sus2 and sus4 in and your palette extends even further. I should probably record an audio example to demonstrate.

The best thing to me is that you can always map a diatonic mode back to a home Ionean key, so just knowing which I chord you refer back to means you can grab extensions up and down the neck. For instance, A Aeolian is just the sixth mode of C Major, so all of the triads will be the same as those in C. Even grabbing the C Maj triad just gives you an Am7 over an A bass note.

*click for full size

m9 Chord – 5th string root

Only recently have I discovered just how many good chordal options there are to add character to improvised guitar work. One of the most useful is the m9 chord. Not only is this a fantastic chord on its own, but the 5th string root shape lives in a number of places in the diatonic scale (in its various flavors) and adds a complex character that varies with the underlying harmony.

Once you know it’s there in the main Dorian/Lydian, Ionian, and Mixolydian shapes, it becomes a very useful resting point, arpeggiated pattern, or transition between scale shapes. As a chord that shows up twice in the diatonic scale, the m9 provides a harmonically interesting way to move up or down the neck, and it only becomes more useful when you’ve mapped out the 5th-string root shapes across the whole scale. These are comfortable shapes to grab with plenty of harmonic depth to keep things interesting.

Try working the m9 options below into an improvisation, and try using the same shape in its alternate location in the scale for an entirely different harmonic relationship.

m9-Ionean-crop