Have you ever listened to some of the more unusual chords your guitar heroes strum and wonder how to play them? Or heard even a familiar-sounding chord that's obviously played differently from the more common method? Well, you won't be confused any more, because this month, I'm going to show you 50 chord-based moves that every guitarist should have in his or her arsenal, including fingerings and voicing used by players like Eddie Van Halen, Joe Satriani, Tom Morello, Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Frusciante, and many others.
We'll begin with relatively simple power chords and triads and move on to some more complex and evocative chord qualities that have made their way into the rock and roll lexicon over the past 40 years. In the commentary to follow, I'll sometimes refer to various chords as "voicings." This is just a fancy name for how many notes there are in a chord and the order in which these notes are "stacked." For example, an A major chord contains the notes A, C# and E. A guitarist can choose how to play, or voice, this chord on the fretboard; notes can be moved up or down an octave or doubled in different orders to create new sounds. Many of the chords in this lesson sound good precisely because of the voicings used, so it's well worth learning them and incorporating them in your playing vocabulary.
For each chord type we have referenced iconic songs and bands that have used the chord in question, and this will help to put its use and sound in context. The chord types are grouped into the following categories: triads, sus chords, add chords, seventh chords, extended chords, ninth, 11th, 13th, altered dominants and slash chords . Each example is accompanied by a brief explanation of its intervallic construction, with the objective of helping you memorize the cord structure and experiment with your own voicings, variations and inventions.
Many of the examples presented herein have as their theoretical foundation the major sale harmonized in thirds. Take, for example, the C major scale (C D E F G A B); if we stack thirds from C we get C, E and G, which create a C major triad. IF we continues this process we add B (the major seventh), D (the ninth) and so on, right up to A (the 13th). IF we start on the second note, D, then a D minor triad (D F A) is generated, and so on.
Another area this lesson touches upon is the altered dominant chord. This type of chord has a root, major third and minor seventh, with the addition of either a ♭5, #5, ♭9, #9, or any pairing of a fifth and ninth that are "flatted" or "sharp-ed."
For "slash chord" notation - so called because of diagonal slash is used - remember that the first letter (the one on the left side of the slash) indicates the chord and the second letter signifies the bass note. For example, the chord name A/B indicates an A major triad (A C# E) played over a B bass note.
As with any list, one runs the risk of omitting someone's favorite chord, so feel free to submit your personal favorite chord and maybe we'll include it in the next 50.
Get The Tone
For the recorded examples accompanying this lesson, featured on this month's CD-ROM, we used James Tyler SE and Gibson ES-335 guitars and a Fender Deville amp. The delay and chorus sounds were created with the Damage Control Timeline pedal, and the drive came from a T-Rex Mudhoney. Any acoustic or electric guitar will be suitable for trying out the chord ideas in this lesson.
Figure 1: Root-fifth power chord and root-sixth extension
Let's start with a chord that comprises only two notes. pairing a root note with a perfect fifth above it - meaning the first and fifth degrees of the major scale - produces the mighty power chord. Countless rock bands have used this chord to great effect over the past 50 years. you can create a classic blues-rock-style rhythm pattern by alternating the fifth with the sixth (thing Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode"). The example shown here is in the style of classic rock bands like AC/DC. Notice the octave doubling of many of the notes and powerful roar of the open strings.
Figure 2: Eric Johnson-style major and minor triads
The major and minor triads are three-note chords, as the term suggests, and are constructed of a root, third and fifth (1 3 5), a minor triad having a lowered third (1 ♭3 5).You can create plenty of color with these simple chords if you finger them in an imaginative way. To create an Eric Johnson-style open voicing, transpose the third of the triad up one octave. instead of being buried in the middle of the voicing, the third is now the top note and is heard as the "melody" note.
Figure 3: The augmented triad
The augmented triad has a sound and formula similar to the major triad, the only difference being its fifth, which is raised (1 3 #5). It's constructed of a major third stacked upon a major third interval away from the octave-higher root note. In this way, the augmented triad is like the equilateral triangle in that the notes are symmetrically spaced and equidistant. The chord has a somewhat unstable, longing quality that heightens the feeling of tension and release int he resolution for a V-I (five-one, or "dominant-tonic") cadence. A well-known exapmle of the augmented triad in actions is in the intro to the Allman Brother's celebrated live version of the T-Bone Walker slow blues "(They Call It) Stormy Monday," as heard on At Fillmore East.
Figure 4: The symmetrical diminished seven chord
The diminished seven chord has a spooky quality that is effective for creating tension and has been used for hundreds of years by great classical composers such as Bach, Mozart and Beethoven to add drama to their compositions. Spelled intervallically 1 ♭3 ♭5 ♭♭7 (or 6), it is theoretically constructed of consecutive, or stacked, minor third intervals, and because of this symmetrical structure you can take any diminished seven chord fingering you know and shift it up and down the fretboard in three-fret intervals and still have the same chord, but in a different inversion. Good examples of the diminished seven chord's use in a modern, popular context are the songs "Ghost Town" by the Specials and Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody."
Figure 5: Tom Morello-style Dsus2
If we take a major or minor triad and replace its third with the second or perfect fourth scale degree, it becomes a suspended second or suspended fourth chord (sus2 or sus4, respectively). Sus2 chords sound great with distortion, and if using drop-D tuning (low to high, D A D G B E), we can easily finger a massive, "tall" six-string power chord voicing with the sus2 note on top. This example is in the style of guitarist Tom Morello from Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave and is also reminiscent of Ty Tabor from King's X. Try taking the Dsus2 voicing shown her and moving it up the neck one fret at a time, barring your index finger across all six strings like a capo.Figure 6: Steve Vai-style Csus4
This cord is the open Csus4 fingering that Steve Vai uses at the beginning of the David Lee Roth song "Yankee Rose." This shape is a bit more difficult to shift up the neck than the previous one, and for that reason it works best in this particular key, with the open G string included. Triads With Extensions ("Add" Chords)
Figure 7: Minor-add9, a la Metallica and the Police
You can superimpose various notes upon a triad to create an "add" chord. Let's start by taking a minor triad and adding the major second scale degree, which, if transposed up one octave, is commonly referred to as the ninth. This creates a minor add2 chord (alternatively referred to as minor add9). Metallica are fond of this type of chord for their quieter clean guitar parts, and Andy Summers has used in in several hit songs with the Police. Pink Floyd's David Gilmour has also made great use of this type of chord.Figure 8: Jimi Hendrix-style add9
Jimi Hendrix often used open strings to embellish his fretted chord shapes. This example includes a unison G (fifth fret on the fourth string and Fingering the ninth, A, with the pinkie on the first string gives you a Gadd9 chord. For a neat effect, try shifting this fingering shape around to first, sixth and eighth positions while leaving the open G string ringing as a drone. Figure 9: Joe Satriani-style add4
If you add the fourth scale degree to a major triad, it clashes with and "rubs against" the major third, due to the two pitches being a half step apart (the equivalent of one fret's distance). You can use this harmonic turbulence to your advantage to create sparking arpeggio parts. Bands like Def leppard are fond of the major add4 chord, as is Brian Adams ("Run To You".) The example presented her is based on the fingering Joe Satriani uses at the start of "Always with Me, Always with You."Figure 10: Stevie Ray Vaughan-style major six chord
If we take a major triad (1 3 5) and add the sixth scale degree, we get a major six chord (1 3 5 6), commonly referred to simply as a sixth chord. In this example, a soulful Stevie Ray Vaughan-style medium-tempo shuffle blues accompaniment is created by sliding an A9 chord shape up two frets which transforms it to A6. As this figure demonstrates, the fifth is often omitted in a sixth cord, with the sixth taking its place.Seventh Chords
Figure 11: Eddie Can Halen-style minor seven
A seventh chord is any four-note entity consisting of a triad with a major or minor seventh scale degree added. (The minor seventh is also commonly referred to as the "flatted" seventh.) There are a variety of seventh chord types, or qualities, depending on the combination of triad and seventh used. If we take a minor triad and add a minor seventh, the result is a minor seven (m7) chord (1 ♭3 5♭7). This example features a cool, "guitar-istic" voicing of C#m7 (C# E G#B) that includes the open B and high E strings is similar to the fingering of Eddie Van Halen uses at the beginning of "Panama."Figure 12: Brent Mason-style dominant system
Adding a minor seventh to a major triad produces a dominant seven chord (1 3 5 ♭7). There are many great songs that use fairly standard dominant seven fingerings. This examples demonstrates one way in which clever modern country guitarist like Brent Mason creatively outline a dominant seven chord (in this case, A&) within a riff without actually playing all the notes of the chord together at once.Figure 13: Major seven, John Frusciante style
Adding the major seventh to a major triad yields a major seven chord (1 3 5 7). This example uses a major seven voicing that brings to mind the Red Hot Chili Peppers' classic ballad "Under the Bridge." You can use your thumb to fret the bass notes, as former RHCP guitarist John Frusciante often does. Figure 14: Minor seven flat-five, Robben Ford style
If you take a minor seven chord and lover, flat, the fifth, you get what's known as minor seven flat-five (m7♭5), spelled 1 ♭3 5 7. This is the seventh seventh chord (vii7) of the harmonized major scale, and it is used predominantly in jazz, but it is also often employed as a cool chord substitution in blues. Players like Robben Ford use the m7♭5chord to create a dominant ninth sound by playing it off the third of the dominant chord. For example, playing Bm7♭5 (B D F A) over a G bass note (B being the major third of G) creates a G9 sound (more on this later). Here we're using three different fingering shapes and positions of Bm7♭5 to create a G9 sound. Notice how each voicing is approached from one half step below, and hear the bluesy flavor this adds to the proceedings.Figure 15: Beatles-style dominant seven sus4
Replacing the third of a dominant seven chord with the fourth creates a dominant seven sus4 (7sus4) chord (1 4 5 ♭7). In this example Beatles fans will recognize a sound very similar to the signature intro chord to one of the band's early hit songs. This voicing is also commonly used in today's popular music. Figure 16: Led Zeppelin-style minor-major seven
The minor major-seven chord is a minor triad with a major seventh, spelled 1♭3 5 7. It has a haunting and unsettled sound when heard on its own and is effective when used as a passing chord with a minor-key progression, as demonstrated here. Many songs have featured this move over the years, such as Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" and the Beatles' "Michelle" and "Something."Ninth Chords
Figure 17: Minor major-nine: the "James Bond" chord
A ninth chord is a seventh chord with a ninth stacked on top. (Remember, the ninth is the second scale degree on octave higher.) If you take a minor major-seven chord and add a ninth on top of it, you get an even more complex intriguing chord known as minor major-nine, spelled 1♭3 5 7 9. The sound of this chord brings to mind the theme music heard in the many James Bond movies. Notice how the open strings in this voicing add sparkle to the chord's flavor. Shaken, not stirred.Figure 18: George Benson-style minor nine
Adding the ninth to a minor seven chord produces a cool, sophisticated "smooth jazz"-flavored chord known as minor nine (1 ♭3 5 ♭7 9). This example begins with an interesting voicing and tricky fingering shape for Am9 (A C E G B) comprising two perfect-fifth intervals separated by a minor second. Using the open A string as a bass pedal tone we then shift the same fretted chord shape up to eighth position to create an equally intriguing-sounding Am13(no3) chord. This is followed by a more conventional Am9 voicing, one often used by jazz guitarists such as George Benson.Figure 19: Major nine, a Smiths favorite
The major nine chord (1 3 5 7 9,) formed by adding the ninth to a major seven chord, has a mellow and calming sound. Guitarist Johnny Marr often used extended, upper-structure chords in his playing with the Smiths, and the major nine voicing shown here is one of his favorites.Figure 20: Steve Vai-style nine voicing
This example features a Steve Vai-style "pretzel fingering" for a major nine chord, requiring a big of a stretch and a limber fretting hand. Tracks on the albums Flex-Able and Passion and Warfare feature this beautiful-sounding voicing. Be sure to employ the fingerings indicated for this chord. You'll find that the shape is considerable easier to form in the higher positions (although still not easy).Figure 21: James Brown-style dominant nine
The dominant nine chord, spelled 1 3 5 ♭7 9, is a dominant seven with the ninth added. This chord is employed in many musical genres, but it is particularly appealing when used in funk riffs and grooves. Dominant nine chords are featured in an of "Godfather of Soul" James Brown's most celebrated and enduring funk classics, such as "Get Up, (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine" and "Mother Popcorn," as played by guitarist Jimmy Nolan.Eleventh Chords
Figure 22: Pop-style minor 11
Continuing our survey of upper-structure chord types, next up is minor 11 (1 ♭3 5 ♭7 9 11), which is formed by taking a minor nine chord and adding the 11th, which is the fourth transposed up one octave. Sometimes, however, the ninth is omitted in the 11th chord, so that is spelled 1 ♭3 5 ♭7 11. (These are the same notes that comprise the minor pentatonic scale (1 ♭3 4 5 ♭7.) The minor 11 voicing shown in this example brings to mind those used in "Walking on the Moon" by the Police and "Venus" by Bananarama.Figure 23: String-style dominant nine sharp-11
As its name implies, the dominant nine sharp-11 chord, spelled 1 3 5 ♭7 9 311, is a dominant nine chord with the addition of the raised, or sharp-ed, 11th, which is the raised fourth one octave higher. Its chord symbol is 9#11. The chord has a complex, bittersweet quality and is a favorite of jazz musicians to improvise over using the Lydian-dominant mode and ♭7 of Mixolydian. The chord has also been used to great compositional effect in pop and rock music, a couple of well-known examples being the outro progression of "Layla" by Derek and the Dominos and "Open Arms" by Journey. Sting's guitarist Dominic Miller is fond of the 9#11 sound and has used it in various collaborative arrangements, the examples shown here being representative of his approach using arpeggiation. you can create some lush soundscapes with this chord by playing it with some delay and chorus effects.Figure 24: Van Halen-style dominant seven add11
Utilizing open strings is a great way to create shimmering unusual chord voicings that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to finger entirely with fretted notes. The only drawback to this approach is that these shapes become key specific, but you can always employ a cap should you need these sounds in other keys. This is an Eddie Van Halen-style F#7add11 voicing, created by taking a familiar second-position F# major barre chord shape and simply lifting the index finger off the B and high E strings while still fretting the low F# root note.Figure 25: Major seven sharp-11 used by EVH
By simply moving the previous shape down one fret, as Van Halen likes to do, you can create the exotic-sounding Fmaj7#11 chord shown here.Figure 26: Minor 11, non nine
Here's another cool and useful minor 11 voicing, which,like the one in Figure 22, has no ninth. This voicing works well with either a clean or distorted tone and sounds best when finger-picked, although it may be strummed. When doing so, take care to mute the idle fifth string with your fret hand.Figure 27: Major seven sharp-11
Dropping the bass note from the previous chord down a half step yields A♭maj7#11, which is useful movable shape similar to the open-string chord in Figure 25.Figure 28: Gsus4
If the bass note is dropped down another semitone, the chord becomes a simpler and more straight-ahead sounding Gsus4. Try fingering the bass note with the thumb, Jimi Hendrix-style.Figure 29: Alex Lifeson-style Csus2
Now move the bass note over to the fifth string's C and you have a movable sus2 voicing that cuts through heavy distortion well. This chord is a favorite of progressive rock guitarists such as Rush's Alex Lifeson and Dream Theater;s John Petrucci.Figure 30: Steve Vai-style E Minor 11
We can recycle Steve Vai's major nine fingering from Figure 20 to create the majestic-souding Em11 chord shown here. The index finger barres across the top five strings at the second fret, with the sixth string left open.Figure 31: G minor 13, Pink Floyd style
This arpeggiated Gm13 chord brings to mind that hauntingly beautiful signature Pink Floyd guitar moment featured in "Shine on You Crazy Diamond (part 3)." It's a bit of a stretch if you include the fretted G note, which wasn't included in David Gilmour's original voicing, but its well worth the effort.13th Chords
Figure 32 Dominant 13
Taking upper-structure harmony to the limit is the dominant 13 chord, spelled 1 3 5 ♭7 9 13. (Note that the #11 is sometimes included in a dominant 13 chord, but not in this example.) Using the major scale as a theoretical road map, the 13th may be though of as the sixth scale degree one octave higher. What makes is function as a 13th, though, is the presence of the dominant seventh. The two voicings shown here have a signature jazzy sound and can be used for the first two chords of a jazzed-up blues progression.Figure 33: SRV-style E major 13
Stevie Ray Vaughan used his sublime Emaj13 chord in his instrumental balled "Lenny." The voicing is everything here, so be sure to let that open low E bass note ring out and add some gentle whammy bar vibrato.6/9 Chords
Figure 34: Bossa nova-style C6/9
The six-nine chord, which is a major triad with an added sixth and ninth, has a blissful, tranquil sound and is a great choice for boss nova-style accompaniment. Notice that the same fingering shape is used on the top four strings for c6/9 regardless of whether the C root note is fretted on the fifth or sixth string, which makes this a symmetrical shape, for all intents and purposes. Also notice that the notes that comprise this chord also comprise the major pentatonic scale (1 2 3 5 6).Altered Dominants
Figure 35: Dominant seven flat-nine
Lowering, or flatting the ninth of a dominant ninth chord creates a dissonant, unstable, tension-filled chord, known as a dominant seven flat-nine (1 3 5 ♭7 ♭9), which begs to resolve down a fifth (or up a fourth) to a major or minor-type chord. John Lennon used the E7♭9 voicings shown here for the jolting, unresolved chord stabs in this classic late-period Beatles song "I Want You (She's So Heavy)."Figure 36: Jimi Hendrix-style dominant seven sharp-nine
You can alternatively raise the ninth of a dominant ninth chord to make it a seven sharp-nine chord. Not as dissonant and unstable as the 7♭9, but still full of tension, the 7#9 chord has a bold, funky flavor and is a favorite chord among blues and blues-rock players, especially when playing with an overdriven tone. The use of the 7#9 sound in a rock context was popularized by players like Jimi Hendrix on such songs as "Foxy Lady" and "Purple Haze."Figure 37: C7#9 voicing used by the Average White Band
The 7#9 chord is also great for funk. This example brings to mind the intro to the Average White Band's popular Seventies instrumental tune "Pick Up the Pieces," featuring rhythm guitarist Hamish Stuart.Figure 38: Pink Floyd-style D7#9-to-D7♭9 move
Pink Floyd keyboardist Richard Wright employed this chord movement in the Pink Floyd classic, "Breathe" (Dark Side of the Moon) resolving it to Em each time through the songs bridge section except the very last, where it's followed by Bm (dovetailing into the intro to "The Great Gig in the Sky"). Wright reportedly said he worked this chord move out from a Miles Davis record.Figure 39: SRV-style dominant seven sharp-five sharp-nine
Stevie Ray Vaughan often used the tension filled seven sharp-nine sharp-five altered dominant chord as the V (five) chord in a progression. This example brings to mind the end of the intro to "Couldn't Stand the Weather," just prior to the main riff.Slash Chords
Figure 40: D/F# blues turnaround chord
Voicing a chord with its third as its lowest note puts it in what's known as first inversion. First-inversion chords have a warm sound that is widely used in many musical styles, from classical to rock to country to blues. This stock blues turnaround in the key of A incorporates a D chord with its third, F# in the bass (D/F#) to create a smoothly satisfying chromatically descending bass line.Figure 41: Brian May-style D/A voicing
Voicing a chord with its fifth as the bass note puts it in second inversion. The example shown here is the signature chord voicing that Queen's Brian May uses in songs like "Hammer to Fall," 'It's Late" and "We Will Rock You." It's convenient to move from the open A chord to the D/A and it sounds very elegant and satisfying.Figure 42: Paul Kossoff-style D/A variation
This example recalls the iconic opening riff to Free's "All Right Now," featuring guitarist Paul Kossoff. The A13sus4 chord is a slight variation of the D/A fingering shown in the previous example and includes the open G and high E strings, which lend i ta harmonically ambiguous, "up in the air" sound.Figure 43: Randy Rhoads-style inversions
Taking the A to D/A move from Figure 14 a step further, this example has you strumming A, D and E triads (the I, IV, and V chords in the key of A) over an open A string pedal tone in a manner that brings to mind guitarist Randy Rhoads' driving verse riff in Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train." This slash chord type of riff idea has been used effectively as a songwriting tool by many rock bands, such as Van Halen.Figure 44:Nuno Bettencourt-style E/D voicing
This E/D slash chord is the same one that Nuno Bettencourt strums on acoustic guitar in Extreme's "Hole Hearted." Similar to what we did in the previous example, you an move the fretted "D shape" up and down the neck to various positions while keeping the open fourth string ringing to create a variety of cool chord colors with a minimum of effort. The Who's Pete Townshend did this to dramatic effect int he instrumental "Sparks" from Tommy.Figure 45: B/A a la Joe Satriani
This example is conceptually similar to the previous four and is reminiscent of the opening chords in Joe Satriani's Lydian-flavored "Flying in a Blue Dream."Figure 46: Dominant nine sus4 funk chords
This super-convenient one-finger barre chore shape gives you a fusion-flavored dominant nine sus4 sound and is the basis of many Seventies-era funk and R&B rhythm guitar parts, such as those heard in the Crusaders' "Street Life" and Steely Dan's "Black Cow."Figure 47: Pete Townshend-style G/E, A/E and C/E "drone chords"
This is another example of how some great sounds can be accessed by moving a fretted chord shape around the neck while including open-string common tones, or drones. Pete Townshend used this approach brilliantly to create the shimmering chords in the Who's "I Can See For Miles." Notice that we have not only a low bass pedal tone ringing below the chords, but also high pedal tones on the open B and high E strings.Figure 48: Major seven sharp-five
The hauntingly beautiful E/C slash chord is also known as Cmaj#5, which is the third diatonic seventh chord of the A melodic minor scale (A B C D E F# G#). The chord has a mysterious, suspenseful quality and is often used in television and film scores to create such a desired effect.Other Chords
Figure 49:Natural Harmonics Chord
Steve Vai used this sparkling chord voicing in "Sisters," cleverly combining a fretted C5 power chord on the bottom two strings with 12th-fret natural harmonics on the top for strings. The chord may be analyzed as either G6/C or Cmaj9 (C E G B D). Notice the unusual voicing, with the third, E, being more than an octave higher than the ninth, D. Figure 50: Semitone harp chord
Here's a fun challenge to play, an eerie, harplike chromatic "cluster chord," similar to one heard in Steely Dan's "Bodhisattva." You'll need to use both hands to fret all the notes and will need to use the little finger of your pick hand to strum the strings.